parsha tzav 88.
(photo credit: )
"Behold, I will send to you Elijah the prophet..." (Malachi 3:23).
On the Shabbat before Pessah, known as Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Sabbath, because the prophetic reading speaks of the great and awesome day of Redemption to be ushered in by Elijah, we are especially mindful of the coming festival - the original Jewish Independence Day. If one looks for parallels between the Fourth of July and 15 Nisan, it is difficult to compare loud fireworks with a family Seder, unless the family is particularly dysfunctional. Indeed, one of the key aspects of the Pessah ritual is to transmit Jewish values and tradition from generation to generation. How, as parents, can we hope to succeed in this formidable task? First of all, it's a question of attitude. Not only must we believe in our historic past, we must also believe in our children and their future. Toward the end of the Book of Hosea (14:7), the prophet compares the majesty of the Jewish people to an olive - a surprising choice if we examine any of the other fruits for which the Land is praised (dates, figs, pomegranates and grapes are all tantalizing, and arguably more glorious than the olive). An olive is not only an insignificant sight, but it isn't even edible without arduous processing.
We discover one possible answer in a discussion of lost property in Tractate Bava Metzia (21b). If an item with no distinguishing characteristics is found in a public domain, we assume the owner has become resigned to its loss, and so it is considered as having been declared ownerless, so that the finder may keep it. If the lost item has distinguishing characteristics, however, we assume that the one who lost it has not given up hope of retrieval. In the talmudic discussion, olives are singled out as unique. Unlike other fruits, if olives are lost, the owner hopes for their eventual return.
Why? Because "â€¦its appearance testifies as to who the owner is." Every tree yields olives with a distinct look and form; an owner can always recognize his own.
Now we understand how Hosea saw beyond color, texture and immediate gratification in his comparison of Israel to the olive. The prophet finds in the olive the same quality that the Talmud finds. Just as its owner never gives up hope of recovering his loss, God, the owner of the Jewish people, never gives up hope of recovering His "fruit." A "lost Jew," rich in uniquely distinguishing characteristics, always has a chance of being brought back. No matter how far a Jew may wander, his Jewishness will remain an indelible part of his/her being, an indistinguishable spark merely waiting to be rekindled. Hence every child must be welcomed home for the Pessah Seder with acceptance and love, despite his or her level of Jewish involvement.
Given this fact, let's examine the significance of Elijah's presence at every Seder. Elijah the prophet started his ministry as a zealot: "I was very zealous for the Lord God" (I Kings 19:10). But God teaches him that the correct way is not through zealousness. In a scene reminiscent of Moses waiting in the cleft of the rock, Elijah also finds himself in Sinai. "And behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the winds, and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire, and after the fire a still, small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the caveâ€¦" (I Kings 19:11-14). The nature of this "still, small voice" must be understood in the light of Malachi's prophecy of the long-awaited Redemption of the Jewish people and the world - the Haftara reading for the Great Sabbath before Pessah.
"Behold, I will send to you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of God. He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of their children to their fathersâ€¦." (Malachi 3:23). The messenger is none other than Elijah, the prophet of the still, small voice, and this voice may be a major factor in "turning fathers to their children, and children to their fathers."
It is not loud fireworks which will impress families and bind them together; it is rather the still, small voice of parental love! To end Malachi with reconciliation between the generations as the means toward achieving the great and awesome day of Redemption underscores the centrality of this theme to Judaism. If the fathers' hearts are not inclined toward their children in acceptance and love, and if the hearts of the children are not inclined toward their parents in commitment and concern, only paralyzing hate and resentment remain. The traditions of the Pessah Seder are a divine echo, a still small voice which will help bond the generations.
Perhaps this still small voice of the love between parents and children explains the Seder's success in being transmitted from generation to generation. On the Fourth of July there are loud parades and booming fireworks. Everything is larger than life, but the still small voice is lost. Not on Pessah.
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.