Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
MALACHI CHAPTER 3
The closing chapter of Malachi gives the prophet's answer to the doubts and questions with which the people "wearied" God as expressed in the last verse of the previous chapter, Malachi 2:17: considering the apparent success of the wicked, either God approves of them or else, where is the God of Justice? (As indicated in the commentary on the previous chapter, the conventional chapter break after Malachi 2:17 violates the continuity of the new Hebrew parshah which begins with that verse and continues until Malachi 3:12.)
The book of Job could be described as an "in-depth" analysis of all the issues bound up with the above questions, which are also addressed in the other "wisdom" literature (Psalms and Proverbs) and in certain other biblical passages. But here in Malachi it is the prophetic answer to these questions that is given: in essence, this is that the apparent success of the wicked in this world is only temporary until God's terrible Day of Judgment, when they will be destroyed, while the righteous will be vindicated and rewarded.
Chapter 3 verse 1: "Behold I shall send My messenger (MALACHI) and he shall prepare the way before Me." Rashi (ad loc.) states that God's messenger comes to destroy the wicked, while the "Master Whom you seek" is the God of Justice, and the "messenger (or angel) of the Covenant" comes to avenge the Covenant. Metzudas David (ad loc.) states that the "Master whom you seek" is King Mashiah, while the "angel of the Covenant" is Elijah the prophet, who, like Pinchas (Numbers 25:11), was zealous for God's Covenant (I Kings 19:10 etc.) when the kingdom of Ephraim banned the practice of circumcision.
Vv 2-3: "For he will be like a refiner's fire and the washer-man's soap. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." He who comes to prepare the way for the God of Justice separates out all impurity and removes the stain of the evil doers from the world.
"And he will purify the children of Levi." The ultimate restoration of the Temple as a place of true service of God depends on the purification of the Levites and priests who will minister in it.
V 4: "Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant to HaShem as in the days of old and as in former years." Sifri darshens: "as in the days of old" - as in the days of Moses, "and as in former years" - as in the days of Solomon; Rabbi Judah the Prince says, "as in the days of old" - as in the days of Noah, "and as in former years" - as in the days of Hevel (=Abel), when there was no idolatry in the world. In the end everything will return to its pristine purity.
The passage from verse 4 until the end of Malachi, the central theme of which is the future Judgment and Redemption, is read as the Haftara on Shabbos HaGadol, the Shabbos immediately preceding the Pesach festival.
V 5: "And I will come near to you to judgment, and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against false swearers and against those who oppress the hireling in his wages." - "When Rabbi Yohanan would come to this verse he would weep, saying, Is there any remedy for a servant whose master is coming near to judge him and is quick to bear witness against him? Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai said, Woe to us because the verse equates light sins (holding back a hireling's wages) with the most serious (adultery and sorcery)" (Hagigah 5a; Rashi ad loc.).
"For I, HaShem have not changed." - "Even though I am patient and slow to anger, My original attitude has not changed so as to love evil and hate good" (Rashi). ".and you, children of Jacob, have not been consumed" - "Even though you die in wickedness and I have not exacted punishment from the wicked during their lifetimes, you have not been consumed, and I have left the souls for Me to exact punishment from them in Gehennom" (Rashi).
Vv 7ff: God calls for the people to repent in order for Him to return to them. The specific sin that is singled out as requiring the people's repentance is the entire nation's failure to pay their MA'ASER and TERUMAH tithes to the Levites and Priests respectively, whose task is to minister in God's Temple and teach His Torah. The people's failure to pay these tithes is the cause of the curse that is causing agricultural and economic depression, whereas God promises that if they will pay them, "I shall pour you out a blessing until there will not be sufficient room to receive it" (v 11) until Israel will be a "land of delight" (v 12). Providing proper support for the nation's spiritual ministers and teachers is the very key to national prosperity.
Vv 13-15: "Your words have been strong against Me." The people's lack of faith in God's justice, as expressed in Malachi 2:17, is now elaborated. Just as today, many people saw the apparent success of those who acted with brazen impunity and inferred that it was pointless to serve God and observe the Torah code. "They have even tested God and been saved!"
V 16: Without responding directly to this lack of faith, God points to those who are God-fearing and who speak differently in quiet conversation with each other, agreeing not to be drawn after the ways of the wicked even though God does not hasten to punish them.
"And God listened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him." Not a single good thought, word or deed is ever forgotten. Everything is recorded in God's book, and in the end the righteous will be rewarded and the wicked punished. These quiet, thoughtful private conversations at the "grass roots" level of the nation among the God-fearing are the very key to redemption.
V 18: "Then you shall return and see the difference between the righteous and the villain, between the one who serves God and the one that did not serve Him." One cannot make inferences about God's justice from the apparent lack of justice in this world: only on the Day of Judgment will His true justice be fully revealed.
V 19 opens a new PARSHAH PESUHAH, and in some Biblical editions this makes up a separate chapter, Malachi 4:1-6. The prophetic reply to people's doubts about God's justice is that they will be answered decisively on the terrible Day of Judgment, when those who were flagrantly evil will be consumed.
Vv 20ff: "But to you who fear My name a sun of righteousness shall shine with healing in its wings." The same day that burns like an oven for the wicked will prove to be a day of healing for the righteous - they will be saved from all evil and will rejoice wholeheartedly (RaDaK).
V 22: "Remember the Torah of Moses My servant." In his closing words, the last prophet of Israel calls on the people to remember and follow God's law, which is called by the name of Moses because he sacrificed himself totally for the sake of the Torah. The sin of the golden calf and subsequent breaking of the Tablets of the Law, which took place in the Hebrew month of Tammuz, brought forgetfulness into the world. The initial Hebrew letters of the prophet's plea to remember Moses' Torah - ZICHRU TORAS MOSHE - are the same letters that make up the name of the month of TaMuZ!
V 23: "Behold I shall send you Elijah the prophet." - "Rabbi Yehoshua said, I have a tradition from Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai going back to Mt Sinai that Elijah will not come to defile or purify, reject or draw near, but only to reject those who forcibly pushed their way forward and to bring close those who were forcibly pushed away. The sages said, he comes not to reject or draw near but to make peace among them, as it says, And he will turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers" (Eduyos 8:7). Speedily in our days! Amen!
* * * Malachi 3:4-24 is read as the Haftara on Shabbos HaGadol, the Shabbos immediately preceding the festival of Pesach * * *
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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