The closing chapter of Malachi gives the prophet's answer to the doubts and questions with which the people "wearied" God as expressed in the last verse of the previous chapter, Malachi 2:17: considering the apparent success of the wicked, either God approves of them or else, where is the God of Justice? (As indicated in the commentary on the previous chapter, the conventional chapter break after Malachi 2:17 violates the continuity of the new Hebrew parshah which begins with that verse and continues until Malachi 3:12.)

The book of Job could be described as an "in-depth" analysis of all the issues bound up with the above questions, which are also addressed in the other "wisdom" literature (Psalms and Proverbs) and in certain other biblical passages. But here in Malachi it is the prophetic answer to these questions that is given: in essence, this is that the apparent success of the wicked in this world is only temporary until God's terrible Day of Judgment, when they will be destroyed, while the righteous will be vindicated and rewarded.

Chapter 3 verse 1: "Behold I shall send My messenger (MALACHI) and he shall prepare the way before Me." Rashi (ad loc.) states that God's messenger comes to destroy the wicked, while the "Master Whom you seek" is the God of Justice, and the "messenger (or angel) of the Covenant" comes to avenge the Covenant. Metzudas David (ad loc.) states that the "Master whom you seek" is King Mashiah, while the "angel of the Covenant" is Elijah the prophet, who, like Pinchas (Numbers 25:11), was zealous for God's Covenant (I Kings 19:10 etc.) when the kingdom of Ephraim banned the practice of circumcision.

Vv 2-3: "For he will be like a refiner's fire and the washer-man's soap. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." He who comes to prepare the way for the God of Justice separates out all impurity and removes the stain of the evil doers from the world.

"And he will purify the children of Levi." The ultimate restoration of the Temple as a place of true service of God depends on the purification of the Levites and priests who will minister in it.

V 4: "Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant to HaShem as in the days of old and as in former years." Sifri darshens: "as in the days of old" - as in the days of Moses, "and as in former years" - as in the days of Solomon; Rabbi Judah the Prince says, "as in the days of old" - as in the days of Noah, "and as in former years" - as in the days of Hevel (=Abel), when there was no idolatry in the world. In the end everything will return to its pristine purity.

The passage from verse 4 until the end of Malachi, the central theme of which is the future Judgment and Redemption, is read as the Haftara on Shabbos HaGadol, the Shabbos immediately preceding the Pesach festival.

V 5: "And I will come near to you to judgment, and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against false swearers and against those who oppress the hireling in his wages." - "When Rabbi Yohanan would come to this verse he would weep, saying, Is there any remedy for a servant whose master is coming near to judge him and is quick to bear witness against him? Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai said, Woe to us because the verse equates light sins (holding back a hireling's wages) with the most serious (adultery and sorcery)" (Hagigah 5a; Rashi ad loc.).

"For I, HaShem have not changed." - "Even though I am patient and slow to anger, My original attitude has not changed so as to love evil and hate good" (Rashi). ".and you, children of Jacob, have not been consumed" - "Even though you die in wickedness and I have not exacted punishment from the wicked during their lifetimes, you have not been consumed, and I have left the souls for Me to exact punishment from them in Gehennom" (Rashi).

Vv 7ff: God calls for the people to repent in order for Him to return to them. The specific sin that is singled out as requiring the people's repentance is the entire nation's failure to pay their MA'ASER and TERUMAH tithes to the Levites and Priests respectively, whose task is to minister in God's Temple and teach His Torah. The people's failure to pay these tithes is the cause of the curse that is causing agricultural and economic depression, whereas God promises that if they will pay them, "I shall pour you out a blessing until there will not be sufficient room to receive it" (v 11) until Israel will be a "land of delight" (v 12). Providing proper support for the nation's spiritual ministers and teachers is the very key to national prosperity.

Vv 13-15: "Your words have been strong against Me." The people's lack of faith in God's justice, as expressed in Malachi 2:17, is now elaborated. Just as today, many people saw the apparent success of those who acted with brazen impunity and inferred that it was pointless to serve God and observe the Torah code. "They have even tested God and been saved!"

V 16: Without responding directly to this lack of faith, God points to those who are God-fearing and who speak differently in quiet conversation with each other, agreeing not to be drawn after the ways of the wicked even though God does not hasten to punish them.

"And God listened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him." Not a single good thought, word or deed is ever forgotten. Everything is recorded in God's book, and in the end the righteous will be rewarded and the wicked punished. These quiet, thoughtful private conversations at the "grass roots" level of the nation among the God-fearing are the very key to redemption.

V 18: "Then you shall return and see the difference between the righteous and the villain, between the one who serves God and the one that did not serve Him." One cannot make inferences about God's justice from the apparent lack of justice in this world: only on the Day of Judgment will His true justice be fully revealed.

V 19 opens a new PARSHAH PESUHAH, and in some Biblical editions this makes up a separate chapter, Malachi 4:1-6. The prophetic reply to people's doubts about God's justice is that they will be answered decisively on the terrible Day of Judgment, when those who were flagrantly evil will be consumed.

Vv 20ff: "But to you who fear My name a sun of righteousness shall shine with healing in its wings." The same day that burns like an oven for the wicked will prove to be a day of healing for the righteous - they will be saved from all evil and will rejoice wholeheartedly (RaDaK).

V 22: "Remember the Torah of Moses My servant." In his closing words, the last prophet of Israel calls on the people to remember and follow God's law, which is called by the name of Moses because he sacrificed himself totally for the sake of the Torah. The sin of the golden calf and subsequent breaking of the Tablets of the Law, which took place in the Hebrew month of Tammuz, brought forgetfulness into the world. The initial Hebrew letters of the prophet's plea to remember Moses' Torah - ZICHRU TORAS MOSHE - are the same letters that make up the name of the month of TaMuZ!

