HaftarahParshat Toldot (Malachi 1:1-2:7
November 14, 2015 / 2 Kislev 5776
Malachi acts as God’s advocate against a nation which has come to see service to God as an unwanted chore to be discharged with the least possible effort. Sincerity, love, loyalty and appreciation for God were in short supply, not least among the priests whose duty was to serve God. The prophet makes the priestly indiscretions explicit: “’When you present a blind animal for sacrifice – it does not matter! When you present a lame or sick one – it does not matter! Offer it to your governor. Will he accept you? Will he show you favor?’ – said the Lord of Hosts.” (1:8) God’s response to this behavior is reported in the following verse: “And now implore the favor of the God! Will He be gracious to us? This is what you have done – will He accept any of you?” (1:9)
Rashi understands this response to be a rejection of those who offer sacrifices in this manner: “And now you priests who do these wicked things, how can you expect to be agents of Israel in requesting mercy on them, seeing that your hands have carried out this wickedness.” Rabbi David Kimche, on the other hand, reads this verse with the opposite intent: “If you repent and implore God with heart, He will still show mercy and do good for you, and speak and forgive them, for the prophet suffers in their troubles, and includes himself in the community of Israel, as Moses our teacher said: ‘And forgive our sins and transgressions, and from God, may He be blessed, Moses learned this, when He said to him: ‘How much longer will you men refuse to obey My commandments?”
The exact meaning of the prophet’s response is difficult to discern but the difference in the approaches of Rashi and Rabbi David Kimche are interesting in and of themselves since they represent two different tactical responses regarding how to elicit behavioral change. Rashi emphasizes the implications of negative behavior. Since you have done such and such, why should you expect God to respond affirmatively? One assumes that the expected behavioral response will be to avoid the sinful behavior in the future.
Rabbi David Kimche, however, reminds the sinner that the doors of repentance are always open and that change will bring about a rapprochement with God. This affirmative approach emphasizes the impact of positive change instead of focusing on the negative.
Which approach works better? On that question, the jury is still out.
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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