The Great Sabbath

One of my favorite scenes in the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz, is when Dorothy and Company, after having been scrubbed and dressed to the nines , have their audience with The Wizard. Cue the booming voice, the smoke and rumble of thunder, out of which come the words,


to which Dorothy, teeth chattering and knees knocking, replies,

 “I am Dorothy, the…small..and…meek.”

This Saurday is known as Shabbat Ha Gadol, the Great Sabbath, which takes place the week before the holiday of Passover. Those of us who still have Pesach cleaning to do, will, like Dorothy, be quaking in our ruby red slippers! Why, other than the threat of all that housecleaning and removal of hametz (anything puffed up, including our egos), would this Shabbat  be known as “Great”?  One reason is that the Haftarah for this day contains the verse,

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

OK, so why Elijah? The next verse states,

“He shall reconcile ( lit., turn the hearts of) parents with children and children with parents, so that, when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction.”

This verse is interesting for several reasons: as it says in the footnotes on p.1298 in the Etz Chayim Chumash , the verse can mean reconciliation of the parents “with” their children or “along with” their children. In the first case, the commentator notes, the two generations will be reconciled; in the second, “both generations will return together to God.”

Another possible way to look at it would be to read the words heishiv and  “al” in their literal senses: God would RETURN the hearts  of the parents ON their children: ie, make the parents think they were young again and make the children suddenly understand us old fogeys. Wouldn’t that be great! ( But then, how would companies market to us, if they couldn’t pit one generation against another? J)

Another verse I find fascinating is v. 20, (at the top of p.1298). It is translated, 

“ But for you who revere My name, a sun of victory shall rise to bring healing.”  Literally, however, the  words can mean,

“ There will rise for you ( who are) in awe of My Name a sun  (spelled s.u. n.)of justice, bringing healing on its wings.” What an image! I wondered why this image seemed so familiar, and then I remembered the elaborate robes worn by Yul Brynner as Pharaoh in The Ten Commandments movie- they always featured a sun symbol with wings: the Egyptian sun god. But Malachi was talking to the people after the return from the Babylonian exile. The Jews had been there long enough to be familiar with Babylonian gods and their representation in the culture. So I looked up the name of the Babylonian sun god, and guess what? His name sounds like the Hebrew word for sun, shemesh, except it is pronounced  “shamash” in the  language of Babylonia, Mesopotamia, and Sumeria! Malachi knew his audience and used imagery that resonated for them. Why then, was the prophet Elijah mentioned? Other than drinking the wine at the Seder, he was not known for his easygoing nature. In the Haftarah for Pinhas, also a hot-headed type of guy, Elijah describes himself as being very zealous for God, (after slaying a whole bunch of false prophets) then  complains,

“And now they are coming to take my life.”

God responds in several  ways that could produce fear: a huge windstorm, an earthquake, then fire. God was not in any of these manifestations, but instead, Elijah recognized (finally) that THIS time, God was in the soft, murmuring sound (p.939, Etz Chayim ), usually translated as the “still, small voice”. Quite the contrast! Perhaps this was to indicate a different way to speak to the people, because God then tells Elijah to anoint someone else (Elisha) as the next prophet.  How does Elisha begin his prophetic career? By feeding the people. By saying little, and doing much..Like Miriam, perhaps?

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