It’s Shabbat HaGadol, the Shabbat before Pesach. We read a special haftarah, from Malachi, the last of the prophets.
What’s amazing to me about this haftarah is that its words ring true today. All that Malachi says of the 5th century BCE society to which he was writing feels equally on target here in the 21st century CE. The societal trends were probably similar as well – assimilation, intermarriage, lack of faith, a rejection of G”d, worship as ritual devoid of real meaning or intent.
Harsh criticisms, indeed. Surely a generalization and oversimplification in both our own time and that of Malachi. Perhaps so, but nonetheless the problems were significant and prominent enough to require redress.
G’d’s message, through Malachi, is simple enough, and appears in part of the 4th verse of the haftarah
שׁוּבוּ אֵלַי וְאָשׁוּבָה אֲלֵיכֶם
Return to Me, and I will return to you.
Now think about the words that Malachi puts in the mouths of the people of his time:
וַֽאֲמַרְתֶּם בַּמֶּה נָשֽׁוּב
In what way do we need to return?
We are surely as inclined today to ask the same question of G”d. The exchange continues. G”d asks if it is possible to cheat G”d, and then proceeds to tell the people that they have, indeed, cheated G”d. When we ask how we have cheated, G”d replies that our tithes and sacred contributions have been wanting, and that we are cursed for our cheating of G”d.
G”d offers a demonstration, of sorts. G”d says if we will but bring the full tithe into the storehouses, will G”d not provide us with limitless blessing. G”d will protect our crops from their devourers.
G”d accuses of us saying harsh things about G”d. Again, we ask “in what way?” G”d answers that we have said:
שָׁוְא עֲבֹד אֱלֹהִים
It is useless to serve G”d.
We continue, “what profit exists in observing G”d’s service or in walking with mourner’s attire before the G”d of heaven’s hosts? We account the arrogant happy, the evildoers are the ones who live on, they even try G”d and get away with it”
Does his sound familiar? It’s a litany we have been using since time immemorial, the question of theodicy. The world is full of injustice, and G”d is the ultimate judge, therefore, if evil persists, why bother with G”d?
G”d’s answer to this, through Malachi, is the well-worn “a day is coming…” Well, it’s 2500 years later and that day hasn’t come yet, has it? Malachi reiterates G”d’s promise to send the prophet Elijah to announce the day of judgment.
For some, faith is strong, for others faith is weak. For many, doubt plagues our every thought. Because of this doubt, we fail to follow G”d’s teachings, we fail to give our fair share to support our institutions and our needy. Because of (in spite of?) this doubt we continue to be adulterers, liars, cheaters of our workers, oppressors of widows and orphans, thrusters aside of strangers. The prevailing theory would suggest it’s a viscous cycle. As long as we doubt, we will sin, and as long as we sin, we will not see Elijah, a day of judgment, or olam haba (the world to come.) We need a way to short-circuit the system so we can get out of this loop we’re stuck in. I have a possible solution – read on.
We will open the door for Eliyahu on Pesach. Once again, Eliyahu will not be there. So we will continue in our cycle of theodicy, failure to have faith in G”d, and stubborn refusal to do the things that G”d asks us to do (which at least for Malachi, are more concerned with sorcerers, adulterers, those who swear falsely, those who cheat workers, those who oppress widows and orphans. and those who mistreat strangers – in addition, of course, to all who fail to offer up their fair share of tithes and sacrifices.
Sure, I could offer up platitudes and suggest that we keep our faith, and perhaps someday when we open the door Elijah will be there. But for me, a day of judgment and olam haba (the world to come) are not as important as the here and now. The door opening that matters at Pesach is when we open the door and recite:
הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא דִּי אֲכָֽלוּ אַבְהָתָֽנָא בְּאַרְעָא דְמִצְרָֽיִם. כָּל דִּכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְיֵכוֹל, כָּל דִּצְרִיךְ יֵיתֵי וְיִפְסַח.
Ha lakhma anya di achalu avhatana b’ara d’mitzrayim. Kol dichfin yeitei v’yeichol, kol ditzrich yeitei v’yifsach.
This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat, let all who are in need come and partake of our Paschal offering.
By living and breathing the intent of these ritual words in each and every moment of our lives-this, this is how we return to G”d.
Shabbat Shalom, and Khag Kasher v’Sameiakh,
©2013 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Tzav/Shabbat Hagadol 5772 – Not Passive
Tzav (Purim) 5771 – A Purim Ditty
Tzav 5769 – Payback: An Excerpt From the Diary of Moses
Tzav 5768 – Jeremiah’s solution (Updated from 5761)
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5767-Redux 5762-Irrelevant Relavancies
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5766 – Dysfunction Junction
Tzav 5765 (updated 5760)-Of IHOPs, Ordination and Shabbat
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5764-Two Way Street
Tzav 5763 – Zot Torahteinu?
Tzav 5761/5759-Jeremiah’s Solution