Parasha Tzav/Shabbat Hagadol

This week’s haftarah setsthe 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 based on a return to justice. Apparently, the people of Malachi’s time were deemed guilty of not paying their tithes, of 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 RoshHaShanah 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. In our day, it continues this function, reminding us to give generously to Ma’ot Hittim (food for the poor). The easiest way to do this is to donate to Leket or similar organizations.

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 bigger matters, like averting war between Israel and Iran, solving global hunger and disease? Certainly yes, but sometimes the big picture problems are easier to address than is intergenerational tension between parents and children. 

Many seder tables are marred by tension, but there is a particular type of tension that is common among us. It is not uncommon for many families to have some members who are more meticulous, (machmere in the Hebrew is so much more expressive than a simple 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 one of all: “When do we eat?” 

My advice is to bring as much joy and depth as possible to the seder, to be as flexible as you can justify.  Whatever Haggadah is at your table, be conscious of the collective wisdom of our greatest sages and that the legacy of our journey to freedom is yours to discover.  For all of us, a Chag Kasher V’Sameach

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham