Shabbat HaGadol before Pesach: A Sun of Justice with Healing in its Wings

[This article, along with Avi Katz' illustration of scorching danger and solar healing, is appearing in the Jerusalem Report as my "word of Torah" concerning the Shabbat of April 4, 2009, just before Passover. For important connections between this article and the Passover and Blessing of the Sun that follows, see the note at the end of this message. – Arthur Waskow]

Jewish tradition assigns the last chapter of the last of the classical prophets – Malachi, who spoke about 2500 years ago -- to be read on the Shabbat just before Passover. Read this year, the passage takes on an uncanny significance for our generation:

"Here! The day is coming that will flame like a furnace, says the Infinite YHWH / Breath of Life, when all the arrogant and all evil-doers, root and branch, will like straw be burnt to ashes. Yet for those of you who revere My Name, a sun of justice will arise with healing in its wings / rays. . . . Here! Before the coming of the great and awesome day of YHWH/ the Breath of Life, I will send you the Prophet Elijah to turn the hearts of parents to children and the hearts of children to parents, lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction." (Malachi 3: 20-21, 23-24.)

Why this danger and this chance for healing?

"You are defrauding Me!" says God. "You fail to share My abundance with the poor and landless, you will not bring the common wealth into the common storehouse. Only if you turn back to My teaching will the locusts vanish from your fields. Only then, if you will share My rain of blessings on your harvests, will I pour those blessings down from Heaven." (Malachi 3: 8-11)

I know Malachi was addressing his own generation. Yet I feel tempted to hear this warning as a prophetic vision aimed directly at our own burning world:

"Here! If you oppress the poor, impoverish workers, and wring super-profits from the earth to plump the rich and powerful, the earth itself will suffer a planetary scorching. If you turn My Breath, My Air, into a furnace, not only the arrogant pharaohs of your day will suffer, but also all life and humankind, as all Egypt suffered from the arrogance of Pharaoh long ago.

"Already droughts scorch your continents, already your waters boil into typhoons and hurricanes, already the ice melts and your sea-coasts flood, already your birds and insects and diseases migrate where there is no place to weave them into the healing web of life.

"Yet even now you can turn away from the fires of coal and oil, turn to the solar energy and the winged wind that rise from a sun of justice and tranquility to heal your planet.

"For God's sake, act now before My Breath of Life becomes a searing hurricane. Turn your own hearts to the lives of your children and the children of your children, turn their hearts to learning from the deepest teachings of the Wisdom you inherited -- that together you can yet avert the utter destruction of My earth."

This appeal carries even greater power this year because a few days after Shabbat Hagadol, on the morning of April 8 just before Pesach begins, we observe the 28-year cycle of Birkat haChamah, the Blessing of the Sun, a celebration of what the ancient rabbis calculated to be the "birthday" of the sun. In 1981, some of us did this Blessing and wrote a scroll together:

"We pledge ourselves to hand on to the next generation an earth that is washed in sunlight, not poisoned by waste; To see in the sun's light the light of Torah; To feel in the sun's warmth the warmth of the human community. To use in the sun's energy the strength of the On e Who Creates. Blessed be the Doer of Deeds of Beginning." Yet neither we nor world society had yet realized how dire was the danger that we faced.

Now we do. Yet -- will we act? The Shalom Center has in the spirit of Malachi's last words created "Elijah's Covenant between the Generations," a pre-b'nai-mitzvah study guide for teens and their families. We have also created a new Freedom Seder for the Earth to face the Ten Plagues of today, the "pharaohs" behind them, and the Ten Healings that we need. We can celebrate the Blessing of the Sun at the coal-burning plants and oil refineries that are bringing on "the day that burns like a furnace." We can gather the commitment of every Jewish community to change both our own buildings and the public's policies toward healing the earth.

Says Malachi: "Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you, implored YHWH Infinite, the Breath of Life." We must lift the wisdom of Shabbat HaGadol beyond these words we read on prayerbook paper, beyond these words we hear the cantor chant, into our hearts, our hands to make them real.
* The Shabbat of April 4, 2009, just before Passover, is called by Jewish tradition "Shabbat Hagadol" – "the Great Shabbat" or "Shabbat of 'The Great,' " from a passage at the end of the Prophetic portion set aside for that day. For important connections with this moment, see also the "New Freedom Seder for the Earth"; "The Blessing of the Sun" (a ceremony this April 8 that occurs only once very 28 years); and "Elijah's Covenant between the Generations" for b'nai mitzvah families --- on our website at

I must also note that perhaps the greatest Prophet of our own generation, Dr. Martin Luther King, gave his most prophetic speech on April 4, 1967, one year exactly before he was killed on April 4, 1968. Thew original Freedom Seder was celebrated on April 4, 1969.


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