One of the reasons that the Shabbat before Pesach is known as Shabbat HaGadol, “the Great Shabbat”, is that this is the day that the Jewish People performed the very first commandment that was given to them as a nation. It was on that day, Shabbat, 10th of Nissan, that they took the lambs for the Pesach sacrifice into their homes. It marked the transition between the era of the Avot, forefathers, of individuals who do G-d’s will, to the era of the Jewish Nation, an entire people who do G-d’s will.
The Haftarah of Shabbat HaGadol is taken from the last chapter in the section of the Tanach known as “Ne’vi’im”, Prophets. It also marks a transition, the transition from the era of prophets to the era of Torah. The last time that G-d addresses the Jewish People through a prophet, He says:
זִכְרוּ תּוֹרַת מֹשֶׁה עַבְדִּי אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי אוֹתוֹ בְחֹרֵב עַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל חֻקִּים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים:
Remember the Torah of My servant Moshe, that I commanded to him in Chorev for all of Israel, the laws and the statutes. (Malachi 3:22)
We no longer have prophecy, but the Torah that G-d gave Moshe, with all its laws and statutes, is enough for us to know what G-d wants us to do.
Still, the lack of prophecy is a great loss to the Jewish People. When we had prophets, our leaders could ask God for direction in handling political and military events. When we had prophets, we didn’t have to wonder if something was “good for the Jews” or “bad for the Jews,” and if the answer was “no,” we would know why. When we had prophets, they would identify the individuals whose lives had an impact on the Jewish People, and record their deeds in the Tanach. Now that prophecy is gone, and the Tanach is sealed, perhaps it is no longer possible for individuals to affect the course of Jewish history and for our actions to matter on a prophetic level.
The following Midrash suggests otherwise:
א”ר יצחק בר מריון בא הכתוב ללמדך שאם אדם עושה מצוה יעשנה בלבב שלם. שאלו היה ראובן יודע שהקב”ה מכתיב עליו (בראשית ל”ז) וישמע ראובן ויצילהו מידם בכתפו היה מוליכו אצל אביו. ואילו היה יודע אהרן שהקב”ה מכתיב עליו (שמות ד’) הנה הוא יוצא לקראת, תופים ובמחולות היה יוצא לקראתו. ואלו היה יודע בעז שהקב”ה מכתיב עליו ויצבט לה קלי ותאכל ותשבע ותותר,עגלות מפוטמות היה מאכילה. ר’ כהן ור’ יהושע דסכנין בשם ר’ לוי לשעבר היה אדם עושה מצוה והנביא כותבה ועכשיו כשאדם עושה מצוה מי כותבה אליהו כותבה ומלך המשיח והקדוש ב”ה חותם על ידיהם הה”ד (מלאכי ג’) אז נדברו יראי ה’ איש אל רעהו וגו’. (רות רבה ה’)
An expanded translation of the Midrash:
R’ Yitzchak bar Meryon said: The text comes to teach you that if a person does a Mitzvah, he should do it with his whole heart.
When Yosef went to meet his brothers and they decided to kill him, Reuven managed to protect Yosef from being murdered. He did not do enough to prevent him being sold into slavery, yet the Torah records: “Reuven saved his life”. If Reuven had known that G-d would dictate this to be written, he would have picked up Yosef and carried him on his shoulders back to his father.
When Moshe was negotiating with G-d about his role in the Exodus, one of the obstacles to his accepting the position of the leader of the Jewish People was his fear of displacing his brother Aharon. G-d tells him, “He is coming, and when he sees you, he will be happy in his heart.” If Aharon had known that G-d would dictate this to be written, he would have come out with a marching band to show how truly happy he is to have Moshe back, and to have him lead the Jewish People out of slavery.
When Boaz met Ruth for the first time, and was impressed with her character and loyalty, he made sure that she did not go hungry, and it says: “he gave her toasted wheat.” If he had know that G-d would dictate this to be written, he would have fed her stuffed veal.
They did not know at the time that what they were doing was anything out of the ordinary, but from the point of view of prophecy, their deeds were valuable enough to be recorded in the Tanach. Thus, concludes R’ Yitzchak b’ Meryon, one should always do all good deeds to the utmost, because one never knows what is being recorded, what has eternal meaning.
But then, the Midrash presents a challenge in the name of R’ Levi: “In the past, a person would do a Mitzvah, and the prophet would write it. Now, a person does a Mitzvah, who writes it?” If prophecy is over, then our deeds are not recorded at all. Perhaps they have less meaning than the deeds of those who lived at the time of prophecy.
He answers by referencing the Haftarah:
אָז נִדְבְּרוּ יִרְאֵי ה’ אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ וַיַּקְשֵׁב ה’ וַיִּשְׁמָע וַיִּכָּתֵב סֵפֶר זִכָּרוֹן לְפָנָיו לְיִרְאֵי ה’ וּלְחֹשְׁבֵי שְׁמוֹ:
הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם אֵת אֵלִיָּה הַנָּבִיא לִפְנֵי בּוֹא יוֹם ה’ הַגָּדוֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא:
“Then those who fear Hashem speak to each other; Hashem pays attention, and hears. He writes a book of remembrance before Him, for those who fear Hashem, and care about His name…. I am sending to you the prophet Eliyahu, in advance of the coming of the Day of Hashem, the great and dreadful.” (Malachi 3:16, 23)
R’ Levi says: “If a person does a Mitzvah, who writes it? Eliyahu and the King Moshiach, and G-d signs it.”
Jewish history is not over just because prophecy is over. Our actions still matter, they are still being written. Eliyahu, the prophet who never quite died, represents the eternity of the connection between G-d and the Jewish People, regardless of historical circumstances and eras. The Midrash asserts that throughout the generations, our deeds have mattered. Eliyahu has been writing them down, as the eternal historian of the eternal people. One day, there will be another transition to another era, where we will have an even greater level of prophecy than ever before. Eliyahu will lead us to it, and he will also show us what he has been writing down all these centuries.
And then, we too will see which of our ordinary everyday actions had eternal meaning.
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Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל