Shabbat HaGadol: Partners in Redemption

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Shabbat HaGadol

Tomorrow is Shabbat HaGadol- the “Great Shabbat”- so called (probably)
because of the special haftarah, or prophetic reading, always read on
the Shabbat right before Pesach. This year, it’s just a few hours
before the first Seder, but still, the idea is to get us thinking
about the meaning of the holiday in the middle of all the logistics
that go into preparing for it.

Thus the main theme of tomorrow’s haftarah is redemption- the healing
of the world from its brokenness along with justice for the oppressed.
The haftarah ends with a promise that Elijah the prophet will announce
the future redemption:

“Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before
the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord.” (Malachi 3:23)

OK, so far, so good: the haftarah reminds us to look forward to a
future day of justice and peace, which is the ultimate theme of the
Pesach seder itself. We do not- repeat, do not- recall the servititude
in Mitzrayim just to wallow in sorrow for a bitter past, but to
strengthen our faith in a brighter future by deeply reminding
ourselves that God stands with those in need of justice, and it’s our
job to be partners in the enterprise of redemption. Mitzrayim, of
course, means Egypt, but I believe it’s better understood as an
archetype of a place of oppression rather than the geography near the
Nile.

If we’re going to be partners in the work of redemption, the haftarah
reminds us to begin with ourselves:

“Then the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasing to the
Lord as in the days of yore and in the years of old. But [first] I
will step forward to contend against you, and I will act as a
relentless accuser against those who have no fear of Me: Who practice
sorcery, who commit adultery, who swear falsely, who cheat laborers of
their hire, and who subvert [the cause of] the widow, orphan, and
stranger, said the Lord of Hosts.” (Malachi 3:4-5)

Pesach is about hope, but it’s incomplete without moral
self-examination. We can’t hope for a redemption of the world if we
haven’t cleaned up our ethics along with our closets and tended to the
neediest among us. The Seder is just dinner if the story of our
ancestors in slavery doesn’t promote reflection on who today needs
redemption just as much as they did.

The prophet Malachi reminds us that redemption doesn’t happen by
itself: it happens when we, the human community, internalize the
Passover message of hope, compassion and human dignity. There will
come a “great day of the Lord,” but not without human partnership.

With best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday for all,

RNJL

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