Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
MALACHI CHAPTER 1
Malachi was the last prophet of Israel . His name is from the word MAL'ACH meaning a "messenger" or "angel", and the YUD at the end means that he is "My" (i.e. God's) special messenger. Malachi prophesied at the beginning of the Second Temple period together with Haggai and Zechariah, but unlike in the case of their prophecies, no date is included in that of Malachi. Nor are their any indications in the text about his identity. The opinion of Rav Nachman in the Talmud is that Malachi was a pseudonym for Mordechai (who according to this opinion was called Malachi, "my agent," because he was "second to the king" Esther 10:3). However the opinion of R. Yehoshua ben Korchah is that Malachi was Ezra (Megillah 15a). Targum Yonasan (on Mal. 1:1) likewise identifies Malachi with Ezra, although other sages considered that he was a separate prophet (Megillah ibid.). He was a member of the Great Assembly and came up to Jerusalem from Babylon , where he had learned Torah from Baruch ben Neriyah, the student of Jeremiah (Rambam, Intro. to Mishneh Torah).
The identification of Malachi with Ezra seems particularly plausible since the major focuses of Ezra's work included the separation of the returnees from Babylon from their foreign wives and the re-establishment of the priesthood on firm foundations. Both themes figure prominently in the prophecy of Malachi. Yet the fact that his identity and date were perhaps intentionally left obscure gives his message a timelessness that makes it as relevant today as ever, since his was the very last prophetic message to Israel . With Malachi everything has come full circle, because the first prophet who came to reprove Israel after the death of Joshua was also anonymous and was simply called God's MAL'ACH or "messenger" (Judges 2:1) although the sages identified him with Pinchas (Seder Olam 19; Targum Yonasan, Rashi and RaDaK on Judges 2:1). Indeed Ezra was a direct descendant of Pinchas (Ezra 7:5).
Malachi 1:1-2:7 was chosen by the sages as Haftara to Parshas Toldos (Genesis 25:19-28:9) which tells of the birth of Jacob and Esau and how Jacob took the birthright and the blessings from his brother. In Malachi's prophecy, God reproves the descendants of Jacob for failing to live up to their mission.
V 2-5: "I have loved you, says HaShem, yet you say, How have You loved us.?" The prophet introduces his reproof against Israel with a reminder that God has shown unique love for the descendants of Jacob, giving them preference over those of Esau-Edom, to whom God will never grant lasting ascendancy, because no matter how they may build and rebuild, He will always pull them down. It is a fact that Mt Seir, the region south east of the Dead Sea which God gave as an inheritance to Esau (Deut. 2:5), is today largely barren and unpopulated.
V 6: "A son honors his father and a servant his master; if then I am a father, where is My honor, and if I am a master, where is the reverence due to Me.?" Having in the previous verses demonstrated God's fatherly love for the descendants of Jacob, the prophet now chastises them for failing to respond by showing Him the proper respect and reverence.
".says HaShem of hosts to you, the priests, who despise My Name." Ostensibly this prophecy is addressed to the COHANIM priests, who officiated in all the sacrificial rituals in the Temple . Yet Malachi's reproof also applies to the entire people, since God's call to Israel was that "you shall be to Me a kingdom of COHANIM " (Exodus 19:6).
Vv 7-9: While the prophet's reproof is ostensibly directed against the disparaging way in which the priests conducted the Temple services, offering blemished animals on the altar, we should also take it as a criticism of the way we often offer our prayers today in the Synagogue, speaking casually and absent-mindedly to God in a way in which we would never dare address a high government official whose patronage we require. If this is the way we pray, what kind of an answer can we expect?
V 10: The priests considered they deserved a reward for their smallest acts of service in the Temple - opening the doors, kindling the altar fire. Don't many also feel they deserve some kind of "reward" for their prayers and acts of devotion, as if they are doing God a great favor with them?
Vv 11-14: "For from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down, My Name is great among the nations, and in every place offerings are burned and presented to My Name." Throughout the world, from east to west, even the idolaters acknowledge that there is one supreme God over all the powers they worship. This makes our disparaging and blemish-ridden service of God an even greater desecration of His Name since God has revealed His unity, transcendence and immanence to us more than to any other nation.
The sages also darshened verse 11, "in every place offerings are burned and presented to My Name", as referring to those Torah scholars who engage in the study of Temple laws even in exile: they elicit God's favor just as if they had actually offered sacrifices (Menachos 110a, Rashi on Mal. 1:11).