V 23: "Behold I shall send you Elijah the prophet." - "Rabbi Yehoshua said, I have a tradition from Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai going back to Mt Sinai that Elijah will not come to defile or purify, reject or draw near, but only to reject those who forcibly pushed their way forward and to bring close those who were forcibly pushed away. The sages said, he comes not to reject or draw near but to make peace among them, as it says, And he will turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers" (Eduyos 8:7). Speedily in our days! Amen!

* * * Malachi 3:4-24 is read as the Haftara on Shabbos HaGadol, the Shabbos immediately preceding the festival of Pesach * * *


V 1: "Proverbs of Solomon son of David king of Israel ." Unlike the prophets of Israel , King Solomon needs no biographical introduction since the outer details of his life and times are described in full in I Kings chs 1-11 and II Chronicles chs 1-9. It is the inner soul and the unfathomable wisdom of Solomon that are revealed in his three works contained in the Kesuvim or holy "writings" - Song of Songs, which he wrote in his youth, Proverbs (MISHLEY), which dates from his maturity, and Koheles (Ecclesiastes), which he composed in his old age. The initial MEM of the opening word of MISHLEY is written large in the Hebrew text to indicate that Solomon fasted 40 days in order to attain Torah wisdom like Moses, who fasted 40 days and nights (Yalkut Shimoni).

The English word "proverb" is an attempt to render the Hebrew word MASHAL. The word "proverb" suggests a succinct, pithy and memorable saying that teaches deep wisdom. Much of MISHLEY is indeed made up of such sayings: Proverbs chs 1-9 are a lengthy prologue to the work, while almost all of the rest of the book from chapter 10 onwards is made up of such "proverbs" in the usual English sense of the word. However the Hebrew word MASHAL does not only have the connotation of a "proverb" in this sense but also means a metaphor, graphic likeness or image that facilitates deeper understanding and insight into the NIMSHAL, some subject or concept that is elucidated through being compared to or represented by the metaphoric image. "All his words are similes and metaphors: for example, he compares the Torah to a good wife while idolatry is compared to a harlot" (Rashi on Proverbs 1:1).

V 2: "To know wisdom (HOCHMAH) and instruction (MUSSAR) and to apprehend words of understanding (BINAH)". The Spanish rabbi and moralist Rabbenu Yonah of Gerondi (d. 1263), author of the moralistic classic Shaarey Teshuvah, "The Gates of Repentance", explains in his commentary on Proverbs that HOCHMAH, "wisdom", is the defining trait of the righteous Tzaddikim who follow the way of truth, and it is this trait that will be explained in this work. MUSSAR, "instruction" or "reproof" (lit. chastisement) comes to castigate the wicked and explain the loss and damage they cause. BINAH, "understanding", comes when one attains an understanding of the ultimate meaning or intention of something that is said and the thought that lies behind it.

V 3: "To RECEIVE the instruction of wisdom." It is not enough to KNOW wisdom. The point is to receive, accept and APPLY the lesson in practice (Rabbenu Yonah). ".justice (TZEDEK) and judgment (MISHPAT) and equity (MEISHARIM)" - "TZEDEK means going beyond the letter of the law; MISHPAT means judging truthfully following the line of justice; MEISHARIM means knowing how to act rightly and intelligently in those areas where there is no clear legal decision or obligation" (Rabbenu Yonah).

Vv 4-5: Application to the pursuit of wisdom will benefit even the simple and foolish, while the wise will gain ever greater wisdom.

V 6: "To understand MASHAL and MELITZAH." - "When studying each verse, one must pay attention to understanding the two pathways of the MASHAL (here this means the object being elucidated through the metaphor), and the MELITZAH (=the rhetorical phraseology or stylistic device through which it is expressed). It is necessary to understand what it is that is being compared to the metaphorical image used, but one must also not disregard the stylistic device or metaphor itself - this too must be understood. Thus when it says, 'to save you from the strange and alien woman' (Prov. 2:16) this is a metaphor for the idolatrous vanities of Egypt . One must also understand why he used the metaphor of a harlot." (Rashi).

V 7: "The fear of HaShem is the beginning of knowledge." - "Until this point, Solomon explained his purpose in writing this work. Now the book proper begins" (Rashi). The very foundation of all wisdom and knowledge is to teach oneself to fear God.

V 8: "Hear, my son, the instruction of your father." Rabbenu Yonah explains that success in the service of God is founded on four prerequisites, which are explained one by one in the coming passages. (1) One must chose good guides and teachers and be willing to listen to their reproof (vv 8-9). (2) One must avoid all fellowship with evil people (vv 10-19). (3) One must understand that God requites evil and rewards righteousness and set oneself to fear God (vv 20-33). (4) One must toil and struggle to attain wisdom and avoid all extraneous, empty, alien "wisdom" (Prov. 2:1-22).

Vv 10-19 warn against joining those who seek to make great gains at others' expense because they do not understand that they are walking straight into a trap that will destroy them.

V 20: "Wisdom cries outside, she utters her voice in the streets." Wisdom calls to us from everywhere, seeking to draw us near. We must understand that it would be a fatal error to reject the call of wisdom, for those who do "will eat the fruits of their way and be filled with their own devices" (v 31). This is the sage's answer to the very same doubts that the prophet Malachi (ch 3) addressed when he said that although God is long-suffering, He will eventually exact retribution from the wicked, showing that He is the God of true Justice.



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