This week’s Haftarah begins with the return to Zion and the ramifications of this event for all of humanity: “Be happy and joyful, daughter of Zion, for I am coming, and I will dwell within you – that is the declaration of G-d. And many nations will join together and come to G-d that day…” [Zechariah 2:14-15]. The end of the passage describes the Shechina (the Divine presence) in the form of a golden Menorah like the one in the Temple. The fact that these two issues appear close together is proof of the words of the sages – that the Menorah serves as testimony to the entire world that the Shechina rests within Israel (Menachot 86b).
It is true that the position of the Menorah is outside of the Holy of Holies, such that its sanctity would seem to be less than that of the Ark, where the Torah itself is kept. This might be taken to imply that the nation of Israel, including the fact that the Shechina dwells within it, is of secondary importance as compared to the Torah. However, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook explains that this approach corresponds to an external viewpoint, and in reality, from an internal approach, the sanctity of the Menorah is higher – based on the fact that the Torah was given because of Israel, which preceded the Torah:
“The Menorah encompassed the holiness of the soul of Israel on its own, which at first glance appears to be external with respect to the Torah, since it has been placed inside the Holy of Holies. However, in truth, it is what provides light for everything, and this is the secret of the testimony given by Israel, but it can also light up the outside.” [Shemona Perakim, 8:157].
This means that the sanctity of Israel shines out in a universal manner. A cursory glance might let one think that there are different levels that form a gap between the self-sanctity of the nation as opposed to the universal dissemination of the concepts to the world, and that any influence on the outside world merely stems from a surplus of the sanctity of Israel. But this is not so. The purpose of the isolation of Israel is to better serve the goal, “And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you” [Genesis 12:3]. Since “one who has been restrained cannot free himself from prison” [Berachot 5b], it is necessary for one who will redeem another to be separated from him. And that is the root cause of the isolation of Israel from the other nations.
In the Haftarah, the nation of Israel appears as a model that the other nations should emulate. We are the first nation in history to have achieved the status of “a nation of G-d,” and the other nations can learn from us, just as brothers can all learn from the firstborn. “And many nations will join together and come to G-d on that day, and they will be my nation.” In the march of history, only one nation was merited to have collective sanctity which is relevant on a national and a political level. In all other nations, there exists only sanctity of individuals, which is related to morality and religion, but in the future they will also have the privilege of the entire nation being holy. And that is why converts should not be accepted during the time of the Mashiach (Yevamot 24b), for it will no longer be necessary for a person to abandon his own nation in order to achieve the status of general holiness.
It is specifically the success of the universal mission which brings Israel up to ever higher levels, in order to serve as priests for the rest of the world: “And I will dwell within you… and G-d will give Yehuda his heritage on the holy land, and He will once again choose Jerusalem” [Zechariah 2:15-16].
Source: “NOTES FROM THE HAFTARAH” – a biweekly column in Shabbat B’Shabbato (Zomet Institute) See: http://www.zomet.org.il/eng – Mikeitz (Chanukah) 5776, issue 1602.