Haftarah:Shabbat HaGadol: Empowerment
Malachi 3:4 -24: On this Shabbat, Shabbat Hagadol, a time transition and empowerment, we recall the final words of prophecy in the Bible, which contain the keys
necessary for Israel to flourish in unfamiliar circumstances and times.
The people have challenged God, “ All who do evil are good in the eyes of God, and He is pleased with them! Where is the God of Justice?” (2:17)
The people had returned from exile quite a while ago. In the beginning the external circumstances seemed to justify their expectations and the return was regarded as a miracle. (Psalms 127: 1-3) Zerubbabel was chosen to be God’s “signet ring”. (Haggai 2:23) The erection of the Second Temple and the renewal of the sacrifices caused the people to rejoice. (Ezra 3:10-13; Haggai 2:9; Zechariah 2:10) The people had reconfirmed the covenant with God. (Nehemiah 8:10)
The later course of events had been disappointing, however. The Age of Redemption had not arrived. The people were still subject to Persian rule (Malachi 1:8) The promised land did not become a paradise, but instead crops failed due to locusts and drought (3:11) Religious activities were becoming burdensome (1:13) and without spiritual effect (2:13) Kohanim and people alike were violating the covenants of the fathers (2:8-10)
As a result the question had arisen whether it still made sense to adhere to the promise of a new age. At any rate the expectation appears to have had no concrete meaning. The evildoers apparently had their way, without fear of punishment. It made no difference whether a person did good or evil, because the rule of retribution, which would be especially applicable on the Day of God, seemed to be ineffective. (Job 9:24; Zephaniah 1:12) Biting irony and reckless exaggeration marked the words of those speaking. The fact that evildoers in general were not immediately punished is interpreted to mean that God endorsed evil and was pleased with the evildoers. With audacity they proposed an alternative conclusion: Or, if this is not the case, where is the Lord of Judgment? Why does He not reveal Himself as judge to punish all the evil that is done?
Malachi’s words are the last words of prophecy in the Bible. It is the end of an era, perhaps even more frightening than the transition from Moses to Joshua. The people, no matter how distant, and even if they chose to ignore the centuries of prophetic teachings and warnings, understood that they lived with a clear connection to the Creator. God still chose to communicate with the spiritual leaders of the people. The connection offered security and a certain clarity. But, it was to be no more.
Malachi is sharing the final words of prophecy. All will change. They will no longer have the clarity and connection that had kept the nation alive and together for almost a thousand years. Malachi was the leader of a new authority, The Men of The Great Assembly, a group of prophets and sages who began to lead and teach as prophecy was fading. Their authority derived from the power of the Oral Law. They were changing the face of the nation. They instituted prayers, blessings, new laws and customs. Nothing was as it was even during the Babylonian exile. How would Israel survive without the connection of prophecy? Would they be able to continue as a united nation without the clear communications from God they understood as fundamental to their being as a people? The world was confusing. This new era was frightening. Drastic change had begun. One era was ending and another was beginning. Malachi’s words would have to carry them through this transition, and Israel throughout the millennia until Elijah will come to announce the Final Redemption.
The people heard echoes of their final days in Egypt. Their ancestors, newly freed slaves, were also confused by the evil they had experienced. God had been distant for many years. Moses was urging them to leave what they knew for something new, ill defined and scary. The people knew that they were about to leave, but they did not where they were headed. God challenged them to experience their inner greatness on Shabbat Hagadol. He asked them to stand up to their former masters and display their disdain for the Egyptian gods. The people rose to the challenge and became Gedolim – they experienced Gadlut – Greatness.
Malachi empowered his generation to do the same. He pushed them to find their greatness within themselves, not from prophecy. This great leader connected every member of the nation to each other by pushing them to accept mutual responsibility. Malachi taught them that their perception of themselves as a linked nation would allow them to withstand all the challenges ahead, until Elijah will come with his message of redemption. Malachi linked us, and introduced us to the powerful force, the Chesed – Life Force- that has successfully maintained us throughout the ages. This connection to each other would prove to be an even more potent connection with God than prophecy.
May we all merit to witness the fulfillment of the final words of this final prophet: “Behold! I send you Elijah the prophet, before the great and awesome day of God. He shall restore the heart of the fathers to children and the heart of children to their fathers.”