Tzav/Shabbat Hagadol: Turning the Hearts of Parents and Children 

Torah Portion: Tzav and Shabbat Hagadol 

Copyright 2023 Neal Joseph Loevinger 

Greetings! This week we’re reading the second chapter of Leviticus, spelling out the various kinds of offerings and detailing the inauguration or dedication ceremony for Aharon and his sons when they become priests. 

It’s also the Shabbat before Pesach, traditionally called Shabbat Hagadol, the “great Shabbat,” perhaps for the penultimate verse of the special haftarah, or prophetic reading, for the day. In that verse, the prophet Malachi promises that Eliyahu [Elijah] will come on the “great and wondrous” (some translate nora, wondrous, as awesome or fearful) day of the Lord. Nobody knows who Malachi was- the name just means “my messenger”- but we can assume he lived in the early second Temple period, as he calls the people to faithful and loyal worship there. 

The anonymous prophet stresses the idea that on the Day of the Lord, those who do evil will be requited and those who do good will be elevated. The final verse of the haftarah speaks of a reconciliation between parents and children: 

 וְהֵשִׁיב לֵב-אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים, וְלֵב בָּנִים עַל-אֲבוֹתָם–פֶּן-אָבוֹא, וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶת-הָאָרֶץ חֵרֶם.

The Lord shall turn the hearts of parents to their children and children with their parents, so that, when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction. (Malachi 3:24

“Utter destruction” is not a nice place to end a prophetic reading, so in synagogue, verse 23- the one about sending Eliyahu- is usually repeated. The haftarah’s connection to Pesach seems obvious: just as there was a “great and wondrous” overturning of evil in the days of the Exodus from bondage, so too will there be a “great and wondrous” day when hypocrites, oppressors, thieves and corrupt leaders of Israel will be overturned. 

So what does turning the hearts- of parents towards children, and children towards parents-  have to do with the great day of the Lord? 

Rashi says he heard from a rabbi named Menachem that this passage means that the Holy One speaks to the children, with love and persuasion, to go to their parents and tell them to hold to the ways of the Divine. So “turning the hearts of the parents” means that sometimes it’s the children who encourage the parents to grow spiritually, or to stick with the Jewish tradition, and not just the other way around. Notice that “children” doesn’t necessarily mean young children: this passage implies that spiritual exhortation and Jewish learning is not a one-way valve from elder to younger, but that the whole family- or really, anybody across generations- can share knowledge, wisdom, and encouragement. 

The Pesach seder is often thought of as an educational event for children, with questions, rituals, special foods, songs and stories all brought together to hold the interest of kids who probably wouldn’t be interested in a purely intellectual discourse on the meaning of ancient religious history. Maybe it’s also true that when parents (and other adults) see their children- of any age- wrestling  with making meaning out of our texts and traditions, it can inspire them in ways that rabbis, cantors and professors probably can’t. 

Rashi reminds us that “from generation to generation” means that older generations, or those thought of as teachers and role models, must also embrace being students as well. Modeling lifelong learning fulfills the words of Ben Zoma (whom we shall soon meet again at the Pesach seder): who is the one who is wise? The one who learns from everybody. That’s an ideal for our Passover seder and all year round. 

Have a happy and healthy Pesach! 

1 Comment »

  1. Beth Tafler said

    Hi Rabbi Neal, I really appreciate your weekly Torah commentaries. I haven’t been receiving them. If you are still writing and sending these please include me. bethtafler@msn.com Thank you so much! Beth Tafler

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: