April 10, 2014
Rashi wrote a commentary on the whole Bible as well as the Talmud, without which the Talmud would be virtually a closed book!
We will not get to see much of Rashi on the Bible but in honour of this special Shabbat, I thought that I would for a change bring one of his lovely comments on the haphtorah reading from the prophets.
The Shabbat before Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat. It is called “HaGadol” because the Haftarah contains the verse from the prophet Malachi 3: 4-24:
“Behold I send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the GREAT (GADOL) and the awesome DAY of Hashem. He shall restore the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with destruction.”
The words “yom hagadol” – “the great day” – is the basis for the name Shabbat HaGadol.
But the connection to our Shabbat is much more than just a semantic one. That Great Day is the day when the Messiah arrives. It is the beginning of the yearned for “end of days,” the final redemption. The connection to Passover is that Passover was our first redemption from our first exile in Egypt and the Haftarah prophesies about the next and last redemption from our present exile.
Let us look at Rashi on the verse which says that Elijah will “restore the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers.”
This is quite a significant verse. Aside from its idyllic view of family relations and the connection between generations, it is also the final verse in the prophetic literature. Malachi was among the last of the prophets and this verse is his last statement from Hashem.
And I will restore the heart of the fathers to (Hebrew “al”) the Holy One – Rashi: by means of (Hebrew: “al yedai”) the sons. He (i.e. Elijah) will tell the sons by way of love and desire ‘go and speak with your fathers to adopt the ways of the Almighty. And likewise, the hearts of the sons to their fathers’: So I have heard in the name of Rav Menachem.
Rashi quotes an interpretation from Rav Menachem Ibn Saruk. The interpretation is quite different than an ordinary understanding of this verse. Ordinarily we would understand the verse to mean that Elijah will “return” the fathers to the sons and the sons to their fathers, meaning we would have family harmony instead of family friction, dispute or distance. In this sense the Hebrew word “al” would mean “to” – the fathers’ hearts would return to the sons etc.
But Rashi takes the word “al” to mean “al yedai” – “by means of”. He also adds a word .
Rashi adds the words “The Holy One” and inserts them in between the words of the verse. This changes the whole sense of the verse. The hearts are returned not to the sons but to the Holy One, the Almighty, by means of the sons. In other words, Elijah is told to go to the sons and have them help in returning their fathers to Hashem. And likewise the fathers are told by Elijah to go to their sons and help them return to Hashem.
Why did Rashi accept this interpretation?
Firstly, Rashi thinks the word “al” is better translated as “by means of” than by “to.” But more to the point is the fact that the verse ends with the words “lest I come and strike the land with destruction.” This is God’s punishment for not having the hearts of the fathers returned to (or by means of) the sons. This seems like harsh punishment for family disharmony. Of course, one would want all families to live in harmony but “to strike the land with destruction” is a bit much.
On the other hand if the fathers and the sons do not return to Hashem (as Rashi’s comment has it) God’s anger and punishment would be appropriate.
Rashi says that “Elijah will tell the sons by way of love to speak to their fathers” (and likewise the fathers to the sons).
Rashi takes for granted that if Elijah is going to return people to Hashem, it will be done by way of love. Rashi’s own personal life is a perfect example of this. He dealt with all people and with his students only by way of love. For Rashi this is a most fitting way to end God’s prophesy to man, Malachi’s last message to us. Teach people by way of love to return to Him.
When we do this, it will certainly be ” the great and the awesome day of Hashem.”
Wishing you all Shabbat shalom and a chag kasher vesameach.