Parshat Aharei Mot
April 23, 2005
This year we experienced having Shabbat Hagadol (The Great Shabbat) split in two. Last Shabbat, the special sermon or lesson dealing with the laws of Pesach was delivered in order to give people the opportunity to take the lessons taught into account in their Pesach preparations. Since, however, last Shabbat did not immediately precede Pesach, the special haftarah for Shabbat Hagadol was left for this Shabbat.
Malachi\’s message is adversarial. He lived at a time of despair and disillusionment. He challenged the people\’s half-hearted faith in God and prodded them to prepare for the ultimate redemption which would take place on the \”awesome, fearful day of the Lord\” (verse 23). His final challenge concerned their lack of belief in God\’s moral command in the world: \”You have said, \’It is useless to serve God. What have we gained by keeping his charge and in walking in awe of the Lord of Hosts? …\’ (Verse 14)
The righteous responded to the people\’s lack of faith by affirming God\’s commitment to the world. God, in turn, noted their loyalty: \”In this vein have those who revere the Lord been talking (nidbaru) to one another [defending God\’s ways – see Rashi]. The Lord has heard and noted it, and a scroll of remembrance has been written at His [God\’s] behest concerning those who revere the Lord and esteem His name.\” (Verse 14;16) Malachi later asserts that God will redeem the world as a response to the loyalty of the righteous.
In the following midrash, the rabbis transform the meaning of this verse by claiming a different meaning for the word \”nidbaru\” thereby producing a very different message: \”Then when those who fear the Lord submitted to one another, the Lord listened.\” Rabbi Hiyya taught in the name of Rabbi Abba: When Sages submit to each others words [here nidbaru means \”submits\”], as it is written in verse: \”He [God] subdues (yadbar) people under us\” (Psalm 47:4), then the Holy One Blessed Be He listens to their words, as it is written: \”Then when those who fear the Lord submitted to each other, the Lord hearkened and listened. Rabbi Jacob bar Zavda added in the name of Rabbi Abbahu: Not only this, but the Holy One Blessed Be He, corrects their errors for them.\” (Adapted from Midrash Tehillim 30:5)
Here, the sages claim that when Jews debate in the study of Torah, modifying and honing each other\’s thoughts, God pays attention and even participates in helping them perfect their ideas. In a sense, God helps them to redeem their ideas. May this concept inspire our discussions at the Seder table this year leading us to true inspiration.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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