Parasha Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol

This week's haftarah sets the theme of Shabbat (referred to as Shabbat HaGadol or the Great Sabbath), preparing us for the first and perhaps greatest of our festivals, Pesach or Passover. The prophet Malachi delivers a message of national restoration. Apparently, the people of Malachi's time were deemed guilty of not paying their tithes and not trusting in God's justice. As JTS Professor Michael Fishbane notes in his commentary, the people had even mocked the idea of God's justice. He cites Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 1:2 ("on Passover [the people] are judged with respect to their produce") to conclude that this haftarah may have originally been selected to inspire the people to pay their tithes without fear of being impoverished.  In our day, it continues this function, reminding us to give generously to Ma'ot Hittim (food for the poor). The easiest ways to do this within the Conservative movement are to donate to Mazon(mazon.org), helping to feed the hungry in America, or Leket (leket.org), helping to feed the hungry in Israel.

Given the haftarah's concern with poverty and justice, it is curious that it culminates with the arrival of Elijah to reconcile parents with children (and vice versa). Is that all? If Elijah were to come today, wouldn't we need his assistance with grander matters, like averting war between Israel and Iran, solving global hunger and disease? Sometimes the big picture problems are easier to address than intergenerational tension between parents and children. 

Many seder tables are marred by tension, but there is a particular type of tension not uncommon among us. Families may have some members who are more meticulous in observance of mitzvot than are other members of their family. While this may be a minor matter during non-holiday times, on Pesach it can be overly challenging. There are so many flash points-kashrut issues, the timing of the seder (traditionally after sundown, but try negotiating this with those who have younger kids like yours truly), the length of the seder and the most ubiquitous of all: "When do we eat?" 

My advice is to bring as much joy and depth as possible to the seder, and be as flexible as you can justify.  Whatever Haggadah is at your table, be conscious of the collective wisdom of our sages and that the legacy of our journey to freedom is yours to discover.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham