“Behold I am sending you Elijah the Prophet”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

On this coming Shabbat, the Shabbat of Erev Pesach, we read parashat Tzav. This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Sabbath, for a number of reasons. Many commentators claim that it is because the Jews in Egypt took sheep, the Egyptian God, on the tenth of Nissan, held them for four days, and on the fourteenth of Nissan slaughtered the sheep for the Pascal sacrifice. So, according to tradition since on the Sabbath before the first redemption, the Jews in Egypt showed faith in defying their Egyptian taskmasters, they were rewarded with G-d’s protection. On Shabbat Hagadol we acknowledge the awesome faith of our ancestors.

On Shabbat Hagadol we read the Haftorah, the prophetic passage paralleling the Torah portion, from the final Book of the Prophets, Malachi 3:4-24. Verse 23 reads, “Hi’nay A’nochi sho’lai’ach la’chem et Eliyah Ha’navi, lif’nei bo yom Ha’shem ha’gadol v’ha’noh’ra,” behold I am sending you Elijah the Prophet, before the great and awesome day of G-d. Verse 24 continues: “V’hayshiv laiv a’vot al ba’nim, v’laiv ba’nim al a’vo’tam,” and he will restore the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Because of the reference in verse 23 to “Yom Hashem ha’gadol v’ha’noh’ra,” the great and awesome day of G-d, it is appropriate for this prophetic portion to be read on Shabbat Hagadol.

In effect, the prophet Malachi predicts that towards the end of days, when Elijah comes, there will be a return to Judaism where parents and children will interact with each other, and will be attracted to each other through the word of G-d.

The Talmud, in Berachot 3a, cites the following passage in the name of Rabbi Eliezer: The night is divided into three watches, and at every watch G-d sits and roars like a lion…. The signal (for the commencement of each watch is as follows): At the first watch, a donkey brays; at the second watch, dogs bark; at the third watch [near dawn], an infant suckles from its mother and a wife chats with her husband.

The Artscroll overview of Tishah Ba’av cites the Maharal (Rabbi Yehuda Loewe 1526-1609), the famous rabbi of Prague, who explains in his book Netzach Yisrael that the allegory of night represents the bleak, gloomy exile, foreshadowing the great darkness and despair in which Israel will sink. Says the Maharal, just as the night proceeds to get darker, so our exile, gets progressively worse. The beginning of the exile is portrayed as a donkey braying in the night, symbolizing that our oppressors will initially treat us like beasts of burden, confining us in ghettos and assessing discriminatory taxes upon us.

The second stage of exile is symbolized by barking dogs, since dogs bark madly at the sight of death, as our enemies seek to kill us through pogroms, blood libels, inquisitions, genocides and holocausts.

The third and most terrible stage is represented by the wife who chats with her husband. It predicts that when our enemies fail to destroy us physically, they will attempt to destroy us spiritually. The silent “Holocaust of Love” is far more pernicious than the “Holocaust of Hate.” Assimilation and intermarriage will decimate the ranks of the Jewish nation like no other scourge.

But while the wife chats with her husband and intermarriage becomes rampant and Jewish life hemorrhages as a result of assimilation, an infant suckles from its mother. Just when it seems that all hope for a Jewish future has faded, a faint glimmer of light appears, and a small number of Jews, even the most assimilated and alienated Jews, will be touched by Torah, and will be drawn back to traditional Jewish life. This return movement will bring an end to the darkness of exile and herald the dawn of redemption.

Could this possibly be referring to our times?

Well, I have some good news: Sylvia Weiss died on Sunday, November 22, 1992. Her obituary appeared in the Monday New York Times. I want to read it to you:

WEISS-Sylvia. Adored mother of Lauren and Marshall Fuld, Diedre Weiss and Edimilson Monteiro, Hillary and Joseph Kaufman, companion to Vincent J. Tufariello…..Devoted grandmother of Shmuel Dovid.

Look at this, the deceased, Sylvia Weiss left three daughters: Lauren, Diedra and Hillary. It is extremely likely that at least one of her daughters, Diedra, is intermarried — her husband’s name is Edimilson Monteiro. He may be Spanish Jew; but highly unlikely. Sylvia herself had a boyfriend, a “companion” they call it. His name is Vincent J. Tufariello. He may be a Jew from Milan or Venice, but more likely he lives in Bay Ridge on 86th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway, and eats pasta and meatballs in Mama Leone’s. Yes Sylvia herself was living with a gentile. But Sylvia Weiss left a grandson, Shmuel Dovid, not Samuel David, but Shmuel Dovid. This is certainly a fulfillment of the Torah’s prophecy in Deut. 30:4: “ Im yee’yeh nee’da’cha’cha bik’tzai ha’sha’mayim mee’sham y’kah’betz’cha Hashem eh’lo’kecha, u’mee’sham yee’ka’cheh’cha,” Even though your dispersed shall be at the far ends of the heavens, from there the Lord will gather you in, and from there shall He take you.” The power of Teshuva is irresistible, the power of Teshuva is inexorable.

The infant is suckling from its mother. Open the door, Elijah the prophet is knocking.

Have a wonderful Pesach.

May you be blessed.