Congregation Ohave Shalom - Young Israel of Pawtucket

On-line Tanach Class

Tanach Class: Zerubavel - Part I


This week we began to look at a man named Zerubavel. Zerubavel played an interesting role in Jewish history at the time of the building of the Second Temple. Within Midrash Zerubavel plays another role - companion to Mashiach. Hopefully, we will learn a bit about each role.

Zerubavel is mentioned in three books of Tanach:
    1. In Chaggai (Chaggai 1-2), the prophet Chaggai is given a Divine order for Zerubavel to begin building the Second Temple.
    2. In Zecharyah (Zecharyah 4), Gd sends a message to Zerubavel, informing him that he will succeed, and that his success will come through Gd rather than through human power.
    3. In the book of Ezra (Ezra 2-5) we are told of Zerubavel's actual period as governor of the Jews, and of his political activities.
This role we focussed on Zerubavel's lineage and identity.

Zerubavel's lineage
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 37b-38a) identifies Zerubavel's father as none other than Yechanyah. Yechanyah was a Jewish king, and he was taken to Bavel by Nevuchadnezzar, 11 years before the destruction of the Temple. Yechanyah was a young man of 18 at the time, and he was held captive until Evil Merodach succeeded Nevuchadnezzar and freed him.

According to this Gemara, Yechanyah impregnated a woman while he was in prison, and the child of this relationship was Zerubavel.

The Midrash (such as in Shir haShirim Rabbah 8) points out that Zerubavel represents a reversal of fortunes for Yechanyah. Yechanyah had been told by prophets that his children would never rise to greatness; Zerubavel, himself, was a sign that Yechanyah's repentance was accepted. The Rambam holds this up (Hilchos Teshuvah 7:6) as an example of the power of repentance.

Ibn Ezra (Shemos 2:10, Chaggai 1:1) rejects the idea that Zerubavel was Yechanyah's son. He says that Zerubavel was the son of Pediyah, based on a verse in Divrei haYamim. Zerubavel is generally identified as a son of Shealtiel, because Shealtiel was Pediyah's brother, and Shealtiel raised Zerubavel.

For a third version, Radak (Melachim II 8:26, Yechezkel 21:32) says that this was the family line: Yechanyah-Shelatiel-Pediyah-Zerubavel. Shealtiel may have been listed as the father because he was more well-known and respected than Pediyah.

Zerubavel's Name
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 37b-38a) also says that Zerubavel was known by multiple names. Zerubavel was also Shealtiel, and was also Nechemyah.

Obviously, this wreaks havoc with the verses in which Zerubavel is known as the son of Shealtiel. In addition, as Ibn Ezra points out in a comment to Shemos 2:9 in his Peirush haKatzar, Zerubavel and Nechemyah are often mentioned separately in the same verse. Ibn Ezra says this Gemara is not meant literally. Radak (Zecharyah 3:9 and 4:14) also seems not to take this Gemara literally, although he does cite it (Divrei haYamim I 3:17).

Ibn Ezra (Chaggai 2:22, Daniel 6:29, Ezra 1:8) also mentions that Zerubavel was also known as Sheshbatzar. He takes "Sheshbatzar" to be a Babylonian variant to "Zerubavel."

Zerubavel's Relationship with Gd
Avos deRabbi Nasan (2) says Zerubavel was born circumcised. This seems to be learned from Gd's reference to Zerubavel as "Avdi," "my slave," in Chaggai 2:23.

Avos deRabbi Nasan (43) also mentions that Zerubavel was one of 18 people to be termed "Eved HaShem," "Slave of Gd." The Midrash (Sifri Devarim 27) expands on this, saying that we find the true servants of Gd didn't identify themselves as such. Those in Tanach who called themselves "Eved HaShem" actually were not that.

Zerubavel was a scholar. Rashi (Bava Basra 15a) mentions that Zerubavel was a member of the Anshei Kenesses haGedolah, the Great Assembly, who led the Jews at the beginning of the Second Beis haMikdash. He was among those who established our order of prayer, including the Shemoneh Esreih [Amidah].

Gd-willing, we will learn more about Zerubavel, including his role in the time of Mashiach, next week.

On another note - I mentioned some weeks back that a Midrash identifies four women who took control of a kingdom, and one of them was Shamiramit. A reader of our emails, Abraham Serfaty, of Gibraltar, contributed this information regarding Shamiramit:


>fl. 9th century BC
>Greek SEMIRAMIS, Assyrian queen who became a legendary heroine.
>Sammu-ramat was the mother of the Assyrian king Adad-nirari III (reigned
>810-783 BC). Her stela (memorial stone shaft) has been found at Ashur, while
>an inscription at Calah (Nimrud) shows her to have been dominant there after
>the death of her husband, Shamshi-Adad V (823-811 BC). Sammu-ramat was
>mentioned by Herodotus, and the later historian Diodorus Siculus elaborated
>a whole legend about her. According to him, she was born of a goddess, and,
>after being married to an Assyrian officer, she captivated the king Ninus by
>her beauty and valour and became his wife. Soon afterward, when Ninus died,
>Sammu-ramat assumed power and reigned for many years. In that time she built
>Babylon and turned to the conquest of distant lands.
>Some weeks ago in your emails on Yizebel, you referred to the above as one
>of 4 women who had world wide dominion and indicated you had nbot heard of
>her. Here is some information on her from the Encyclopaedia Britannica
>which indicates that historical traces have been found of her although most
>articles bring a lot of stuff which is mythological.
>The name Ninus above is said in some articles to be connected to Nineveh and
>others credit her with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon etc.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner

Zerubavel - Part II


This week we looked at Zerubavel's status as a descendant of Yehudah and King David, and his relationship with Mashiach.

