Haftarah Parshat Toldot
(Malachi 1:1 – 2:7)
November 9, 2002
The last two verses of the haftarah speak of the spiritual nature of religious leadership: “The law of truth was in his [the priest’s] mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; He walked with Me [God] in peace and uprightness, and turned many away from sin. For the priest’s mouth should keep knowledge and they [the people] should seek the Torah from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 2:6-7) Religious leadership, according to Malachi, is not about being a ritual functionary but rather about leading people in the ways of Torah. Rashi identified this verse with Aaron, the first high priest, and those who followed him in this position. Rabbi David Kimche, the 13th century Provencal commentator, understood these verses to refer to all of the priests who ideally taught Torah, preserved the tradition and kept the people from sin.
Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yose Hagalili used this verse to contrast the role of a judge with the role of an arbitrator. He taught: “It is forbidden [for a judge] to arbitrate in a settlement and a judge who arbitrates sins…, for it is written: ‘He who blesses an arbitrator curses God’ (Psalm 10:3) [This is Rabbi Eliezer’s interpretive understanding of this verse.] Rather let the law cut through the mountain, for it is written: ‘For the judgment is God’s’ (Deuteronomy 1:17) [Consequently no court has a right to tamper with the law.] And so Moses [who represents the judiciary] says: ‘Let the law cut through the mountain’, but Aaron [the first High Priest], loved peace and pursued peace and made peace between people, as it is written: ‘The law of truth was in his mouth, unrighteousness was not found on his lips, he walked with Me in peace and uprightness and turned many away from sin’. (Sanhedrin 6b)
A legal system ought not veer from the law. It leaves one litigant the winner and one the loser. The consequences of such an outcome will not necessarily be conducive to bringing peace between the parties. Rabbi Samuel Edels (Maharsha), the 16-17th century Talmudist, explained the virtues of arbitration over judicial judgment. He points out that in judicial decisions, sometimes judges err and do an injustice to the litigants. When this happens it is a perversion of justice, which makes the judge and the litigants sinners. In arbitration, however, since both parties agree to a compromise, the potential for error disappears and none of the parties sins in the process of making a decision. The outcome of such a decision is more likely to bring peace between the parties. This is the model of Aaron, the High Priest. It is an important role for religious leaders to take upon themselves.