Parshat Aharei Mot/ Shabbat Hagadol
April 12, 2014 / 12 Nisan 5774
Malachi is the last of the prophetic books and his message is looked upon as reflecting a desire to achieve the idyllic state where all will recognize God, see themselves as answerable to God and be involved in building a society reflective of God’s values. On this account, his message is often harsh, biting and swift of action, projecting God’s desire to build a just and benevolent world. For Malachi, God does not abide injustice and finds the affliction of the weak totally unjustifiable: “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, who subvert [the cause of] the widow, orphan and stranger, said the Lord of Hosts.” (3:5)
Generations later, during the period of the Talmud, Rabbi Yohanan found these charges so totally disconcerting that it brought him to tears: “Rabbi Yohanan, when he came to the [following] verse, wept: ‘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, who subvert [the cause of] the widow, orphan and stranger, said the Lord of Hosts.’ A slave whose Master brings him near to judge him, and hastens to testify against him, is there any remedy for him?” (Hagigah 5a) Is Rabbi Yohanan disturbed because there is no hope of acquittal if God is the prosecutor, or is he pained because the very same sins which afflicted Malachi’s generation still trouble his?
It has come to be a truism in our day that each generation sees itself as markedly better than previous generations. We assume that societies and human behavior evolve morally and that societal ills fade with time. Prophetic messages are ignored because they seem passé. When one reviews the list of infractions on Malachi’s list, none of them seem anachronistic. Workers are still oppressed, the poor and weak are still subverted and the rich, even the religious who are well to do, are just as callous to these injustices as anyone else. Does anyone shed tears like Rabbi Yohanan in our day?
Pesach is upon us. It marks the birth of the Jewish nation. Nations require social cohesiveness to survive. God’s society deserves no less.
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.
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