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   by Jacob Solomon

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"Bring all the tithes to the treasury, so that there will be food in My House. Please test Me on this," says the G-d of Hosts, "for there is no way that I will not open up the floodgates of the heavens for you, and pour down uncontainable blessings upon you." (Malachi 3:10)

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The prophesies of Malachi conclude the entire order of the Prophets within the Tenach. Who, however, was Malachi? The actual text gives no clue. Even the Talmud is uncertain of his actual identity. Recognizing that this prophesy was a late message - already after the building of the Second Temple - one opinion claims that Malachi was Ezra; another prefers Mordechai, but most hold that Malachi is his proper name, and that he was a prophet in his own right (Megilla 15a).

From his position in the last line of prophets it is reasonable to assume that he was the latest prophet of all, and that is supported by the text. Like Haggai and Zechariah before him, he lived after the Return from Babylon, but unlike them, he was obviously in action after the later rebuilding of the Second Temple, as he criticizes the offerings brought there.

The Prophet Malachi urges that Israel cannot achieve its destiny just because of its archenemy Esau's downfall. A nation who accepted upon itself to be G-d's people must deserve its privileged status amongst Mankind. Thus the Prophet severely chastens the Jews for the hypocrisy of those who, encouraged by their self-serving and insincere priests, can turn the service of G-d into what he patently sees as a farce. How dare they offer their old, crippled, and ill animals to G-d, while at the same time retaining the best for themselves? Would they dare give a something defective as a present to their Persian overlords?

Malachi thus exhorts the Jewish Priests to live up to their calling. They must be the teachers and model personalities. They can indeed spiritually raise the standard of the Jewish people if they set the example - a message that applies to all leaders, both religious and temporal. However the ultimate act of 'leadership' will come through Divine intervention itself. Its form - the theme of the Haftara - is the events leading up to a happening in ours as well as Malachi's future. It is the Final Day of Judgment.

The Haftara itself begins pleasantly enough - 'the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to G-d, as in the days of old and in former years.' (Malachi 3:4) G-d will accept our sacrifices in the Third Temple of the future, and His people will be able to come close to their Creator by being able to serve Him through those means. However, G-d will wreak justice on those whose way of life follow the (Jewish) seven deadly sins - sorcery; adultery; lying under oath, swindling employees, and dealing unjustly with three classes of society needing protection - the widow, the orphan, and the proselyte.

The Prophet continues by condemning the people for neglecting to pay the obligatory tithes and offerings due to the Priests and Levites (- and by implication, tzedaka - supporting those who, like the Priests and Levites, are in need). Were they to honor their obligations, God would shower blessings on them, and the land would yield abundant crops.

Malachi brings words of assurance from G-d to the righteous people who are perplexed by the apparent prosperity of the wicked. While the wicked proper, G-d quietly takes note of the loyalty shown by those following His revealed teachings. Concerning such genuine people: 'G-d listened and heard, and a scroll of remembrance was written at His command concerning those who fear G-d and meditate on His name.' (3:16) When the Day of Judgment arrives, G-d will show them compassion 'as a man is compassionate with a son that serves him.' (3:18) As the Malbim explains, an employee works and is paid immediately. But his reward is temporary, since a short time later he will have spent it all. But when a father wishes to reward a devoted son, he thinks in more lasting terms - something that will last him his entire life, and even for generations afterwards. The devoted son trusts his father even if his gifts do not come at once. Similarly, G-d does not reward the truly righteous with the fleeting rewards of this world, but instead He withholds the reward until their souls reach the next world, for what is acquired there is permanent (c.f. Rashi on Deut. 7:10).

Ultimately, the truly wicked will be destroyed in this world as well. The Prophet calls upon the people to remember the Torah of Moses and foretells the coming of Elijah before 'the great and terrible day of the L-rd' when parents and children will be reconciled, and turn their hearts towards G-d.

Given the above, the actual dating of Malachi is difficult: however he must have been active between the period of the Second Temple before the Jews put away their foreign wives under Ezra (implied in Malachi 2:11) - which would suggest his time being between 515 and 450 BCE (Rosenberg, S.G.: The Haftara Cycle [2000] p. 20).

D'var Torah

G-d, says Malachi, asks the Israelites to put Him to the test. He says that if they pay their tithes (tenth of their produce) to the Priests and the Levites, they themselves will prosper beyond all reasonable expectations. Note that the Priests and the Levites were in need: they rendered spiritual services to the Jews and humanity in the Temple, but they received no share in the Land on which they could grow their own food.

The Talmud (Taanit 9a) supports the above with the following anecdote:

R. Yohanan met Reish Lakish's son. He said to him: "Tell me what verse you are studying?" The child answered: "The verse is the command to take a tithe (asser te'aser) of all the seed crops that grow in the field every year" (Deut. 14:22). The child then asked why the double expression - (asser te'asser) is used rather than a simple commandment to take tithes. R. Yohanan answered that the commandment was phrased this way to add a Divine promise: "the verse guarantees that if you separate tithes (asser) you yourself will become rich" (change the pointing to ti-asher). The young boy wanted to know from where R. Yohanan got that idea. He replied: "Just you go ahead and test it out for yourself!" "Isn't it against the Torah to put G-d to the test?" pleased the boy, citing 'You shall not test the L-rd your G-d' (Deut. 6:16). R. Yohanam replied: "R. Hoshaya said that this commandment of the separation of tithes is the only exception, as stated in this verse: 'Bring all the tithes to the treasury, so that there will be food in My House. Please test Me on this,' says the G-d of Hosts, 'for there is no way that I will not open up the floodgates of the heavens for you, and pour down uncontainable blessings upon you.' (Malachi 3:10)

But why are we allowed to test G-d in this respect? And by extension, it may be argued that the spirit of the laws of tithes applies to the well-established practice of giving a tenth of one's income to tzedaka. That word is commonly rendered as 'charity' - but it comes from the word tzedek. That means doing what is right, and what is just and fair. Thus helping those in need is not merely a generous act where a person parts with a slice of his wealth, but Torah legislated social justice. This may be illustrated by the story of Goldberg, the beggar, knocking at Rothstein's villa for his weekly handout. "I'm sorry, this week I had a very bad run of business, Goldberg," he said, "and I can't help you this time round." "Because you had a bad time, I should suffer?" Goldberg rejoined.

The Malbim gives the following reason. There are two words in Biblical Hebrew for 'test'. One is 'Nisayon' and the other is 'B'china'. A Nisayon is when you test someone or something to see if that person or thing is more than what it appears to be on the surface. For example, a coach tests his athlete by making him jump higher than he did the day before to see if he has more in him. Similarly, when G-d tests a person, He does so to see if that person can be even greater than he was the day before. Every test that Abraham experienced was to develop and bring out his great personal attributes - to a great degree than he exhibited in the previous test. However, a B'china is a test to see if the person or thing is what it is but not more. For example, testing gold for its level of purity from other minerals is determining the level of purity that the gold has. When a student is tested in Geometry, the teacher wants to determine if the student knows what he was taught, not more.

When G-d tells us to test Him with tithes, He uses the word 'B'chanuni' from the word 'B'china'. Conversely, when the Torah tells us in Deuteronomy not to test G-d, it uses the phrase 'lo tenasu' from the word 'Nisayon'. According to Malbim, the Torah forbids us to make a Nisayon of G-d - i.e. to test Him to see if He will do more than what He said. But since He promised that if we give tithes he will open up all the treasure houses and give us blessing without end, in this area we could never test Him to see if He will give more because He already promised us everything. In other words, when it comes to tzedaka, the 'sky really is the limit!'

By extension, people often refrain from giving to others because they do not want to lose what they have. So G-d assures us that this is not the case when it comes to charity because if we give to others, He has fixed the Creation, as it were, that we will get it back. And we may even 'test' Him in this respect!

The Sefer Kol-Bo (47) connects this idea in explaining why the Shabbat before Pesach is name Shabbat Hagadol (the 'big' Shabbat). After bringing the more commonly quoted explanation, he mentions that there was a custom of baking a 'big' challa loaf for the poor - (so that they might enjoy leavened bread on the last Shabbat before Pesach). He records that when this custom fell into disuse, the grain crops suffered severe blight.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Also by Jacob Solomon:
Between the Fish and the Soup

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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