Background

As this Shabbat is Shabbat HaGadol (lit. ?the great Sabbath?), the Sabbath immediately preceding Passover, a special Haftorah is read from the book of Malachi, Chap. 3:4-24. Some communities instead read from the book of Jeremiah, Chap. 7:21-34, Chap. 8:1-3 and Chap. 9:22-23.



The prophet Malachi (Hebrew for ?my messenger? or ?my angel?) was the last of the prophets. He lived during the Second Temple period. The Talmud in Tractate Megillah (15a) discusses his identity, with Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha stating that Malachi was Ezra the scribe. The Sages, however, dispute this and say that the name Malachi refers to a prophet by that name, and not to Ezra. The Book of Malachi is three chapters long and it is a powerful and passionate book of prophecy, one that culminates with a promise regarding the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people. According to tradition, Malachi died on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tevet and he is buried in the Tomb of the Prophets, which is located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.



Summary:

The Haftorah begins by saying that the sacrificial offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will once again find favor with G-d, just as they did in days past. The time of judgment will come and G-d will punish those who have sinned, such as adulterers and those who are cruel to widows and orphans. G-d berates Israel for failing to adhere to His laws and not bringing terumot and maaserot (tithes that were brought to the Temple) properly. He even challenges the people to test Him, saying that they should bring the tithes according to the law and they will then see that He will shower them with blessings. G-d also scolds Israel for speaking against Him, saying that they saw no reason to worship G-d or follow in His ways. While the wicked take pride in their defiance of G-d, however, the righteous and those who fear G-d gather among themselves to strengthen each other and be strengthened. When the Day of Judgment comes, G-d will have mercy on the righteous and those who fear Him, just as a father shows compassion to his son. However, those who do evil will be punished and the righteous will prevail. ?Keep in remembrance the Torah of Moshe, My servant ? the laws and ordinances which I commanded him at Horev for all of Israel,? (Chap.3, verse 22) says G-d. At the end of days, G-d will send Elijah the Prophet to ?turn the heart of the fathers back to the children and the heart of the children back to the fathers,? (Chap. 3, verse 24) which will herald the coming of the Messiah and the redemption of the Jewish people.



Connection Between the Haftorah and Shabbat HaGadol:

The Haftorah speaks of the coming of Elijah the Prophet before the Final Redemption, while Shabbat HaGadol immediately precedes Passover, when the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt. As the Sages said, ?In [the month of] Nissan, they [the Jews] were redeemed and in Nissan they will be redeemed in the future [when the Messiah comes].?



Israel Will Never Be Destroyed



After saying that He will punish those who sin and oppress the downtrodden, G-d assures the Jewish people: ?For I, the L-rd, have not changed and you the sons of Jacob have not been destroyed.? (Chap. 3, verse 6)



The Question:

What is the connection in the verse between G-d?s unchanging nature and the fact that the Jewish people have not been destroyed?



The Answer:

The Radak says that G-d is pointing out to the Jewish people that, unlike other nations that long ago vanished from history, the Jews have not disappeared and they will never do so. For the Jewish people will always be unique among the nations. Even though they were exiled to the four corners of the earth, their name remains with them and they will continue to exist. Even though G-d punishes us for our sins, He assures us that just as He remains unchanged, so too will the Jewish people never be destroyed. Furthermore, says the Radak, when the end of days comes, Israel will return to its original status, elevated above all the other nations of the world. Hence, according to the Radak, the verse links G-d?s eternal and unchanging ways with Israel?s existence to emphasize that the Jewish people will never be destroyed.



The Lesson:

Israel is currently facing its greatest danger since the 1967 Six Day War. Our enemies assault us relentlessly, murdering innocent men, women and children with callous indifference to the pain and suffering they cause. Countries such as Iran and Iraq are racing to develop weapons of mass destruction, openly boasting about their desire to wipe Israel off the map. Despite Israel?s just cause, despite the overwhelming evidence that our enemies are the aggressors and we are the victims, much of the world castigates Israel and curries favor with its foes. The daily toll of violence is a recipe for despair, leading many Jews to wonder out loud about the future of Israel and whether it even has one. However, as we saw above, the prophet Malachi soothes our fears, reassuring us that just as G-d was, is and always will be, so too the Jewish people are eternal. We have survived atrocities and persecution throughout our history and we will survive the intifada, too. As disheartening as current events may be, we must never for a moment doubt that we will emerge triumphant from this morass. Though all the cards may seem to be stacked against us, the bottom line is that the Dealer is on our side. Just as He is everlasting and eternal, so too is His promise that the Jewish people will never be destroyed, and that one day soon, Israel ultimately will prevail.



Moral Clarity and the ?Axis of Evil?



Towards the end of the Haftorah, G-d says that He will have mercy on the righteous and on those who fear Him, just as a father has mercy on his son. He then says, ?And you shall return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him who serves G-d and him who has not served Him.? (Chap. 3, verse 18)



The Question:

Why does the verse say people will ?return and discern? between good and evil?



The Answer:

Prior to this verse, in verses 13-15, G-d had rebuked the Jewish people for losing sight of the difference between the righteous and the wicked, when they said that nothing could by gained by serving G-d or fulfilling His commandments. This moral muddle had broken down the clear societal distinction that had previously existed between good and evil. However, our verse, verse 18, declares that this will be reversed. The Radak says that when the verse speaks of ?return and discern?, it means that the difference between a righteous man and a wicked man will once again be discernible, and it will no longer be said that those who are wicked are good in G-d?s eyes or that it is futile to serve G-d. Hence, according to the Radak, our verse is foretelling a return of moral clarity to the world, a step that will presage the coming of the Messiah and the Final Redemption of the Jewish people.



The Lesson:

This week, U.S. President George W. Bush again referred to the ?axis of evil? that is threatening global stability, marking the first time since his State of the Union address in late January that he has publicly repeated the phrase. His original use of the slogan ? referring to Iraq, Iraq and North Korea ? provoked an outburst of indignation, especially in Europe, where the chattering classes mocked him for being ?simplistic? and for invoking ?moral absolutes?, as if there were something wrong in believing that not everything in this world is relative or subjective in nature. What these critics suffer from is precisely the type of moral confusion that is criticized in the Haftorah. They fail to appreciate that only through moral clarity ? only through a lucid and unambiguous sense of what is good and what is evil ? can one hope to repair the world. Sadly, this basic truth has also been forgotten closer to home, where many of Israel?s government ministers continue to seek ways to reach an accommodation with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. These ministers, like their European comrades, fail to grasp the necessity of having a strict moral compass, one which precludes attempts to appease or mollify evil and its practitioners. Only by drawing a moral line in the sand and acting on it to stamp out evil, can good have any chance of prevailing. For, as we saw above, only once there is moral clarity again in the world can we hope to move onward to redemption. That is why America went to far-off Afghanistan to uproot the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Hopefully, that is why Israel will shortly return to Palestinian-controlled areas to uproot the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat, too. There is, quite simply, no other way.

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Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications and Policy Planning in the Prime Minister?s Office from 1996 to 1999.