Haftarah Helper: Shabbat HaGadol

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Malachi 3:4-24[1]

Initially, things were looking up for the Judeans who returned from the Babylonian exile and rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem. But after a few generations, the restoration was losing spirit. The grand promises of the previous generation’s prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, were unfulfilled. The Bible’s final prophet, Malachi[2], once again directed the people, especially its priests and Levites, on God’s path; the Haftarah conveys his, and God’s, final messages. He exhorts them to desist from a variety of sins against one another and God. To encourage them, God even challenges them to test His ability to reward them so that He can bless them. More profoundly, seeing this blessing of His will partially answer the complaint of even those who fear Him: why do they suffer while evildoers prosper? The rest of His reply to that question will come on a “great and fearsome day” which Elijah’s arrival will portend. God will punish the wicked, and the righteous will triumph over them. While awaiting this final redemption, the righteous must continue to follow Moses’s law.

Redeeming His people while punishing the wicked strongly parallels the events of the Exodus and the forthcoming Passover holiday, and directs attention to the future messianic redemption.

The prophet’s style is to debate the people: [A] a complaint is lodged; [B] a reply, often sarcastic, is offered; [C] one side elaborates its point; [D] and the prophet concludes with a rebuke or promise.

Haftarah Breakdown

Verse 4: After a harsh punishment and purification of its wayward priests, God will again accept Judah’s offerings…

Malachi 3:4 מלאכי ג:ד
[D] Then the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasing to the Lord, as in the days of yore and in the years of old. וְעָֽרְבָה֙ לַֽה’ מִנְחַ֥ת יְהוּדָ֖ה וִירֽוּשָׁלִָ֑ם כִּימֵ֣י עוֹלָ֔ם וּכְשָׁנִ֖ים קַדְמֹנִיּֽוֹת׃

Verses 5-7: …but for now, as He awaits their return to Him, God must punish Judah for generations of sin.

Malachi 3:5 מלאכי ג:ה
[A] “I will come near to you in judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, the adulterers, and those who swear falsely; against those who oppress [by withholding] a worker’s wage, the widow, and the orphan; and [against] those who turn aside the stranger and do not fear Me,” says the Lord of hosts. וְקָרַבְתִּ֣י אֲלֵיכֶם֮ לַמִּשְׁפָּט֒ וְהָיִ֣יתִי ׀ עֵ֣ד מְמַהֵ֗ר בַּֽמְכַשְּׁפִים֙ וּבַמְנָ֣אֲפִ֔ים וּבַנִּשְׁבָּעִ֖ים לַשָּׁ֑קֶר וּבְעֹשְׁקֵ֣י שְׂכַר־שָׂ֠כִיר אַלְמָנָ֨ה וְיָת֤וֹם וּמַטֵּי־גֵר֙ וְלֹ֣א יְרֵא֔וּנִי אָמַ֖ר ה’ צְבָאֽוֹת׃

Verses 8-9: Judeans have sinned by not giving tithes to its (sinful) Levites and priests.

Malachi 3:8 מלאכי ג:ח
[A] Ought man to defraud God? Yet you defraud Me. [B] You ask, “How have we defrauded You?” [C] [By not giving] tithe and terumah. הֲיִקְבַּ֨ע אָדָ֜ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים כִּ֤י אַתֶּם֙ קֹבְעִ֣ים אֹתִ֔י וַאֲמַרְתֶּ֖ם בַּמֶּ֣ה קְבַעֲנ֑וּךָ הַֽמַּעֲשֵׂ֖ר וְהַתְּרוּמָֽה׃

Verses 10-12: God will more than compensate Judeans for the tithes they will give.

Malachi 3:10 מלאכי ג:י
[D] “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test Me with that!”, says the Lord of hosts, “[to see] if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you immeasurable blessing.” הָבִ֨יאוּ אֶת־כָּל־הַֽמַּעֲשֵׂ֜ר אֶל־בֵּ֣ית הָאוֹצָ֗ר וִיהִ֥י טֶ֙רֶף֙ בְּבֵיתִ֔י וּבְחָנ֤וּנִי נָא֙ בָּזֹ֔את אָמַ֖ר יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֑וֹת אִם־לֹ֧א אֶפְתַּ֣ח לָכֶ֗ם אֵ֚ת אֲרֻבּ֣וֹת הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וַהֲרִיקֹתִ֥י לָכֶ֛ם בְּרָכָ֖ה עַד־בְּלִי־דָֽי׃

Verses 13-15: God knows the complaint of His servants: Why serve God when evildoers flourish?

