By Rabbi Howard Cohen for Reconstructionist Jewish Communities
Shabbat before Pesach is known as Shabbat HaGadol: The Great Shabbat.
The special nature of the day is highlighted with a haftarah selected
from the prophet Malachai. The words of this anonymous prophet (the name
Malachai simply means "my messenger") who lived around the middle of
the 5th century BCE are remarkably contemporary sounding. A closer look
at what he has to say can be simultaneously comforting and frightening.
on behalf of God, Malchai says: "From the days of your ancestors you
have strayed from My statutes, and have not observed them; return to Me,
and I will return to you". Are we not familiar with this timeless
lament? Interestingly, according to rabbinic tradition after Malachai,
prophecy was taken away from Israel. God, it would seem, finally tired
of complaining to the Jewish people that they were straying and left it
to the rabbis to be the ones to point it out.
It is two other
verses (14, 15), however, that leap across 25 centuries and are jolting
in their timelessness: "It's useless to serve God! What gain is there in
observing God's service...? We account the arrogant happy; the
evildoers are the ones who live on; they even try God and get away with
it". Has nothing changed? It seems that lack of faith and resistance to
pious living according to the teachings of the Torah were as much the
norm in the days of Malachai as they are today. Suffice it to say that
that between the 5th century B.C.E. and now it has never been
significantly different either.
So what keeps Judaism going after
all these years? According to verse 16, there have always been "those
who revered the Eternal". More importantly, the verse continues, the
core of faithful believers "talked to each other". With this in mind,
let me point out that a crucial part of any Pesach seder is to talk with
one another about what the struggle for freedom means. Right after
reciting the Four Questions we read: