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Tzav 5780-2020

“Behold, I am Sending You Elijah the Prophet”
(Revised and update from Tzav 5761-2001)

 

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

 

On this coming Shabbat, the Shabbat of Erev Pesach, we read parashat Tzav. This Shabbat is known as Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Sabbath.

Many commentators claim that it is known as Shabbat HaGadol because the Jews in Egypt took sheep, the Egyptian God, on the tenth of Nisan, held them for four days, and on the fourteenth day of Nisan slaughtered the sheep for the Pascal sacrifice. So, according to tradition, since on the Sabbath before the first redemption the Jews in Egypt showed extraordinary faith in defying their Egyptian taskmasters, they were rewarded with G-d’s protection. On Shabbat HaGadol, we acknowledge the awesome faith of our ancestors.

On Shabbat HaGadol we read a special Haftarah, the prophetic passage paralleling the Torah portion, from the final Book of the Prophets, Malachi 3:4-24. Malachi 3:23 reads, הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם אֵת אֵלִיָּ־ה הַנָּבִיא, לִפְנֵי בּוֹא יוֹם השׁם, הַגָּדוֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא , Behold, I am sending you Elijah the Prophet, before the great and awesome day of G-d. Verse 24 continues: וְהֵשִׁיב לֵב אָבוֹת עַל בָּנִים, וְלֵב בָּנִים עַל אֲבוֹתָם , and he will restore the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Because of the reference in verse 23 to יוֹם השׁם, הַגָּדוֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא , the “great” and awesome day of G-d, it is appropriate for this prophetic portion to be read on Shabbat HaGadol.

In effect, the prophet Malachi predicts that toward the end of days, when Elijah comes, there will be a major return to religious observance, where parents and children will interact with each other, and will be attracted to each other through the word of G-d.

The Talmud, in Berachot 3a, cites the following passage in the name of Rabbi Eliezer:

The night is divided into three watches, and at every watch G-d sits and roars like a lion…. The signal (for the commencement of each watch, is as follows): At the first watch, a donkey brays; at the second watch, dogs bark; at the third watch [near dawn], an infant suckles from its mother and a wife chats with her husband.

The Artscroll overview of Tishah B’Av cites the Maharal, who explains in his book Netzach Yisrael, that the allegory of night represents the bleak, gloomy exile, foreshadowing the great darkness and despair in which Israel will sink before the arrival of the Messiah.

Says the Maharal, just as the night proceeds to get darker, so our exile gets progressively worse. The beginning of the exile is portrayed as a donkey braying in the night, symbolizing that our oppressors will initially treat us like beasts of burden, confining us in ghettos and assessing discriminatory taxes upon us.

The second stage of exile is symbolized by barking dogs, recalling the dogs madly barking at the sight of death, as our enemies seek to kill us through pogroms, blood libels, inquisitions, genocides and holocausts.

The third, and most terrible stage, is represented by the wife who chats with her husband. It predicts that when our enemies fail to destroy us physically, they will attempt to destroy us spiritually. A silent “Holocaust of Love” can be far more pernicious than the “Holocaust of Hate.” Assimilation and intermarriage will decimate the ranks of the Jewish people like no other scourge.

But, while the wife chats with her husband and intermarriage becomes rampant, and Jewish life hemorrhages as a result of assimilation, an infant suckles from its mother. Just when it seems that all hope for a Jewish future has faded, a faint glimmer of light appears, and a small number of Jews, even among the most assimilated and alienated Jews, will be touched by Torah, and will be drawn back to traditional Jewish life. This return movement will bring an end to the darkness of exile, and serve to herald in the dawn of redemption.

Could this possibly be referring to our times? Let us hope so. In fact, I have some “good news from aNew York Times obituary for Sylvia Weiss who died on Sunday, November 22, 1992. I want to share it with you:

WEISS-Sylvia. Adored mother of Lauren and Marshall Fuld, Diedre Weiss and Edimilson Monteiro, Hillary and Joseph Kaufman, companion to Vincent J. Tufariello…Devoted grandmother of Shmuel Dovid.

Look at this, the deceased, Sylvia Weiss left three daughters: Lauren, Diedra and Hillary. It is extremely likely that at least one of her daughters, Diedra, is intermarried–her husband’s name is Edimilson Monteiro. He may be a Spanish Jew; but highly unlikely. Sylvia herself, had a boyfriend, a “companion” they call it. His name is Vincent J. Tufariello. He may be a Jew from Milan or Venice, but more likely, he lives in Bay Ridge on 86th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway, and eats pasta and meatballs in Mama Leones. Yes, Sylvia herself was living with a non-Jew, but Sylvia Weiss left a grandson, Shmuel Dovid, not Samuel David, but Shmuel Dovid.

This is certainly a fulfillment of the Torah’s prophecy in Deuteronomy 30:4: אִם יִהְיֶה נִדַּחֲךָ בִּקְצֵה הַשָּׁמָיִם, מִשָּׁם יְקַבֶּצְךָ השׁם אֱלֹקֶיךָ, וּמִשָּׁם יִקָּחֶךָ , Even though your dispersed shall be at the far ends of the heavens, from there the L-rd will gather you in, and from there shall He take you.” The power of Teshuva is irresistible; the power of Teshuva is inexorable.

The infant is suckling from its mother. Open the door, Elijah the prophet is knocking. In these times of turmoil and anxiety, Elijah cannot come soon enough.

Have a wonderfully joyous and healthy Pesach.

May you be blessed.

Please note: This Shabbat, the Shabbat immediately preceding Passover, is known as Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat. On this Shabbat, we read a special Haftarah taken from the words of the prophet Malachi 3:4-24, in which we find the verse: “Behold, I send to you Elijah the Prophet, before the great and awesome day of G-d.” For more information on Shabbat HaGadol, see parashat Tzav 5762-2002.

The first two days of the joyous festival of Passover will be observed this year on Wednesday night, April 8th, and all day Thursday and Friday, April 9 and 10, 2020.