10 November 2007, 10:56 AM
You may or may not be aware, Gentle Reader, that together with the weekly portion, or parsha, from the Five Books, there is an associated haftorah, from the Prophets or the Writings. For instance, this week is Parsha Toledot, and for the Haftorah we read Malachi 1:1-2-7. The Haftorah portions are chosen because of some sort of connection between the writing and the text read from the Torah. The connection, though, might be an off-hand reference by a Prophet to a character mentioned in the parshah, or it might be a thematic connection, or the connection might be a mystery. I believe that the Sephardim have slightly different Haftorah portions from the Ashkenazim; this is because they are wrong-headed and bad. No, wait! It’s because people are different, one to another.
This year, when moved to write about the weekly portion, I think I’ll write about the Haftorah. I probably will not write every week, but a structure or pattern will help me decide that I have something to say that’s worth typing out. And I don’t know very much about the Prophets and Writings. The year that I went to synagogue (nearly) every week, we decided to ditch the Haftorah altogether to make more time for Torah discussion. Which was lovely, but it means that I am much more familiar with the details of the Five than with the Prophets and Writings. And the Prophets are difficult. They are strange and oblique, and they don’t crack easily. So. Help me out, here.
Malachi 1:1-2-7. Malachi is the last and latest of the minor prophets. It’s the last book in the Christian Old Testament, but of course it’s not the last book in the Tanakh, because we put the prophets before the writings (the K’tuvim, starting with Psalms and ending with Chronicles). That, by the way, is one of the points A.-J. Levine makes in The Misunderstood Jew, about difficulties of communication between Christians and Jews. Christians often find significance in the fact that Malachi, who can be read very messianically, is the last word of the Old Testament, an argument that Jews find perplexing. Anyway, it’s not a book I’ve ever really sat down to read. So, shall we? In the KJV, because I the KJV is fun.
The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? [Was] not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever. And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel.
A son honoureth [his] father, and a servant his master: if then I [be] a father, where [is] mine honour? and if I [be] a master, where [is] my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name? Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD [is] contemptible. And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, [is it] not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, [is it] not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts. And now, I pray you, beseech God that he will be gracious unto us: this hath been by your means: will he regard your persons? saith the LORD of hosts. Who [is there] even among you that would shut the doors [for nought]? neither do ye kindle [fire] on mine altar for nought. I have no pleasure in you, saith the LORD of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand. For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name [shall be] great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense [shall be] offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name [shall be] great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye have profaned it, in that ye say, The table of the LORD [is] polluted; and the fruit thereof, [even] his meat, [is] contemptible. Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness [is it]! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the LORD of hosts; and ye brought [that which was] torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the LORD. But cursed [be] the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I [am] a great King, saith the LORD of hosts, and my name [is] dreadful among the heathen.
And now, O ye priests, this commandment [is] for you. If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay [it] to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay [it] to heart. Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, [even] the dung of your solemn feasts; and [one] shall take you away with it. And ye shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant might be with Levi, saith the LORD of hosts. My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him [for] the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity. For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he [is] the messenger of the LORD of hosts.
Well, and starting off with the idea that we don’t do animal sacrifice anymore, thank the Lord, and that we understand that Prayer has in some sense at least taken the place of the burnt offering, what can we say about this passage? It was written, as far as we can tell, during the Exile, that is, after the destruction of the First Temple, so Malachi (whoever he was, since malachi isn’t a name) was presumably not primarily talking about Temple sacrifice. He may have been talking about animal sacrifice by the hereditary priesthood in the exile. Or he may have been talking about the actions before the Destruction. Or it could be a metaphor.
Anyway, if we read prayer for sacrifice, what does it mean to be admonished for offering the blind, the lame, the sick and the polluted? It’s tempting to think of a lame prayer as being a prayer that is insufficiently heartfelt, and to interpret the passage as instruction to pray sincerely. But I think that’s not right. Or at least, it’s not enough. It’s not enough to take sincerity as perfection. Then what? Should we take greater care in the formation of our prayers, to say things correctly, to use the proper language and the proper forms and the proper tunes? I actually think there is something of that in this, an insistence on the liturgy that has replaced the old Temple liturgy. But I don’t think that’s enough, either.
And what of us, who make the prayers? Aren’t we, some of us, blind or sick, polluted, blemished? Are we unworthy of the sacrifice? Even if we take blindness and sickness as metaphors, still, to say that we can’t be metaphorically blind or sick and still have our prayers be pleasing to the Divine is hard to take. I really don’t know. But it’s a worthwhile question. When we pray, how do we bring to the Lord a sacrifice unblemished, to please the Lord and not offend the Lord? How are we like the one who hath in his flock a(n unblemished) male (beast), but when it comes time to take a vow, brings to the Lord only a castoff, dying runt?
If we are to be a people of cohanim, a holy people, well, nobody said it was going to be easy. Or, as my father would say, shver tsu zayn a Yid.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,