Haftarah Parashat Tsav
March 24, 2018 | 8 Nisan 5778
Malachi 3:4-24, 23
The haftarah for Shabbat HaGadol (The Great Shabbat) – the Shabbat which precedes Pesach comes from the end of the last of the Minor Prophets, Malachi. His message was preached sometime during the Second Temple period and is messianic in nature. By messianic, I mean that Malachi yearned for the perfected world, when society’s ills would be cured. It also means that Malachi was well aware of his society’s imperfections and sought to do his part to move his brethren in the right direction.
It should not be surprising to any of us that many of the issues facing his society were similar to problems that face us. Elements of the following verse could easily be found in an op-ed in today’s newspaper: “But [first] I will step forward to contend against you and I will act as a relentless accuser against those who have no fear of Me. Who practice sorcery, who commit adultery, who swear falsely, who cheat laborers of their hire, and who subvert [the cause of] the widow, orphan and stranger (mate’ ger), said the Lord of Hosts.” (3:5)
Resh Lakish, an Talmudic sage (Eretz Yisrael 4th century) was was struck by a particular detail in how this verse expresses its concern for the “ger”, which meant “stranger” in Biblical Hebrew but could also mean “convert” in Rabbinic Hebrew. Resh Lakish said: “Whoever wrests the judgment of the proselyte is as if he wrests the judgment of the All-High, for it is said: ‘And twist the judgment of the stranger (or convert)’: the consonants (mem, tet, yod) [can also be read]: And twist the judgment against Me (God). (3:5)” (Hagigah 5a) Normally the word “mateh” is spelled with a “hey” and not a “yod”. The unusual spelling inspired Resh Lakish to assert that the oppression of the stranger or convert is tantamount to subverting or, as it were, oppressing God.
Sometimes religion is all about overcoming our atavistic or animal instincts. We are intuitively suspicious of the outsider for obvious reasons. Our religious tradition instructs us, though, to show kindness and justice even to those whom we might not naturally view as insiders. We need God to remind us that they too are His creatures. There is a lot going on in the world these days but these disquieting happenings should not turn us away from this very basic message that turning away from the stranger is tantamount to turning away from God.
For Discussion: As a people whose foundational narrative is that of a family/tribe, why is there such concern for the stranger? And what does the ability of the stranger to “convert” and join our people say about what “really” binds us together?