This week’s Parsha (Torah Portion) is Parshat Tzav. Tzav continues our analysis of the Korbanot (sacrifices) that were offered in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and eventually in the Beit Hamikdash (the great Temple in Jerusalem). Sacrifices were a way we worshiped God in ancient times, before the development of Tefilah (Prayer) in the way we know it today. When I read the various sections of the Torah that deal with sacrifices my thoughts often turn to the subject of Messianism and Redemption. One of the things the Messiah will do, according to the Mishnah Torah, Laws of Kings and Wars 11:1 is to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash. Now there are different opinions about what will be done in the Third Beit Hamikdash with regard to animal sacrifice. Rabbi Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Pre-State Israel states in his book Olat Re’iah (I, p. 292) that only grain offerings (Menachot) will be performed in the Third Temple. While the discussion of what will happen in the Third Temple is an interesting one, as I was reviewing this week’s Parsha my mind became more occupied with what needs to happen to bring redemption to the world.
This week’s Haftarah gives a beautiful answer to that question. In Malachi 3:23-24 God says, “Behold! I send you Eliya (Elijah) the Prophet, before the great and awesome day of God. He shall return the heart of the parents to the children and the heart of the children to their parents, …”. One understanding of the first verse is that God is declaring that Eliya (also know as Eliyahu), Elijah the Prophet, will herald the coming of the Messiah and the redemption of the world. In the next verse God then describes what Elijah will accomplish in order to bring about the redemption: the returning of “… the heart of the parents to the children and the heart of the children to their parents …”. How are we to understand this verse? I would like to suggest three possible meanings.
Parents and Children Reunited: Sad as it is to say, it is unfortunately true at times that some parents and children are in conflict with each other. In order to bring redemption to the world, God is telling us that these most fundamental of relationships, when broken, need to be healed and redeemed.
Narrowing the Generation Gap: The heart of the parents and the heart of the children can be a metaphor for old and young. Thus, God is teaching us that redemption will come to the world when young and old both understand one another better, when there is less of a distance in the generation gap. Furthermore, young and old need to see that they have something to offer each other and that each has a responsibility towards the other. Younger people potentially have an incredible excitement about seeing, learning and experiencing things for the first time, while older people can be blessed with the wisdom of reflection that comes with abundant experience.
Tradition and Innovation Are Not Enemies: Parents and children can also represent tradition vs. innovation. Very often I see people in the Jewish community and in the larger society at add odds over these seemingly opposite positions. In this reading, God is expressing that tradition and innovation are not mutually exclusive categories, but can actually complement one another.
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Hagadol (The Great Shabbat). There are many different reasons given for why we call this Shabbat, Shabbat Hagadol. One of the reasons comes from the line from the Haftarah that I quoted. The line refers to the day of redemption as “Gadol”, “Great”. The reading of this verse on this Shabbat leads to referring to the Shabbat itself as “Gadol” (Mateh Moshe section 542, Rav Ovadia Yosef, Yabia Omer 4:39, Maharal in G’vurot Hashem chapter 39 and Tiferet Yisrael chapter 44). This connection, in turn, links this Shabbat to the concept of redemption – “the great and awesome day of God” as explained above. The nature of this thematic linkage may be found in the fact that Shabbat Hagadol is always the Shabbat before Pesach (Passover). The Talmud in Rosh Hashanah 11a states, “In the month of Nissan our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt. In the month of Nissan we will be redeemed.” While the Talmud refers to the entire month of Nissan as the time when the final redemption will occur, it seems likely that the intent is that the future redemption will be connected to Pesach. These sources all point to this particular time of year as a time of redemption. Obviously redemption can come at anytime, or at least whenever we have transformed the world to a state of being worthy of redemption. However, perhaps this time of year – and specifically at the Seder – could be an ideal time to further the quest for redemption.
The three understandings outlined above of what needs to occur in the world to achieve redemption based on Malachi 3:23-24 can all be found in the Seder.
Parents and Children Reunited: Throughout the Seder we emphasize the relationship between parents and children. Children asking parents the Four Questions. Parents teaching children about the meaning of Yetziat Mitzrayim (the Exodus form Egypt). The Four Children that we discuss at the Seder, which is the way the Haggadah helps us understand that we have to find different ways of teaching our different types of children. Not only should a greater understanding of Yetziat Mitzrayim come from this exchange between parents and children but a coming together of parents and children should transpire. If a parent and child are, God forbid, disconnected then maybe the Seder can help bring them together. After all, even the “Rasha”, “the wicked child” – whether truly wicked or seen as wicked by the parent – has a seat at the Seder table. If a parent and a child have a good relationship then perhaps their love can grow even stronger through the shared experience of the Seder.
Narrowing the Generation Gap: At the Seder we sing a song called Dayenu. The theme of Dayenu is that if God would have done any one of the miracles that God brought during Yetziat Mitzrayim it would have been enough – but look at the almost limitless miracles that God did for us. The theme of Dayenu is the theme of the old and young at the same time. For it is the old who can understand the concept of anything being enough and it is the young who can understand the idea of anything being limitless. Hopefully through old and young singing Dayenu together old and young can teach each other about these ideas and simultaneously narrow the Generation Gap. (My friend and colleague Karina Zilberman and I came to this interpretation together through our learning from one another.)
Tradition and Innovation Are Not Enemies: The Seder is probably the greatest example of this concept in all of Judaism. Why? What can be more traditional than the age old Seder with its blessings, prayers, rituals and learning? Yet it is simultaneously one of the greatest examples of innovation in Judaism. The Seder in the way we know it today came out of the need to deal with the reality of not being able to offer the Korban Pesach, the Passover Sacrifice after the Destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdash. In essence the Seder is an innovation that was made to help maintain tradition in a new reality. The proliferation of Haggadot with new and interesting commentaries as well as the development of new customs to address contemporary issues, such as Soviet Jewry, Ethiopian Jewry, Israeli Soldiers who are missing in action or are prisoners of war, Jewish feminism, etc demonstrate that the Seder’s underlying themes resonate in every generation and inspire new twists to time-honored practices, without in anyway rupturing any aspect of tradition.
As we all read this week’s Parsha, celebrate Shabbat Hagadol and next week celebrate Pesach with the Seder, let us all use these spiritual experiences to bring redemption to this very broken world. Let it be soon, let it be today, let it be this very moment.
This week’s title comes from the song “ Redemption Song” by Bob Marley. I chose this song as the title because the theme of redemption in this weeks article. In fact often when I think of redemption, I find myself singing the lyrics of this beautiful song.
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the almighty
We forward in this generation
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have
“ Redemption Song” is the last song on the album Uprising , the ninth album of Bob Marley & the Wailers ‘. It was produced by Chris Blackwell. It was released by Island Records in 1980. “ Redemption Song” is one of Bob Marley’s most important compositions. Some of the lyrics are based on a speech given by Marcus Garvey. When Bob Marley wrote the song in 1979 he had already been diagnosed with Cancer, which he eventually died from in 1981 at the age of 35. He was already in a tremendous amount of pain at this time, which he hid from his audience. He was also obviously thinking about his own mortality, which is apparent in the lyrics of the song. Most Bob Marley songs have the full sound of the band. ” Redemption Song” is different in that it a solo acoustic recording, just Bob Marley singing and playing an acoustic guitar. However, “Redemption Song” was released with the full band as a single in France and the United Kingdom in October, 1980. It is this version of the song that was on the 2001 compilation One Love: The Very Best of Bob Marley & The Wailers. The full band version is also a bonus track on the 2001 reissue of the Uprising album. Also when Bob Marley would perform the song in concert, he performed it with the band. In 2004, Rolling Stone identified the song as number 66 among The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The Jamaican broadcaster and poet Mutabaruka in 2009 stated that “Redemption Song” is the most important song in the history of Jamaican music.