Tag Archives: Elijah

HaGadol – Who will write for us?

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.

PDF for Printing. 2 pages.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל


Filed under Connections, Shabbat HaGadol, Special Shabbatot

Ki Tisa – Who’s to blame?

The Haftarah of Ki Tisa is the story of Eliyahu at Har HaCarmel, where he proves to the Jewish People that Hashem is G-d and the idol Ba’al is imaginary.  At first glance, this Haftarah appears to be the natural choice for the Parsha of Ki Tisa, which recounts the Sin of the Golden Calf:  Moshe had to deal with idolatry, and Eliyahu had to deal with idolatry. However, the situations are not parallel, they are inverse. The Parsha starts with the Jewish People serving G-d whole-heartedly and follows with them devolving into worshipping a golden statue. Conversely, the Haftarah starts with the Jewish People serving a pagan god, and follows with them saying “Hashem is G-d,” and serving G-d whole-heartedly.

If one wanted to match the Sin of the Golden Calf with a chapter of Prophets on the topic of idolatry, there is a plethora of chapters to choose from[1];  all of the prophets dealt with idolatry in one way or another. So why was this chapter chosen?

What the Parsha and the Haftarah have in common is not the idolatry, and not Moshe’s or Eliyahu’s ways of dealing with it, but rather how each of them defended their people before G-d. According to the Midrash (Talmud Bavli Berachot 32-33), both Moshe and Eliyahu put the blame for what happened on G-d Himself.

Eliyahu said,

לז) עֲנֵנִי ה’ עֲנֵנִי וְיֵדְעוּ הָעָם הַזֶּה כִּי אַתָּה ה’ הָאֱ-לֹהִים וְאַתָּה הֲסִבֹּתָ אֶת לִבָּם אֲחֹרַנִּית:

“Answer me, Hashem, answer me!   So that these people shall know that You, Hashem, are G-d, for You have turned their hearts backwards.” (Melachim I 18:37)

Eliyahu accuses G-d of having turned the hearts of the Jewish People away from Him. They cannot bear the entire blame for their actions if G-d set up a situation that they were not able to handle. The Jewish People had never had an aristocracy; Achav is only the second generation in his dynasty, and the concept of a royal family was relatively new. When Jezebel, the royal princess of the House of Tzidon, became the queen, she saw it as her mission to show the Jews how things ought to be done; to introduce the rituals of the wealthiest, most cosmopolitan, most admired culture in the region into their society, by force if necessary. How could they be expected to match wills with someone like her,  to withstand that level of pressure?

We all know that G-d is the ultimate matchmaker. If He had caused this match to fail, or caused Achav to marry someone more suitable, none of this would have happened. Eliyahu holds G-d responsible.

Similarly, according to the same Midrash, when Moshe said,

יא) … וַיֹּאמֶר לָמָה ה’ יֶחֱרֶה אַפְּךָ בְּעַמֶּךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בְּכֹחַ גָּדוֹל וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה:

“Why, Hashem, should You be angry at Your people, whom You have taken out of the land of Egypt, with great might and a strong hand?” (Shemot 32:11)

… what he really meant was, “You have no right to be angry after leaving them for generations in the most pagan culture in the world!”

Here is a Midrash that puts it all into a metaphor that only Chazal could permit themselves to use:

א”ר הונא בשם ר’ יוחנן משל לחכם שפתח לבנו חנות של בשמים בשוק של זונות. המבוי עשה שלו והאומנות עשתה שלה והנער כבחור עשה שלו יצא לתרבות רעה. בא אביו ותפסו עם הזונות התחיל האב צועק ואומר הורגך אני. היה שם אוהבו אמר לו אתה איבדת את הנער ואתה צועק כנגדו. הנחת כל האומניות ולא למדתו אלא בשם והנחת כל המובאות ולא פתחת לו חנות אלא בשוק של זונות.כך אמר משה רבון העולם הנחת כל העולם ולא שעבדת בניך אלא במצרים שהיו עובדין טלאים ולמדו מהם בניך. ואף הם עשו העגל לפיכך אמר אשר הוצאת מארץ מצרים דע מהיכן הוצאת אותם.

R’ Huna said from R’ Yohanan:  It’s analogous to a scholar who opened for his son a perfume shop in a red-light district full of prostitutes. The location did what it does, the profession did what it does, and the guy did what a guy does.

His father came and caught him with the prostitutes, and started screaming, “I’m going to kill you!” The father’s friend was there, and said to him, “You destroyed the boy, and now you’re screaming at him? Of all possible professions you taught him perfumery; of all possible locations, you opened him a shop in a red-light district?!”

So, too, Moshe said, “Master of the Universe! Of all the nations in the world in which to enslave Your children, You picked Egypt, who worship calves? Your children learned from them and also made a calf!”  This is why Moshe said, “whom You have taken out of Egypt”. You should realize where You took them out of!  (Midrash Shemot Rabba 43)

Like Eliyahu, Moshe blames G-d for the failure of the Jewish People. It is G-d who is responsible for their pagan mindset. If He didn’t want them to have that influence, He should not have put them in that situation in the first place[2].

This attitude is more than a little bit chutzpadik. If it weren’t Chazal that said it, we certainly would not have dared to interpret Moshe’s or Eliyahu’s words in this manner. But was it wrong of them to blame G-d? Were they punished for it? We know that neither prophet was perfect; Moshe was punished for hitting the rock in his anger rather than speaking to it, and Eliyahu, as we will read in the Haftarah of Pinchas, was censured for some of the things he said. Here, however, there is no hint of censure; not in the text and not in the Midrash. On the contrary, G-d listens to both Moshe and Eliyahu, implying is that the argument is valid and He accepts His share of the blame.

Or maybe He is just really happy that the Jewish People have leaders who are willing to go to such lengths to defend them.

Copyright © Kira Sirote  
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

[1] For instance, Melachim I 12, where King Yeravam makes golden calves and says: “These are your gods, Israel that took you out of Egypt”.

[2] This Midrash directly contradicts the popular saying, “G-d does not put people in situations they cannot handle.”

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Filed under Ki Tisa, Sefer Shemot