June 24, 2024
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Celebrating Our Past…And Our Future

Shabbat Hagadol

Parshat Metzora

After studying this week’s haftarah, one is struck by the fact that there seems to be no hint at all that this is the final Shabbat before the chag of Pesach. Indeed, as opposed to the previous special readings that are ordained by the Tanna’im in the Mishnah, Shabbat Hagadol carries with it no obligation to read a special maftir or prophetic reading in the Talmud. Interestingly, the earliest source we have for reading this haftarah dates back to the 12th century, some 800 to 900 years after the other readings were codified in the Mishnah. And yet, the only reason why the later rabbis chose to establish a special prophetic reading, rather than the haftarah we would ordinarily read, one that ties into the topic of the parsha itself, is the fact that this Shabbat comes right before Pesach—but there is no mention of Pesach in the haftarah at all!! Quite curious, to say the least.

More troubling is the fact that the reading is taken up by the navi’s pointing out Israel’s failures and shortcomings. The prophet contrasts Hashem’s faithfulness to His people to their faithlessness to God. Malachi cries to the people that the very survival of the nation was proof of Hashem’s love for them and he implores the people to return to Hashem. Given these harsh criticisms, it is difficult to understand what Chazal saw in the words of this final prophet of the books of the nevi’im that would have them choose it for the Shabbat preceding the Holiday of Freedom.

I would suggest that the rabbis aimed to connect this haftarah to the theme of Pesach, the theme of geulah—not the past redemption from Egypt but the future and ultimate redemption of Yemot Hamashiach, the Messianic Era. The final redemption is also part of our Pesach observance. Indeed, when we take a close look at the Haggadah we realize how the pre-meal theme revolves around the Egypt experience: the final perek of Hallel read before the meal is “B’tzet Yisrael miMitzrayim” and included in this pre-meal recitation in the description of the slavery (“Avadim Hayinu”), the oppression (“Vayarei’u otanu haMitzrim, vay’anunu”) and the 10 plagues (dam, tzfarde’ah…”). On the other hand, the post-meal theme revolves around praise (Hallel) and thanksgiving to Hashem (Hallel HaGadol—‘Hodu LaShem ki tov”) for the future redemption, as well as inviting Eliyahu into our home. That is why the haftarah from Sefer Malachi is particularly fitting, for it was Malachi who, in his final message, relays Hashem’s promise that He will send Eliyahu Hanavi to Israel who would harbinger the arrival of “Yom Hashem HAGADOL,” the great day of God, the day of redemption. In effect, therefore, when we read these final prophetic words, we remember that Pesach’s message is that as redemption from Egyptian enslavement was granted, so is the future redemption assured.

In summation, we must understand that our chagim do not only mark a historical event from the past. Rather, the Jewish holiday is suffused with a message for the future. There must be, in that time of celebration, a lesson to learn that would be significant and impactive through all generations. Our redemption from Egypt was, indeed, worth marking. But our understanding that there would be yet another redemption from future oppressions, from the ghettos, the attacks and the murders our nation would suffer, that would be an even greater reason for celebration.

Yes, there will be another geulah!

And, truly, as we hear the very footsteps of the Mashiach drawing closer to us each day, we pray that we merit to see that day, that Yom Hashem HaGadol, in the very, very near future.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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