In the Torah portion of Vayakhel, we read about the building of the Mishkan. The overseer and main artisan was Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur from the tribe of Yehudah. In addition to being a gifted artisan and have the Divine spirit, Betzalel merited this position because he was the grandson of Chur who gave his life sanctifying G-d’s name.
The fact that Betzalel was an expert in the fields of architecture, carpentry, artistry, and smithing as needed to build the Mishkan was extremely unusual, especially since he had grown up as a slave in Egypt. Even more unusual was the fact that Betzalel also understood the mystical meanings behind every part of the Mishkan, as the Talmud says, “Betzalel knew how to put together the letters with which heaven and earth were created.” Since the Mishkan was a microcosm of the entire universe, Betzalel had to know the secrets of creation in order to infuse those meanings into the building.
Zerubavel ben She’altiel
This article will focus on one of the main builders of the second Beit HaMikdash. Zerubavel ben She’altiel, though perhaps not very well known, was a scion of the Davidic dynasty who led the Jewish people back to Israel from Babylonia. He is mentioned several times in Tanach in regards to the events of that time.
Meaning of the Name
The Talmud says that the name Zerubavel/זרובבל means that he was conceived (זרוע) in Babylonia (בבל) and that the name of his father (or grandfather, see below) She’altiel/שלתיאל means that G-d annulled his oath (שאל א-ל means that G-d asked [for the oath to be annulled]). This refers to the fact that G-d swore that Zeubavel’s great grandfather, King Yehoyachin, would die childless due to his sins. But as a result of the teshuvah (repentance) that Yehoyachin did while in Babylonian captivity, the decree was overturned. Thus, Zerubavel’s conception was because of (the captivity in) Babylonia.
The verses refer to Zerubavel as the son of She’altiel. But according to the genealogy listed in Divrei HaYamim (Chronicles) I 3:17-19
, Zerubavel was the son of Pedayah, who was the son of She’altiel, who was the son of Yehoyachin, king of Yehudah.
Several explanations for this discrepancy are given:
- Grandchildren Are Like Children
says that Zerubavel is referred to as the son of She’altiel even though he was really his grandson, based on the principle that a grandson is like a son.
 adds that the reason he is called by his grandfather’s name is either because She’alti’el was a more famous person or because he was the one who raised him. A similar expression is used regarding the children of Merav, daughter of Shaul, who are referred to as the children of Michal (see Shmuel II 21:8
) because Michal raised them.
The Ibn Ezra writes that She’altiel and Pedayah were both sons of Yehoyachin, king of Yehudah. She’altiel passed away without children, and Pedayah married his wife, based on the principle of yibum – Levirate marriage. The first child that Pedayah had with She’altiel’s widow was Zerubavel. He was therefore referred to as the son of She’altiel as the verse says, “The firstborn will be called by the name of the deceased.”
Zerubavel and Nechemiah – One and the Same Person
The Talmud says that Zerubavel and Nechemiah ben Chachilyah were one and the same person. (Nechemiah was the charismatic leader who was involved in rebuilding Yerushalayim and who led a religious revival there.) His real name was Nechemiah but he was called Zerubavel because he was born in Bavel. The true name of his father (who was the son or grandson of Yehoyachin, see above) was Chachilyah but he was called She’altiel because G-d asked (the Heavenly Court) to absolve His oath (see above).
Despite this teaching, there are several commentaries who list Zerubavel and Nechemiah as separate people. This is also the plain reading of many verses in Tanach.
Notably, the Rambam lists Zerubavel and Nechemiah as two separate members of the Men of the Great Assembly. As he writes (in his introduction of the Mishnah Torah
), ”The members of Ezra’s tribunal are called Men of the Great Assembly, namely: Chaggai, Zechariah, Malachi… Nehemiah son of Chachilyah, Mordechai, Bilshan, Zerubavel and many other scholars with them, totaling the number of 120 Elders.”
Similarly, Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura lists Zerubavel and Nechemiah as two people.
One of the commentaries suggests that Zerubavel’s real name was Nechemiah ben Chachilya (as stated by the Talmud), but they were contemporaries who shared the same (birth) name rather than being the same person.
Same as Sheshbatzar or Not?
