Friday, March 27, 2015

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5775–Two Way Street (Revised)

The nature of covenant has been on my mind of late, and this musing, originally written in 2004, provides one glimpse at what a covenantal relationship could be like.

Tomorrow morning in our synagogues we will hear the special Haftarah reading for Shabbat HaGadol, Malachi 3:4-24. We owe it to ourselves to pay special attention to Malachi's message. After his time, the rabbis say, there were no more prophets. Thus, Malachi's words occupy a special place--a last chance to say what needed to be said--and what the people needed to hear. And still need to hear.

The reading is full of so many gems. In verse 8, we read

הֲיִקְבַּע אָדָם אֱלֹהִים

"Can a person cheat G”d?"

And G”d's answer is

כִי אַתֶּם קֹֽבְעִים אֹתִי

"Still, you do cheat me."

The people say

וַֽאֲמַרְתֶּם בַּמֶּה קְבַֽעֲנוּךָ

"In what way have we cheated You?"

G”d, through Malachi, has a rather specific answer--

הַֽמַּֽעֲשֵׂר וְהַתְּרוּמָֽה

"HaMa'aseir v'HaT'rumah," tithes and gifts.

Support for the Temple, is the implication, at least in Malachi's time. Malachi goes on to say that if we but bring our full tithes to the Temple storehouse, G”d will cause limitless blessing to flow.

Next, G”d charges us

חָֽזְקוּ עָלַי דִּבְרֵיכֶם אָמַר יְהֹוָה

with speaking harsh words against G”d. And we ask

וַֽאֲמַרְתֶּם מַה־נִּדְבַּרְנוּ עָלֶֽיךָ

"what have we said one to another against You?"

G”d answers that we have said:

שָׁוְא עֲבֹד אֱלֹהִים

"shav avod Elokim" - it is nothing to serve Gd." (i.e. without purpose or meaning.)

At the end of the reading, G”d promises to send us Eliyahu HaNavi--who will turn the hearts of parents to their children and children to their parents, and herald the coming of the awesome day of G”d.

Great verses and thoughts all. Yet when reading the passage this year, what struck me most were these words at the end of verse 7:

שׁוּבוּ אֵלַי וְאָשׁוּבָה אֲלֵיכֶם אָמַר יְהֹוָה צְבָאוֹת

Shuvu Eilai v'Ashuva aleichem - return to Me and I will return to you.

Our response is

וַֽאֲמַרְתֶּם בַּמֶּה נָשֽׁוּב

"In what way shall we return?"

(JPS spins it a little differently--"in what way do we need to return?" but I prefer the plainer meaning--which leaves it a little more open for interpretation.)

Who am I to argue with the scholars who decided it was an arrogant "what have we done wrong," since the later repetitions of these questions in later verses do have more of that flavor? But I think there's enough "put down" of the people of Israel in what Malachi writes that maybe we deserve a little slack in this instance. Maybe all we really meant is "what must we do to return?" After all, unlike the other two question and answer sessions in this Haftarah, there's no answer from G”d this time. No response telling us what we need to do, no rebuke for having the arrogance to say "in what way do we need to return?" We move right into the next Q&A in regards to cheating G”d.

However, as if often the case in our sacred writings, things aren't always presented in order. Perhaps the answer to our question at the end of Verse 7 is answered in the words of the previous clause in that same verse:

שׁוּבוּ אֵלַי וְאָשׁוּבָה אֲלֵיכֶם אָמַר יְהֹוָה צְבָאוֹת

Shuvu eilai v'ashuva aleikhem. Return to Me and I will return to you.

Two-way street. Covenant. We return to G”d's ways, to our love of G”d, and G”"d returns to us. Imagine, for a moment, a whole world of Jews, right here and right now, returning to G”d, and G”d returning to us. Now there's a consummation devoutly to be wished!

But we're stubborn. We want G”d to go first. We stand here, defiantly agnostic. We want proof. We want to see G”d active in the world before we make the commitment.

Typically, we miss the big picture. After all the trials and tribulations of the past 3000 years, we're still here. Dare we attribute that to our own stubbornness, our own efforts. Or perhaps G”d has played an unseen hand in it all? Our survival to this day IS a miracle. As is the survival of the reborn state of Israel. Can we attribute it all to determination and clever tactics?

G”d stands there patiently, day after day, with outstretched hand, saying, asking, pleading with us "Shuvu Eilai." When are we gonna reach out and take G”d's hand? The time is now.

שׁוּבוּ אֵלַי וְאָשׁוּבָה אֲלֵיכֶם אָמַר יְהֹוָה צְבָאוֹת

Shabbat Shalom and a Zissen Pesach to all,


©2015, 2004 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha

Tzav/Shabbat Zachor 5774 - Does G"d Need a Shrink?
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5773 - The Doorway to Return
Tzav/Shabbat Hagadol 5772 - Not Passive
Tzav (Purim) 5771 - A Purim Ditty
Tzav 5769 - Payback: An Excerpt From the Diary of Moses
Tzav 5768 - Jeremiah's solution (Updated from 5761)
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5767-Redux 5762-Irrelevant Relavancies
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5766 - Dysfunction Junction
Tzav 5765 (updated 5760)-Of IHOPs, Ordination and Shabbat
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5764-Two Way Street
Tzav 5763 - Zot Torahteinu?
Tzav 5761/5759-Jeremiah's Solution

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