Vv 1-3: Following on directly from the reproof in the previous chapter, Malachi now warns the priests of the curses that will come upon them if they fail to heed his call to serve God with the proper respect.
V 3: ".I will spread dung upon your faces." - "This is addressed to those who abandon the Torah and celebrate every day as a festival. Three days after a person has been laid in the grave his belly bursts and spews out its contents on his face and says, Take what you put inside me" (Shabbos 151b).
Vv 4-7 depict the behavior and attitudes that God asks from the priests by evoking the personality of the founding fathers of the priesthood, Aaron and Pinchas, with whom God also established His covenant (Numbers 25:12). "The law of truth was in his mouth and iniquity was not found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and righteousness and turned many away from sin" (v 6). "Rabba bar bar Hannah said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan: What does it mean when it says, 'For the priest's lips should guard knowledge and they should seek the law at his mouth, for he is the messenger (MAL'ACH) of HaShem of Hosts'? It means that if the teacher is like an angel of HaShem of hosts, they should seek Torah from his mouth, and if not, they should not seek Torah from his mouth" (Hagigah 15b). The clear message that cries out from this verse is that it is not sufficient for the Torah scholar to be sharp-minded and know a lot. He must LIVE the Torah he teaches!
Vv 8-9: If Torah teachers stray from practicing the path they are teaching, they will come to be despised.
V 10: "Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each man against his brother by profaning the covenant of our fathers?" (v 10). Taken in its simple, obvious sense, this verse has a message for all of us. The commentators also interpret this verse as an introduction to the second main theme of Malachi's reproof - his criticism of those who had taken foreign wives, particularly those who already had Israelite wives whom they subsequently treated as less than second best. The prophet points out that all the Israelite souls are hewn from one source and are thus brothers, making their sin of taking foreign wives and betraying their Israelite wives even worse (Metzudas David, RaDaK). While all the commentators take the reproofs against intermarriage and marital faithlessness at face value, they can also be seen as reproofs against the people for betraying their own priceless national heritage by dallying with foreign cultures and traditions.
Vv 11-12: The penalty for taking foreign wives is that the issue of such marriages will be cut off from the Torah tradition and from the priesthood.
V 13 deals with a sin that is considered even more serious than that of those who were unmarried and took foreign wives. This is the sin of those who did so when they already had an Israelite wife, thereby betraying her. "Because the Israelite women became blackened with hunger during the exile and became disgusting in the eyes of their husbands, who would leave them at home like widows in their husbands' lifetimes while treating the foreign woman as the mistress. The Israelite women would come before God's altar crying, asking how they had sinned and what crime their husbands had found in them." (Rashi). This verse is the source of the tradition that when a husband divorces the wife of his youth, the very altar sheds tears (Sanhedrin 22a).
V 15: "And did not he who was one do this even though he had the residue of the spirit? And what did the one seek? The seed of God!" The commentators interpret this somewhat obscure verse as an interchange between the people and the prophet. The people challenge the prophet's warning against taking a second, foreign wife by citing the case of Abraham, who was "one", i.e. unique and alone in his time (cf. Ezekiel 33:24), who took Hagar (who was from Egypt) when already married to Sarah. The prophet answers that Abraham only did so because Sarah was childless and he sought a successor who would teach the world about God (cf. Targum Yonasan, Metzudas David on v 15).
V 16: If a person hates his wife he should either come clean with her and divorce her, or else remove the hatred from his heart (cf. Rashi ad loc. & Gittin 90b).
V 17 begins a new Parshah Pesuhah which continues without a break until Malachi 3:12. The conventional chapter break after the present verse is artificial and disrupts the continuity of the new section (cf. Metzudas David on Malachi 3:1). With this verse the prophet introduces a new element in his reproof - a criticism of the people who question God's justice when they see the success of the wicked in this world. Either they say that everyone who does evil must be good in God's eyes since He apparently shows them favor, or else they think there is no sense at all in the way the world is run and ask, Where is the God of justice? Such thoughts have led many to abandon their faith, and we are therefore in great need of Malachi's answer in the closing sections of his prophecy in the coming chapter.
* * * The passage in Malachi 1:1-14 and 2:1-7 is read as the Haftara of Parshas Toldos Genesis 25:19-28:9 * * *
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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