Haftarah Parshat Tzav
March 23, 2013
12 Nisan 5773
The book of Malachi is filled with challenges to the nation’s less than favorable behavior in its relationship with God. At the beginning of the chapter which contains this special haftarah for Shabbat Hagadol, God announces that he will send a messenger (malachi) to purge the Temple of its impure behavior. Once this is done, it will open the way to Israel’s sacrifices (prayers) be acceptable before God: “Then the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of yore (kimei olam) and in the years of old (uchshanim kadmoniyot).’ (3:4) In other words, the hope is that the sacrificial order will regain the purity of practice and of purpose that it had in the “good old days”.
What exactly were the “days of yore” and “the years of old” and why was it necessary to use both terms since they seem redundant? Also, what made these days “so good” that they were worthy of reminiscence? The following midrash sought to answer these questions: Rabbi Berehiah and Rabbi Hanan [said] in the name of R. Azariah of Kefar Hittaya: [This may be compared] to [the story of a] king who had two cooks. One of them cooked a dish for the king; he ate it and liked it. The other also cooked a dish for him; he ate it and liked it too. We would not know which dish the king liked had the king not ordered the second cook to make him another serving.’ So it was that we find that Noah offered up a sacrifice, and it was pleasing to the Holy One, blessed be He, as it says: ‘And the Lord smelled the sweet savor (Genesis 8:21). Israel, too, offered up a sacrifice, and [it, too,] was pleasing to the Holy One, blessed be He. We would not know which was the more pleasing to him, but from the fact that God commanded Moses, saying: ‘These are the laws of the burnt offering’ (Leviticus 6:2) [From this] we know that the sacrifice of Israel was the more pleasing. Thus it is written: ‘Then shall the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of yore, and as in years of old’ (Malachi 3:4)” (adapted from Vayikra Rabbah 7:4 Margoliot ed. pp. 157-8)
This midrash follows a very human tendency to find its ideals in the behavior patterns of heroic figures from the past. On the basis of the redundancy in the verse from Malachi, the sages sought to compare two different models – that of Noah and that of Moses. What made Moses’ sacrifices better? The Torah does not say? The midrash does not answer the question why. The parable, however, informs us how God indicated which he liked better. God wanted more.
What did Moses have to offer that Noah did not? After all, Noah was most certainly enthusiastic and sincere. It seems to me, that what made Moses different was that he acted as the representative of a community which intended to live its religious lives together. There is power and vibrancy in community that cannot be captured in the acts of an individual.
Pesach marks the birth of the Jewish people – a people born to freedom in order to serve God. Our greatest blessing for ourselves and for God is when we share our service to God with each other, building sharing and caring communities. In this our service to God will be pleasing as it was in days of old.
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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