Weekly Cycle

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Week 45 (Book 2): Malachi and the Quality of "Asking and Responding"

HAAZINU: And Moses finished speaking all these words to all Israel. (Deuteronomy 32:45)

HAFTORAH: Strangers lie to me; as soon as their ears hear, they obey me. (II Samuel 22:45)

PIRKEI AVOT QUALITY: Asks And Responds (Shoel Umeshiv)

PROPHET: Malachi


The forty-fifth week of the year is that of Tu B’Av. In the verse of Haazinu, Moshe finishes speaking “all” the words to “all” of Israel. The word “Kol” (all) appears two times in the verse, and is also the root of a third word “Vayichal,” completed. The completion mentioned in the verse can be understood as a reference to Moshe himself, the words of the song, and/or even the Jewish people itself. It hints to the complementary relationship between these three entities: Moshe, the Torah, and the Jewish people. It is also reminiscent of the “Creeping Creatures,” the animals of Perek Shirah for this week in Book I, who are humble and nullify themselves before G-d. This humility allows for peace and wholeness/completion. (Shalom and Shlemut) Wholeness and completion is also the theme of Tu B’Av, which is connected to marriage, as well as the concept of all of Israel being together as one (it was on this date that the tribes were allowed to intermarry). Furthermore, is was on Tu B’Av that the decree that had taken place on Tisha B’Av (that the entire generation would die in the desert because of the sin of the spies), as well as many of other later decrees, were “completed.”
The Haftorah is also about hearing properly the key rectification (tikkun) of this month. It is also about the power of teshuvah and of words spoken by the leader of the generation. At first, those mentioned by King David were lying strangers; however, as soon as he spoke to them, they obeyed, changing their ways.
The quality of this week is “asks and responds” (shoel umeshiv). This quality also reflects the importance of listening properly. It also brings to mind the conversations that would take place between the single women and men in Tu B’Av mentioned in the Talmud (See Week 45, Book I). Relating to the study of Torah, there is a famous Jewish proverb that states, “there is no greater joy than the resolution of doubt” (ein simchah k’hatarat hasefeikot). Tu B’Av, along with Yom Kippur, is the happiest day of the Jewish calendar.  
Similarly, after Tisha B’Av, we are left with many questions – how could G-d do such things to His own people? We answer each others questions to the best of our ability, like the words of Rabbi Nehorai in Pirkei Avot for the previous week (also in Book I): “…your colleagues will help you [learn properly]... rely not on your own understanding.” Ultimately, even the words of our colleagues may not prove sufficient, we have no choice but to return to the words of Rabbi Yannai, the Pirkei Avot lesson for this week in Book I: “We have no comprehension of the tranquility of the wicked, nor of the suffering of the righteous.” The answer is emunah, faith. We must know that everything that happens to a person is for his or her own good. This notion, Rebbe Nachman states, is an aspect of the World to Come.
One of the best responses to witnessing death and destruction is redoubling our efforts in rebuilding and creating life. One might even say that ultimately the best response to the Holocaust has been the tremendous physical and spiritual growth and prosperity that is now taking place, particularly in the Land of Israel.
This week’s prophet is Malachi. His prophecy comes right after the destruction of the Temple. Malachi speaks of how G-d loves Jacob and hates Esau. Esau cheered the destruction of the First Temple and would be the nation responsible for destroying the Second. Malachi prophecizes that Esau may say that it will rebuild, but G-d will demolish. Not so regarding Jacob. The Book of Malachi is also full of “back and forth,” asking and responding, the quality to acquire the Torah for this week. Here are a few examples:
Chapter 1

6. A son honors a father, and a slave his master. Now if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My fear? says the Lord of Hosts to you, the priests, who despise My name. But you said, "How have we despised Your Name?"      

7. You offer on My altar defiled food, yet you say, "How have we defiled You?" By your saying, "G-d's table is contemptible."

8. When you offer a blind [animal] for a sacrifice, is there nothing wrong? And when you offer a lame or a sick one, is there nothing wrong? Were you to offer it to your governor, would he accept you or would he favor you? says the Lord of Hosts.

9. And now, will you pray before the Lord that He be gracious to us? This has come from your hand. Will He favor any of you? says the Lord of Hosts.   

Chapter 2

14. And you will say, "Why?"-Because the Lord testified between you and the wife of your youth, that you dealt treacherously with her, and she is your companion and the wife of your covenant. 

15. Now did He not make one who had the rest of the spirits? Now what does the one seek of the seed of G-d? Now you shall beware of your spirit, that it shall not deal treacherously with the wife of your youth.     

16. If you hate [her], send [her] away, says the Lord G-d of Israel. For injustice shall cover his garment, said the Lord of Hosts, but you shall beware of your spirit, and do not deal treacherously.           

17. You have wearied the Lord with your words, and you say, "How have we wearied [Him]?"-By your saying, "Every evildoer is good in the Lord's sight, and He desires them," or, "Where is the G-d of judgment?"              

Chapter 3

7. From the days of your fathers you have departed from My laws and have not kept [them]. "Return to Me, and I will return to you," said the Lord of Hosts, but you said, "With what have we to return?"

8. Will a man rob G-d? Yet you rob Me, and you say, "With what have we robbed You?"-With tithes and with the terumah-levy.                

13. "Still harder did your words strike Me," says the Lord, but you say, "What have we spoken against You?" 

14. You have said, "It is futile to serve G-d, and what profit do we get for keeping His charge and for going about in anxious worry because of the Lord of Hosts?"    

15. And now we praise the bold transgressors. Yea, those who work wickedness are built up. Yea, they tempt G-d, and they have, nevertheless, escaped.                       

Malachi’s prophecy also has Messianic aspects characteristics of the month of Av:

23. Lo, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord,

24. that he may turn the heart of the fathers back through the children, and the heart of the children back through their fathers-lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction.

It is also worth noting that our sages state that Malachi is actually Ezra the Scribe. It was Ezra that led the Jewish return to the Land of Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the canonization of the Tanach, the Five Books of Moses (Torah), the Prophets (Nevi’im) and the Writings (Ktuvim). It was an incredible “response” to the tragedy of Tisha B’Av.

The levitical city for this week is Debir. Debir means the Temple itself! It is also a name used for the inner courtyard of the Temple and the Holy of Holies.

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