June 17, 2024
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Disappointment, Not Rejection

Parshat Toldot

The Sefer Malachi from which our haftarah is taken is one shrouded in mystery—both regarding the navi himself as well as his message to the people. This enigma makes it especially challenging for us to properly appreciate the prophetic words of the prophet. In order to understand this week’s haftarah, and, through that to better understand its connection to parshat hashavua, I believe that we need to learn about the historical background, the events of the time and the challenges facing that community.

Despite the disagreement among our sages regarding who Malachi was (as the text gives us no information about his family, his city or his tribe), nor what his real name was (see Megillah 15a) or even when he lived (also information not found in the text), most scholars agree that Malachi functioned during the time of Bayit Sheni, a generation or two after the earlier prophets of Chaggai and Zecharya. As a result, he is seen by most as the very last prophet to bring Hashem’s word to the masses.

Given the optimistic promises of complete redemption, a redemption that would include both material and spiritual success for the returning nation, it was understandable that this later generation, one that lived in poverty as a small vassal state subservient to the mighty Persian Empire, would assume that God had abandoned them and had withdrawn the promise of a glorious future that was described by Chaggai and Zecharya.

Furthermore, as Rabbi Hayyim Angel writes, they no longer had a scion of the Davidic dynasty leading them (as Zerubavel had in the earlier generation), which extinguished their hope of renewing the monarchy. And that reality led them to believe that their relationship with Hashem had been terminated with the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash and with its subsequent exile.

We can now better understand the very opening words of this prophet’s book and our haftarah: “Ahavti etchem amar Hashem,” “I do love you, says Hashem.” Malachi understands the nation’s pain and preaches a most important lesson to them: that redemption is not close at hand but that is not a sign of Hashem’s rejection of His people. Geula is a gradual process, he explains, but the very survival of the nation is, in itself, proof of God’s love. When we realize that this was to be the end of prophecy before the long years in the Diaspora, we better understand the importance of Malachi’s words, words that would be read for thousands of years and, through them, build hope and faith in the heart of the Jew.

But how does that connect us to the parsha of Toldot?

Much like the opening of the parsha itself, the first section of the haftarah contrasts Israel (Jacob) with Edom (Eisav). Proving that Hashem had not turned away from Israel, Malachi describes how God had rejected Edom by utterly destroying their land and making it desolate. Even if Edom were to attempt to rebuild their land—Hashem will tear down whatever they build. Malachi hopes to impress upon the nation that this contrast, i.e., the very fact that Israel had returned to their land and are rebuilding it while Edom is not and cannot, is proof enough that they are not rejected by God, as they may believe.

This first section of Sefer Malachi becomes a springboard for the navi’s later condemnation of Israel—and especially the kohanim—for their sins. The prophet now can explain that these condemnations, this disappointment Hashem may have over their sins, do not mean that God had rejected or abandoned Israel. The prophet can now express Hashem’s frustration with His people with the hope that they will realize that God still loves them and wishes to build a closer relationship with them.

The ongoing story of Yaakov Avinu that begins in this parsha, his exile from his father’s house, the hatred of his brother, the challenges he faces in the house of Lavan and the eventual loss of his beloved wife were not signs of God’s abandonment. Hashem promised to be with Yaakov throughout his life’s journey—and He was! The eventual reuniting of the family and the years of rest from his troubles would take time. But it would happen.

The story of Yaakov is the story of Malachi’s generation.

And, when we think about it, the story of all our generations.

Perhaps ours above all!


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

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