November 21, 2009
4 Kislev 5770
Malachi\’s prophecy finds God profoundly disillusioned by His relationship with His people. God feels unappreciated, disregarded, and offended. Even those who serve Him most intimately treat Him with scorn. Dignity is totally lacking in the relationship between God and man. In response to these indignities, Malachi answers His people rhetorically: \”And now implore the favor of God! Will He be gracious to us? This is what you have done – will He accept any of you? The Lord of Hosts has said: If only you would lock My doors, and not kindle the fire on the altar for no purpose. I take no pleasure in you – said the Lord of Hosts – and I will accept no offering from you.\” (1:9-10) God challenges the people\’s expectation that God will still be gracious with them despite their behavior. Scornful behavior will invite scorn in return.
An early midrash takes God\’s remarks one step further: Rabbi Shimon says: Behold God says: \’Who amongst you will lock My doors, said the Lord of Hosts, and I will accept no offering from you\’ (verse 10) – There are two things that people would never refuse to do for each other even without payment. If one person asked another to turn on the light or to shut the door, no one would ever think to accept payment for such a thing, yet if these things you won\’t do for Me (God) without receiving a reward, why should you expect that I should accept your offerings for which you would receive a reward?\’ (adapted from Sifra Parshat Tzav Ch. 16:10; See Tosefta Demai 2:8)
This midrash interprets verse 10 as a rhetorical question rather than as a plea. Since no one was willing to do for God even a minimal act of decency, there should be no thought that God should respond to acts deserving reward. This midrash wants to make clear that the foundation of the human relationship with God begins at the very least with the common decency which people expect of each other. Without it, there should be no expectation of reciprocity from God. Of course, this midrash can only be understood if this common decency between human beings is assumed and can be used as a building block to repair the human relationship with God. Where do we stand when even this cannot be expected? The only answer is to heed the words of the prophet so that both our relationship with God and each other can be restored.
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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