How can we bring the Final Redemption?
Table for Five: Shabbat HaGadol
In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
Lo, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
– Malachi 3:23, from Haftorah of Shabbat HaGadol
Rabbi Aryeh Markman, Executive Director, Aish LA
To understand the Jewish bottom line, let’s take a page from Stephen Covey’s best seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 2: “Begin with the end in mind”. The last Jewish (or otherwise) prophet’s prophesy is Malachi warning us that the Messiah/Moshiach is coming, and he will be heralded by Elijah the Prophet. That’s our compass and end game. Elijah’s job will be to rectify Jewish thought and behavior by rewiring our outlook and motivating us to become really who we are meant to be in Jewishly. Spoiler alert: Moshiach is a Torah scholar to the max and will strengthen and captivate our understanding and observance of the Torah. The result will be unparalleled Jewish unity. Tranquility will reign throughout the Land of Israel and worldwide. I’m in!
Ultimately, every Jewish organization is trying to bring about total redemption, be it by fighting antisemitism, advocating politics, or the like. These are essential but accessory to Malachi telling us that integrating the Torah into our lives will transcend and solve current events. Today’s headlines are a distraction. They are the symptoms, not the disease. They mirror our fallen spiritual state. We are currently in exile from who we are truly meant to be.
Destiny is in our hands. We are the solution. Malachi is sending us into history with the message that a God-awareness lifestyle, which is what Judaism is all about, is the only thing that will move the needle in our favor. Have a Happy Passover!
Judy Gruen, Author, “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love With Faith.”
Malachi and his contemporaries Ezra and Nechemia lived through the exile from Jerusalem and our near annihilation that we recently read in the Book of Esther. These were the last of the prophets and this Haftorah is the final prophecy in our sacred books.
Like all Haftorot that begin by chastising our failures, this one ends with hope. We are first admonished for failing to tithe and support the Leviim, and for praising and copying the behavior of the wicked, who seemingly flourish. God is quite clear about the consequences in store for those who don’t reassess their values and begin a course correction. (It isn’t pretty.)
But the narrative then turns, promising blessings for those who believe in God and follow His ways. The Haftorah ends with this promise of redemption but the pasuk needs the full context to appreciate it: “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord, that he may turn the heart of the fathers back (to God) through the children, and the heart of the children back (to God) through their fathers.”
This is exactly what we have seen in recent generations: a wholly unanticipated ba’al teshuva movement, one that continues to grow worldwide. Sometimes children lead parents; sometimes parents influence children. In my life, I haven’t brought along parents but have had the merit to raise children with love of Torah and the emotional and spiritual security that our relationship with God brings.
Cantor Michelle Bider Stone, Temple Beth Am
Do you think it’s weird that Elijah gets invited to the end of the seder? After we’ve already eaten? He doesn’t even get dessert. Well, it may surprise you to learn that Elijah’s cup wasn’t originally for Elijah. I don’t have space to explain (look it up!), but medieval rabbis debated about whether there should be four or five cups at the seder. So, what did they decide? Teiku, “let it stand,” is a Talmudic dictum used when a disagreement isn’t resolved. We won’t decide now. The answer will be revealed when Elijah comes to herald in the messianic age (which is why the fifth cup became associated with Elijah). In the end, we pour the fifth cup, but we don’t drink it. The rabbis didn’t know who was right, so they compromised.
Recently, a friend posted a picture that read, “The other person might be right.” It is so obvious, yet so hard to do in our polarized world. We live in a time when people fear that giving an inch guarantees giving a mile. Our sages disagreed about the cups of wine, but in the end, they respected each other’s opinions and compromised.
Maybe the fifth cup wasn’t originally for Elijah, but there’s a lesson in welcoming him to our seder. Elijah is our tradition’s promise for a better tomorrow. When we open the door, we express hope for a better world, perhaps one where people do a better job listening to each other and engaging in compromise.
David Brandes, Screenwriter
“In each generation, every individual should feel as though he or she had actually been redeemed from Egypt.” Every year at the Seder we repeat this hope of experiencing the redemption. And every year most of us fail. Let’s face it, feeling what we have not experienced is almost impossible. So, how is this to be accomplished?
I think that the paradigm is found in “The Four Quartets” by the great poet and unlikely Torah scholar, T.S. Elliot:
“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable…”
The Seder night is about our redemption in the past as well as in the future. And Elijah in his fiery chariot connect the two together.
Consider the beautiful Chasidic tradition of inviting everyone at the table to help fill Elijah’s cup from their own cups of wine. As Elijah’s cup is passed around everyone symbolically remembers the redemption from Egypt and anticipates the future redemption.
Throughout the Seder we are reminded that Seder night is like messianic times – “time which is neither day or night.” This is not linear time it is a metaphysical dimension of time. Also, as we fill the fourth cup of wine and open the door for Elijah we are showing that we are safe. The past and future Egyptians have been smitten and the world is at peace.
During the Seder all time is eternally present.
Michael Berenbaum, Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies, American Jewish University
Passover never creeps up upon us, it demands preparation, perhaps too much preparation. In synagogue, we prepare from the beginning of Adar with special Haftorah readings culminating in this last verse that closes the Haftorah of Shabbat Hagadol.
The Exodus is one of the two most formative events in Jewish history – we were slaves in the Land of Egypt and then we were freed. All freedom seeking people who have been touched by the Hebrew Bible can understand the journey. Egypt and Pharoah, Moses and the Exodus, crossing the Sea, and the long journey to the Promised Land.
For Biblical Jews the Exodus was a past event; for later Jews who no longer dwelled in the Promised Land or for whom the Promised Land had lost its Promise, the past was but prelude to Final Return, to the End of Days, to a Promise that would endure.
As Jewish anguish intensified, as the distance gap between the Promise and the Present deepened, this verse was reinterpreted to have Elijah herald in the coming of the Messiah.
Malachi is more modest. ‘He shall reconcile parents with children and children with their parents, so that, when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction.”
As a Jew I love the Passover story, I cherish our remembrance of the past and I revere the fact that despite our anguish Jews have continued to hope. Yet as a historian, I know that every pronouncement of coming of the Messiah has been a disaster in Jewish history, sans the most limited and most restricted secular messianism of the Zionist movement which aspired to create a Jewish homeland and later a Jewish state in our historic homeland.
Dayenu, it is sufficient.
The easiest belief I hold as a Jew is that the Messiah has not yet come. Proof positive: the news. So I support the most narrow reading of the text. Elijah shall bring reconciliation between the generations, nothing more. At this point in Jewish life, that sounds Messianic.
With thanks to Rabbi Aryeh Markman, Judy Gruen, Cantor Michelle Bider Stone, David Brandes, and Rabbi Michael Berenbaum
Image: At Old Jerusalem’s Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai Synagogue, a flask of oil and a shofar await the Messiah. Photo by Djampa
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