Haftarah Parshat Tzav
March 31, 2012
8 Nisan 5772
It would be expected that Moses, as the prophet of both the redemption and the revelation of the Torah, would play a significant role in the story told on Pesah, yet, he is singularly absent from the story. Another prophet though, who lived long after the exodus from Egypt, takes a commanding role in the ritual of Pesah and in the special Shabbat preceding Pesah – Shabbat Hagadol. This prophet, Elijah, who did not die but rather was taken up to heaven in a chariot (See 2 Kings 2:11), became known in the Jewish tradition as the harbinger of the future redemption, in part, because of the penultimate verse of the special haftarah for this Shabbat: “Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome fearful day of the Lord.” (3:23) In the final verse, God reveals Elijah’s role in the redemptive process: “and he will return the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers, so that when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction.” (3:24)
Elijah’s role as reconciler in the process of the final redemption is taken up in the following Mishnah (Eduyot 8:7): “Said Rabbi Joshua: ‘I have a tradition from Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, who heard it from his master, as a law revealed to Moses at Sinai, that Elijah is not going to come to declare unclean or declare clean, to put out or to draw near, but only to put out those who have been brought near by force and to draw near those who have been put out by force.’… Rabbi Judah says: ‘To draw near but not to put out.’ Rabbi Simeon says: ‘To resolve disputes.’ And the sages say: ‘Not to put out or to draw near but to make peace in the world, as it is said: “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet… and he will return the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers.’ (Malachi 4:23-24)”
This Mishnah cites three different opinions of what Elijah’s role would be. For Rabbi Joshua, Elijah will come out rectify the injustices carried out by a world which has been overtaken by corruption. He will right the wrongs carried out by those who used power to alter people’s just fate. Rabbi Judah maintained that Elijah would do this only where it helped people but not where it harmed them. Rabbi Simeon saw Elijah’s role as one who resolves disputes in order to bring harmony to the world.
Rabbi Joshua, then, sees Elijah’s role as the harbinger of justice in the world; Rabbi Judah, as one who brings justice tempered by mercy; and Rabbi Simeon, as one who nurtures peace and harmony. We pray that when Elijah eventually comes, he will know to establish these ideals in exactly the right proportions.
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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