Becoming Elijah

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

For the Shabbat just before Passover (this year March 28), Jewish tradition assigns the last chapter of the last of the classical prophets – Malachi, who spoke about 2500 years ago — to be read.  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. …

“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, turn your hearts to the lives of your children and the children of your children, turn your hearts to learning from the Wisdom you inherited — that together you can yet avert the utter destruction of My Earth.”

Suppose on Shabbat HaGadol itself, after the Haftarah is read, we ask all those present in the congregation who are under 13 to come forward and face the rest of the congregation. All stand. Then both younger and older say aloud together:

“We ourselves will take on the task of Elijah the Prophet, turning our hearts to each other to save the Earth from destruction. We pledge ourselves to hand on to the next generation an earth that is washed in wind and sunlight, not scorched into a furnace by burning coal and oil and gas.”

Then each person turns to someone close by and says to that partner one action s/he will take to make this promise real.

And when the Passover Seder welcomes Elijah to the table, all present say these words again, and either in pairs or everyone to each other, they commit to take an action. And drink from Elijah’s Cup.

Author bio: 

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph. D., founded (in 1983) and directs The Shalom Center , a prophetic voice in Jewish, multireligious, and American life that brings Jewish and other spiritual thought and practice to bear on seeking peace, pursuing justice, healing the earth, and celebrating community. He edits and writes for its weekly on-line Shalom Report.

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