Before we even start on this one, anybody else do a double-take at the name of this week’s parsha/haftorah? Bechawhaa? I looked it up and discovered it means, “when you step up,” and is the first distinctive word in the parsha portion. Turns out that all the names for the parshot come from the “first distinctive word” in the reading section. For example, last week’s Naso was “lift up” (and also a genus of, I kid you not, unicorn fish). Am I the only one who didn’t know that? (Not the part about unicorn fish, but the “first distinct word” part.)
Moving on to the haftorah summary. This week’s portion is from the priestly “minor prophet” Zechariah (who, incidentally has a cameo appearance in Michaelangelo’s Cistine chapel ceiling) who tells of visions of the golden Temple menorah, foretelling the moshiach descendant of King David would come to power, “not by military force and not by physical strength but by (G-d’s) spirit.” That indeed, he would find it as easy as lighting the menorah.
The term moshiach is confusing now because of how it’s been Anglicanized into Messiah and takes on a different meaning entirely. Initially, the word simply meant “anointed” as in by holy oils and blessings. The future Jewish king hailing from David’s lineage expected to rule during the messianic age was predicted to be anointed in such a manner, and unqualified, Moshiach refers to this heir.
The whole Messiah situation is where things get tricky, both in the Jewish-Christian dialogue and even across different interpretations of Judaism. There isn’t much in the way of terrifying apocalyptic end-time references in Jewish texts—quite the contrary, most alluded references depict a utopic presentation of life, justice, truth, and righteousness. Of course Christian texts interpret the Messiah as having already come and the apocalyptic end-time occurring at the second-coming.
Maimonides patently rejected this and otherwise presented his views in the Mishneh Torah.
Orthodox, Hasidic, Conservative and Reform have different interpretations of Messianic times. In Orthodoxy, one of the 13 Principles of Faith includes, “I believe with full faith in the coming of the Messiah. And even though he tarries, with all that, I await his arrival with every day.” Hasids tend to be ardent believers in the immediacy of the forthcoming Messiah and that their actions indeed can hasten arrival. The Conservative movement’s Statement of Principles suggests, “Since no one can say for certain what will happen in the Messianic era each of us is free to fashion personal speculation. Some of us accept these speculations are literally true, while others understand them as elaborate metaphors.” Lastly, the Reform platform is fairly unspecific, generally not necessarily subscribing to the notion of Messiah per se, but perhaps some version of the “messianic age” consistent with the utopic allusions in texts and synchronous with the World to Come and the principle of tikkun olam.
Casey (Kefira) McCarty is a published author living in Ohio. She is the Assistant Director of the Columbus Idea Foundry, a community workshop space, and is an artisan who crafts jewelry, Judaica and fine art available online and in Central Ohio galleries and boutiques. You can find her online shop at www.sinemetudesigns.etsy.com