In the beginning of the book of Ezra, we read (Ezra 1:8
) that the Persian king Koresh (Cyrus) took many of the utensils of the Beit HaMikdash that were in captivity and gave them to Sheshbatzar, leader of the tribe of Yehudah, so that he could bring them to Yerushalayim and use them when rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash. Some say that Sheshbatzar was the Persian name for Zerubavel. Others say that Sheshbatzar is Daniel who was called Sheshbatzar because he experienced six troubling situations. (ששבצר stands for שעמד בשש צרות – he stood [remained resolute] in six troubles).
Zerubavel, together with Yehoshua, the Kohen Gadol, led the first group of Jews back to Israel, 52 years after the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash. They had been given permission by Koresh (Cyrus), the Persian king, to return and rebuild. Unfortunately, this decree was rescinded when the enemies of the Jews accused them of planning a rebellion. In the second year of Daryavesh (Darius), king of Persia, (son of Queen Esther and Achashverosh) the Jewish people received permission to resume the building of the Beit HaMikdash.
Zerubavel and Yehoshua, once again, took the lead in this building. That stage of the building took four years, and Zerubavel was involved in the building from the beginning until the end. As the prophet Zechariah said, “Zerubavel’s hands have founded this House and Zerubavel’s hands shall complete it.”
Zerubavel was a member of the Men of the Great Assembly and as such is associated with all of their rulings, teachings, and enactments.
Zerubavel had eight children. They are Meshullam, Hananiah, and their sister Shlomit (from one wife), as well as Chashubah, Ohel, Berechiah, Hasadiah, and Chushav-Chessed (from another wife).
The political leaders of the Jewish community in Babylonia for many centuries were called Roshei Galuyot. They were all descendants of Zerubavel. One of the more famous leaders was known as Bustenai
A Messianic Potential
The commentaries say that, had the Jewish people done a full teshuvah and all returned to Israel to build the Beit HaMikdash, Zerubavel would have been Moshiach and the second Beit HaMikdash would have lasted forever.
Will Be G-d’s Interpreter and Say Kaddish
The Midrash says that in the Messianic era, G-d will teach the secrets of the Torah to the tzadikim (righteous people), and Zerubavel will act as the interpreter who will explain the lesson. Another Midrash adds that Zerubavel will say kaddish after this lesson which will be heard throughout the world. The wicked Jews in Gehinom will respond “Amen” to this kaddish which will cause G-d to elevate them from Gehinnom.
Let us hope that this happens very soon!
 Brachot 55a
 Zerubavel is mentioned in Chagai 1:1 12 and 14, 2:2, 4, 21 and 23, Zechariah 4:6 and 9, Ezra 2:2, 3:2 and 8, 5:2, Nechemiah 7:7, 12:1 and Divrei HaYamim 3:12
 Sanhedrin 38a
 Yirmiyahu 22:30
“Thus said the L-rd, record this man as childless, one who shall never be found acceptable. For no man of his offspring shall be accepted… to rule again in Judah.”
 On Divrei HaYamim, ibid
 On Chaggai 1:1
 Quoted in the Malbim on Divrei HaYamim ibid. I could not find this Ibn Ezra (A.C.)
 Sanhedrin 38a (quoted above)
 See 1) Ezra 2:3
“Who came with Zerubavel, Yeshua, Nechemiah, Seraiah… The list of the men of the people of Israel.”
2) Nechemiah 7:7
“Those who came with Zerubavel (were), Yeshua, Nechemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordechai, Bilshan.”
3) Nechemiah 12:47
“And in the time of Zerubavel, and in the time of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed…”
 Rabbi Aryeh Leib Lipkin in Chidushei Mahara”l (מהרא”ל) on Sanhedrin ibid
 Ibn Ezra
 Specifically these were 1) he was exiled with Yehoyakim 2) and Yehoyachin 3) and Tzidkiyahu 4) Nevuchadnetzar wanted to kill him together with all his advisors (Daniel 2:10) 5) He was nearly thrown into the furnace with Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah and 6) he was thrown into the lion’s den.
 See ibid, 4:6 and 4:24
 See Tanchumah VaYeshev 2:15
that he was on the court that established the prohibition against eating gentile bread.
 Tanna Devei Eliyahu Zutah, 20:6
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!