A D'var Torah for Shabbat HaGadol
On the Shabbat just before Pesach, we will read as Haftarah the very last passage of the last of the classical Hebrew Prophets: Chapter 3 of “Malachi.” We name the day “Shabbat Hagadol” – referring to the very last verses:
This passage begs for action to turn the generations to deeply experience each other. In an era when the Earth is indeed tottering on the brink of utter destruction caused by rampant, unrestrained, and wicked action by the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs among us, it seems especially necessary for those who revere the Breath of Life to act.
Yet nowhere does the tradition specify what we should do to “turn” these hearts. Nor is this passage lifted up in Jewish practice to connect with Elijah’s presence in other moments of our lives.
Perhaps that “white fire” of the empty spaces was left there precisely because it is our generation that stands upon that brink. Perhaps the passage is waiting for us.
Indeed, Malachi does not leave this warning of “utter destruction” as mere generality. Earlier, he cries out:
Am I crazy to imagine that these ancient images are of our world in flames from global scorching, climate crisis – and that Malachi is naming the remedies as solar and wind (stirred by the flapping wings) energy?
Whether that perception is Prophetic P‘shat or my own midrash, what might we do with this passage that the Rabbis placed so pregnantly just before Pesach?
There are three major times when our traditional ritual specifically calls in Elijah, and two of them have to do with intergenerational relationship. One is at the brit of naming and covenanting with our newborns, when we set aside a chair for Elijah; and the other during the Pesach seder that is crafted into a dialogue between the generations, when we open the door to welcome Elijah. The third is at Havdalah, when we beg him to bring the “great and awesome day of YHWH” for Messianic transformation, not for utter disaster. As my editor and chaver (friend) Rabbi Lev Meirowitz Nelson points out, looked at another way, these represent the week-cycle, the year-cycle, and the lifecycle, three scales on which we must act.
We might truly consecrate these moments by acting to avert the day when the Earth becomes a blazing furnace. We might on all these occasions recite one or both passages from Malachi invoking Elijah, and then add this kavanah (intention):
[And then at the beginning or end of Shabbat or yontif (yom tov) and during the celebration of the brit, we might light a candle of covenant-commitment, saying:]
Given how our youth are rising to this challenge, with high-school students like the “Sunrise Movement” challenging our elected officials to enact a Green New Deal—even organizing a worldwide strike aimed at governmental inaction on the climate crisis—we might add another pair of lifecycle occasions to our list. These are urgent opportunities to turn the hearts of the generations to each other: bat/ bar mitzvah time and at 16, when large parts of the Jewish world celebrate “confirmation” or some similar ceremony of more adult entry into the community.
Just as important as the ritual, we must explore the meaning at its root. Ten years ago, The Shalom Center commissioned Noam Dolgin, a teacher of Earth-based Judaism with long experience at the Teva Learning Center, to create a 60-page curriculum for teens and their families about the science, the Torah, the policy choices, and the action possibilities in regard to the climate crisis. At that time it was but lightly used. Perhaps the time has come to invoke and enliven our own Jewish wisdom, our own Jewish teens, and their elders and families to join this chorus for the sake of Life.
The 60-page pamphlet Elijah’s Covenant between the Generations is available by sending a check for $19.95 for a single copy or $165 for 10 copies (a saving of $35) to The Shalom Center, 6711 Lincoln Dr., Philadelphia, PA. 19119