Remembering the Holocaust: Revisiting Zechariah

The holidays are behind us, we just celebrated Thanksgiving and Rosh Hodesh Kislev on Thursday and we are in the clear until the 25th when we celebrate Chanukah. Yesterday was the 4th of Kislev and it passed without mention or fanfare. But It was an important day in the book of Zechariah.

Zechariah’s prophecies took place during the reign of Darius the Great and were contemporary with Haggai in a post-exilic world after the fall of Jerusalem in 587/586 BCE. Zechariah is specific about dating his writing (520–518 BC).There we read:

In the fourth year of King Darius, on the fourth day of the ninth month, Kislev, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah—when Bethel-sharezer and Regem-melech and his men sent-to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to address this inquiry to the priests of the House of the Lord and to the prophets: “Shall I weep and practice abstinence in the fifth month, as I have been doing all these years?” Thereupon the word of the Lord of Hosts came to me: Say to all the people of the land and to the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and seventh months all these seventy years, did you fast for my benefit? And when you eat and drink, who but you does the eating, and who but you does the drinking?

Zechariah 7:1- 6

After the destruction of the First Temple they commemorated that event with a yearly fast ( see 2 Kings 25:8). At the time in Zechariah they were almost done rebuilding the Second Temple after 70 years of exile and the people did not know what to do. They came to Zechariah because they wanted to know what to do with this commemoration.

Their question seems sincere. The response seems rather harsh. Instead of appreciating the earnest nature of this inquiry to stop the fast God tell Zechariah to criticize them for the lack of intention of this fast in the first place. It seems that God is doubting their motivation. They eat for their own interests and they fast for their own interests. Why should this involve God at all?

While we are not there yet, not so far in the future , we too will have a 4th of Kislev reckoning. In our era it is not the destruction of the Temple but rather the destruction of European Jewry that has occupied our collective consciousness. We will need to make sense of our commemoration of the Holocaust. We are getting close to 75 years of a State of Israel. There are preciously few survivors left. What will we do with our rituals and educational program for remembering the Holocaust in the future? What were our intentions for these behaviors? Can we stop what we started?

There is not simple answer to these questions, but I want to end where we began with Zechariah. Not much is known about Zechariah’s life other than what may be inferred from the book. It has been speculated that his grandfather Iddo was the head of a priestly family who returned with Zerubbabel and that Zechariah may have been a priest as well as a prophet. In this he bridged both realities. We also know that his name Zechariah means “God remembered.”

As we consider how we will preserve the memory of the Holocaust we might need a generation that bridges that divide like Zechariah himself. We also need to do some soul searching. Is the preservation of this memory for us and or for God. Like his prophecy maybe some clarity about the intention of the remembering will guide the way.

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