(Malachi 3:4 – 24)
March 27, 2010
12 Nisan 5770
Malachi\’s message seems to have been shaped in difficult and insecure times. As a consequence, the nation\’s faith wavered. Some found it difficult to maintain faith in God because of the nation\’s instability while others remained steadfast. This debate is evident in two verses which the prophet seemingly plays off of each other. God charges one group with saying: \”\’You have spoken hard words against Me\’, said the Lord. \’But you ask: \”what have we been saying (nidbaru) against you?\” You have said: \’It is useless to serve God. What have we gained by keeping His charge and walking in abject awe of the Lord of Hosts?\’\” (verses 13-14) Malachi recounts that others kept steadfast faith: \”In this vein have those who revered the Lord been talking (nidbiru) with one another. The Lord has heard and noted it, and a scroll of remembrance has been written at His behest concerning those who revere the Lord and esteem His name.\” (verse 16)
This debate is more than just a conflict over unwavering faith. It is a battle over attitudes towards life. The former attitude rejects the \”purposeful\” life since it is of no worth. It is pessimist and life denying. The later approach is life affirming, purposeful and optimistic. It aims at meeting life\’s challenges with God\’s help. The sages interpreted the latter verse with regard to a faith challenging situation: \”These are \’they who revere the Lord\’ – those who are decisive and say: \’Let us go and release the prisoners and ransom the captives\’; then the Holy One Blessed be He provides them with the means to go and act immediately. And these are \’They who thought about Your name\’ – those who keep deliberating in their hearts and say, \’Let us go and release the prisoners and ransom the captives\’; and the Holy One Blessed be He does not provide them with the means. Then an angel comes and strikes them down. (Avot de Rabbi Nathan version a, ch. 8 Schechter-Kister ed. pp. 36-7)
This midrash sees faith in God as empowering. It gives people the strength to act definitively and decisively to carry out God\’s will and embody God\’s values without equivocation even in situations which might otherwise challenge faith. It does not allow for paralyzing despair and sees human beings as God\’s agents in the world. The prophet\’s answer to life\’s vicissitudes and challenges is to affirm that if one acts to meet the challenges, God will provide the strength.
With prayers for the quick release of Gilad Shalit from captivity.
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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