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Tomorrow morning in our synagogues we will hear the special Haftarah reading for Shabbat HaGadol, Malachi 3:4-24. We owe it to ourselves to pay special attention to Malachi's message. After his time, the rabbis say, there were no more prophets. Thus, Malachi's words occupy a special place--a last chance to say what needed to be said--and what the people needed to hear. And still need to hear.
The reading is full of so many gems. In verse 8, we read "Can a person cheat Gd?" And Gd's answers is "Still, you do cheat me." The people say "In what way have we cheated You?" Gd, through Malachi, has a rather specific answer--"HaMa'aseir v'HaT'rumah," tithes and gifts. Support for the Temple, is the implication, at least in Malachi's time. Malachi goes on to say that if we but bring our full tithes to the Temple storehouse, Gd will cause limitless blessing to flow.
Next, Gd charges us with speaking harsh words against Gd. And we ask, "what have we said one to another against You?" Gd answers that we have said: "shav avod Elokim" - it is nothing to serve Gd." (i.e. without purpose or meaning.)
At the end of the reading, Gd promises to send us Eliyahu HaNavi--who will turn the hearts of parents to their children and children to their parents, and herald the coming of the awesome day of Gd.
Great verses and thoughts all. Yet when reading the passage this year, what struck me most were these words at the end of verse 7: Shuvu Eilai v'Ashuva aleichem - return to Me and I will return to you. Our response is "In what way shall we return?" (JPS spins it a little differently--"in what way do we need to return?" but I prefer the plainer meaning--which leaves it a little more open for interpretation.
Who am I to argue with the scholars who decided it was an arrogant "what have we done wrong," since the later repetitions of these questions in later verses do have more of that flavor? But I think there's enough "put down" of the people of Israel in what Malachi writes that maybe we deserve a little slack in this instance. Maybe all we really meant is "what must we do to return?" After all, unlike the other two question and answer session in this Haftarah, there's no answer from Gd this time. No response telling us what we need to do, no rebuke for having the arrogance to say "in what way do we need to return?" We move right into the next Q&A in regards to cheating Gd.
However, as if often the case in our sacred writings, things aren't always presented in order. Perhaps the answer to our question at the end of Verse 7 is answered in the words of the previous clause in that same verse: Shuvu Eilai v'Ashuva aleichem. Return to Me and I will return to you.
Two-way street. Covenant. We return to Gd's ways, to our love of Gd, and Gd returns to us. Imagine, for a moment, a whole world of Jews, right here and right now, returning to Gd, and Gd returning to us. Now there's a consummation devoutly to be wished!
But we're stubborn. We want Gd to go first. We stand here, defiantly agnostic. We want proof. We want to see Gd active in the world before we make the commitment.
Typically, we miss the big picture. After all the trials and tribulations of the past 3000 years, we're still here. Dare we attribute that to our own stubbornness, our own efforts. Or perhaps Gd has played an unseen hand in it all? Our survival to this day IS a miracle. As is the survival of the reborn state of Israel. Can we attribute it all to determination and clever tactics?
Gd stands there patiently, day after day, with outstretched hand, saying, asking, pleading with us "Shuvu Eilai." When are we gonna reach out and take Gd's hand? The time is now.
Shabbat Shalom and a Zissen Pesach to all,
© 2004 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous musings on this parasha
Tzav 5763 - Zot Torahteinu?
Tzav 5760-Of IHOPs, Ordination and Shabbat
Tzav 5761/5759-Jeremiah's Solution
Tzav 5762-Irrelevant Relevancies
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