Most of the time, the prophecy of Zechariah 5 is good news, but, for a brief moment, the tone changes in chapter 5.
The Kingdom of Judah, not to mention the northern Kingdom of Israel, had sinned severely, leading to exile from the Land, Eretz Yisrael. When the promised 70-years of exile elapsed, the equally promised release to return was granted through Cyrus the Great, founding ruler of the Medo-Persian Empire. Cyrus said any from the captives from Judah could return home and rebuild the Temple. Sadly, fewer than 50,000 took the King up on his offer, the rest having built lives in Babylon. Contrast this with Jeremiah 29 where the people are so anxious to go home that they are succumbing to the soothsaying of false prophets who are telling them that Adonai will soon relent. Jeremiah reminds them to build houses and lives there because they will have to stay for the full 70 years.
Now, Zechariah finds a people so at ease in Babylon that they are again susceptible to apostasy. The prophet sees a vision of a flying omer basket, a symbol of harvest and prosperity. When the lid is lifted, however, a woman is seen inside, and referred to by the sobering statement, “Zot ha-rish’ah”, or, “This is wickedness”. The rebelliousness is being transported to Babylon, referred to here as the land of Shinar, where the woman was being carried by two more women with stork-like wings, to build a house there. The implication is that a competitive spiritual structure will be developed in Babylon, satisfying the desire for convenience. The Torah states clearly that the only permissible site for sacrifice is the Jerusalem Temple (Deuteronomy 12), but, a system develops in Babylon reducing the centrality of that building and its altars. The Talmud and much of the substance of Judaism as we know it today was developed in Babylon, such as the Babylonian Talmud, for example. The need for blood atonement is at least anulled.
While it would be untrue to say that the Talmud and rabbinic tradition is directly contradictory to the Temple system, we are reminded that it and other commentaries are the products of men’s minds and not equal to the authority of the Bible, whose source is the Mind of God Himself. Adhering ultimately to Scripture, we can avoid a life characterized as “Zot ha-rish’ah”.
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is on the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.