Zerubavel as a descendant of Yehudah
As a descendant of King Yechanyah, Zerubavel was also scion of the line of Yehudah and King David. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 97:8) lists a series of leaders who came from Yehudah, including them in Yaakov's blessing to Yehudah, "Atah Yoducha Achecha," "Your brothers will praise/thank you," ie your leaders.

In addition, the Midrash (Aggadas Bereishis 27:1) makes an interesting point relevant to the story of Yehudah and Tamar. In that story (which we discussed somewhat in a Tanach class archived at, Tamar asks for a collateral from Yehudah, of "Chosamcha (your signet ring), Pesilecha (your cloak), and Matcha Asher beYadecha (your staff in your hand)." In a message to Chaggai, HaShem identifies Zerubavel as His Chosam, His sealing ring. Thus Tamar's statement to Yehudah becomes quasi-prophetic, predicting the "Chosam" who would come from their union.

Zerubavel as a Quasi-Monarch
Rashi on Shir haShirim (6:10) comments that Divine redemption comes like the dawn, beginning with weak light and building into daybreak. Rashi says that our redemption began with Zerubavel, who was a governor under the Persian/Mede authority, and built until the time of the Hasmonean army, which gained us temporary autonomy.

Similarly, Ibn Ezra (Zecharyah 11:7) comments that Zerubavel's leadership was not full-fledged monarchy

Radak (Zecharyah 6:11), though, states that Zerubavel attained the position of monarch when he built the Beis haMikdash. (See Shut Divrei Chachamim, 102, for an analysis of Ezra's role in the rebuilding vs. Zerubavel's role.)

Zerubavel as Builder of the Beis haMikdash
The Jews actually started to build the Beis haMikdash under Koresh, a Persian king, and then they stopped. They resumed under Zerubavel, at the behest of a prophet, Chaggai. Chaggai delivered a sharp message, informing the Jews that it was inappropriate for them to dwell in their homes as the Temple was in ruins. Radak (Chaggai 1:1) comments that the Jews were stalling out of fear for their enemies.

Zerubavel and Foreign Relations
Zerubavel, as the leader of the rebuilding process, led the Jews in their conflict with the Shomronim, the Samaritans. The Samaritans were a group who had converted to Judaism in an attempt to ward off lions who were marauding their camps. They never actually surrendered their idols, and they continued to cling to idolatrous worship.

When the Jews first began building the 2nd Beis haMikdash, the Samaritans tried to sabotage the work from within. They asked to join the project, but Zerubavel knew what they were up to. Zerubavel rebuffed them, declaring (Ezra 4:3), "It is not for you and for us to build a house for Gd." This led the Samaritans to tell Koresh that the Jews were planning to rebel against him, and so Koresh halted the rebuilding process.

As a result of this interference from the Shomronim, as well as an attempt they made to murder Nechemyah, Zerubavel excommunicated them. Zerubavel, along with Ezra and Yehoshua (the Kohen Gadol), gathered 300 Kohanim, with 300 Shofaros and 300 Torah scrolls, and executed a ban on eating bread baked by a Samaritan.

On the other hand, Zerubavel had a fine relationship with the Persians and Medes. Ibn Ezra on Zecharyah 11:10-11 comments that Zerubavel was called "Noam," "pleasant," because he had a covenant of peace with the surrounding nations. The covenant ended with Zerubavel's death. (See Radak Zecharyah 11:14 for an alternate explanation of "Noam.")

Prophecies regarding Zerubavel
There were a number of prophecies regarding Zerubavel's leadership. Time is brief at the moment, so I'll just note Rashi Zecharyah 6:11, Ibn Ezra Zecharyah 3:8, Ibn Ezra Michah 4:11, Ibn Ezra Zecharyah 4:14, and Radak Yechezkel 17:23-24.

The Midrash picks up on the fact that many of the Zerubavel-oriented prophecies predicted great military power and political sovereignty for the Jewish people, which did not happen during Zerubavel's time. As a result, the Midrash suggests two approaches:

1. The prophecies refer to Zerubavel's descendant, Mashiach. Midrash Tanchuma Toldos 20 points out that Mashiach will descend from Zerubavel, and uses this to interpret Zecharyah 4:7. The "great mountain" before Zerubavel is his descendant, Mashaich, who will judge people "beMishor," with even-handed justice. (See also Aggadas Bereishis 27:1)

2. The second approach actually returns Zerubavel to "active duty" in the time of Mashiach. Eliyahu Zuta 20 has Zerubavel acting as a teacher explaining the Torah HaShem will teach on the Day of Judgment.

The Otzar Midrashim goes even further with this, recording a "Sefer Zerubavel," "Book of Zerubavel," with all sorts of Messianic predictions. Ibn Ezra (Shemos 2:22 in his Peirush haKatzar) did not trust the Book of Zerubavel; he said it was not compiled by prophets or sages, and that it contained ideas which run counter to an appropriate understanding of Torah. Having said that, I'll just mention that the Otzar Midrashim (pg. 97) mentions Mashiach, Eliyahu and Zerubavel ascending the Mount of Olives together to blow the Shofar heralding the arrival of Mashiach. This same body of Midrash (pg. 407) also has Zerubavel reciting a Kaddish after HaShem teaches Torah to the masses on "Judgment Day."

We saw a bit more in the class at shul, but I think this will suffice for now.

Next week, Gd-willing, I will be in New York. We should resume in two weeks, and our topic will be Avigayil. Have a good week,

Mordechai Torczyner

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