Malachi 3:14 מלאכי ג:י״ד
[C] You have said, “It is vain to serve God! What profit is [there]  for our having kept His charge, and for having walked mournfully[3] before the Lord of hosts?” אֲמַרְתֶּ֕ם שָׁ֖וְא עֲבֹ֣ד אֱלֹקים וּמַה־בֶּ֗צַע כִּ֤י שָׁמַ֙רְנוּ֙ מִשְׁמַרְתּ֔וֹ וְכִ֤י הָלַ֙כְנוּ֙ קְדֹ֣רַנִּ֔ית מִפְּנֵ֖י יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת׃

Verses 16-21: God will cause the righteous to triumph over evildoers whom He will punish at a time of judgment.

Malachi 3:21 מלאכי ג:כ״א
[D] “You shall trod upon the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this,” says the Lord of hosts. וְעַסּוֹתֶ֣ם רְשָׁעִ֔ים כִּֽי־יִהְי֣וּ אֵ֔פֶר תַּ֖חַת כַּפּ֣וֹת רַגְלֵיכֶ֑ם בַּיּוֹם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֲנִ֣י עֹשֶׂ֔ה אָמַ֖ר ה’ צְבָאֽוֹת׃ (פ)

Verses 22-24: God’s final message: Remember the Torah while awaiting Elijah who heralds the final judgment.

Malachi 3:23 מלאכי ג:כ״ג
Behold, I send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. הִנֵּ֤ה אָֽנֹכִי֙ שֹׁלֵ֣חַ לָכֶ֔ם אֵ֖ת אֵלִיָּ֣ה הַנָּבִ֑יא לִפְנֵ֗י בּ֚וֹא י֣וֹם ה’ הַגָּד֖וֹל וְהַנּוֹרָֽא׃


The Mishnah records a debate concerning Elijah’s future role as set out in the Haftarah.

Mishnah Eduyot 8:7 משנה עדיות ח:ז
Rabbi Joshua said: “I am in receipt [of a tradition] from Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, who heard it from his teacher, and his teacher [heard it] from his teacher, as a law [given] to Moses from [God on Mt.] Sinai, that Elijah will come not to [pronounce] impure or to [pronounce] pure, to distance or to bring near, but rather to distance  those brought near by force and to bring near those put away by force.”[…] Rabbi Judah says: “to bring near, but not to distance.” Rabbi Shimon says: “to conciliate disputes.” And the Sages say: “neither to put away nor to bring near, but to make peace in the world, for (Malachi 3:23-4) said, “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet”, etc., “and he [Elijah] shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, מְקֻבָּל אֲנִי מֵרַבָּן יוֹחָנָן בֶּן זַכַּאי, שֶׁשָּׁמַע מֵרַבּוֹ וְרַבּוֹ מֵרַבּוֹ, הֲלָכָה לְמשֶׁה מִסִּינַי, שֶׁאֵין אֵלִיָּהוּ בָא לְטַמֵּא וּלְטַהֵר, לְרַחֵק וּלְקָרֵב, אֶלָּא לְרַחֵק הַמְקֹרָבִין בִּזְרוֹעַ וּלְקָרֵב הַמְרֻחָקִין בִּזְרוֹעַ.[…] רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, לְקָרֵב, אֲבָל לֹא לְרַחֵק. רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, לְהַשְׁווֹת הַמַּחֲלֹקֶת. וַחֲכָמִים אוֹמְרִים, לֹא לְרַחֵק וְלֹא לְקָרֵב, אֶלָּא לַעֲשׂוֹת שָׁלוֹם בָּעוֹלָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (מלאכי ג) הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם אֵת אֵלִיָּה הַנָּבִיא וְגוֹ’ וְהֵשִׁיב לֵב אָבוֹת עַל בָּנִים וְלֵב בָּנִים עַל אֲבוֹתָם:

With emendations, all translations are from Sefaria.org.  To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email zbeer570@gmail.com.

[1] The reader repeats verse 23 to end the Haftarah “בכי טוב” (on a “positive note”).

[2] “Malachi” (literally, “My Messenger”) may be the prophet’s personal name, a nickname for Mordechai or Ezra (Megillah 15a), or the era’s High Priest, Joshua son of Jehotzadak (Da’at Mikra).

[3] Translation uncertain.