Constant Salvation from Esau
The first verse of Parashas Toldos states, “These are the offspring of Isaac.” Who are the progeny of Isaac to which the verse refers? Rashi explains that the word “offspring” in this verse is a reference to Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac who are the topic of the entire parashah.
The haftorah is a selection from the Prophets that follows this theme, discussing the relationship — and contrast — between Jacob and Esau. The haftorah is taken from the first chapter of the Book of Malachi, the last of the twelve later prophets. In fact, the Talmud teaches that Malachi was the very last prophet of all. Considering that context, we can assume that this book was written sometime around 450 BCE, shortly after the Second Temple was built.
Although Malachi is often grouped with Chagai and Zechariah, because the three were the last prophets to lead the Jewish people, the books of Chagai and Zechariah contain more information regarding the period in which they lived, thus shedding light on their identities. Malachi’s book, on the other hand, does not specify in which time period he lived. Similarly, little is known about Malachi himself: we do not know the names of his parents, his life story, or any of his activities, aside from his task as a prophet who delivered some powerful messages to the Jewish people. It is even unclear whether he personally wrote the Book of Malachi or whether it was recorded after his death.
Who was Malachi?
The Talmud (Megillah 15a) cites three possibilities as to who Malachi could have been. The Talmud initially proposes that Malachi might have been none other than Mordechai, who, together with Queen Esther, saved the Jewish people in the Purim story. Mordechai lived in the same approximate time period that Malachi would have lived.
The Talmud’s suggestion is based on the fact that in the final verse of Megillas Esther, we learn that Mordechai becomes the mishneh lamelech, the viceroy, to King Achashveirosh. The name Malachi might be based on the word malach, which can mean an angel, a messenger, or a servant (these are related concepts since malachim, Heavenly angels, are servants of God). The name Malachi might therefore be an allusion to Mordechai’s status as second-in-command to the king. The Talmud ultimately rejects this possibility, because a beraisa (Mishnaic text) lists Malachi and Mordechai as distinct individuals who prophesied during the same era.
The Talmud then suggests that Malachi may have been Ezra HaSofer (Ezra the Scribe), who oversaw the construction of the Second Temple and composed another book in Scriptures that carries his name. Ezra lived slightly later than Mordechai, and it is unclear whether he was actually a prophet. Many of the topics that Malachi discusses are issues with which Ezra was associated, which may have led to the conclusion that “Malachi” is simply another name for Ezra.
The majority opinion in the Talmud, however, is that Malachi was neither Ezra nor Mordechai, but a distinct individual.
Malachi: An Overview
The Book of Malachi discusses three topics that do not receive much ink elsewhere in the Torah, although each of these three points is well-known due to the prophecies of Malachi. One of these topics is discussed at the end of the book, in a famous chapter that is read every year on Shabbos HaGadol, the Shabbos prior to Pesach. In this section, Malachi makes the famous prediction that the arrival of Mashiach will be preceded by an appearance from Elijah the Prophet, who will return to the world and announce the coming of Mashiach. Another major topic is Malachi’s criticism of the habits of the Jewish people during the Second Temple, with particular emphasis on the fact that the priests failed to perform the service in the Temple properly.
The third topic of the book is the sin of intermarriage. Malachi strongly rebukes the Jews who returned from Babylon with non-Jewish wives, warning them that the Temple will not be able to operate properly until they rectify their misdeeds. This is one area in which Malachi’s prophecies are closely associated with the activities of Ezra the Scribe. Ezra was the leader of the Jewish people and succeeded, along with his associate Nechemiah, in enforcing the Torah’s ban against intermarriage. The Bible does not reveal, however, whether the non-Jewish spouses converted to Judaism or the sinful marriages were simply dissolved.
The haftorah of Parshas Toldos is drawn from the beginning of the Book of Malachi, and the link between the parashah and the haftorah is in the first few verses of the book. The prophecy is described as: מַשָּׂא דְבַר ה’ אֶל יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּיַד מַלְאָכִי — The burden of the word of God to
Israel, through Malachi. The word masa, which is literally translated as “burden,” is used here to refer to a prophecy. Like all prophecies, the prophecy of Malachi is the word of God, and Malachi is merely the messenger who relays His words to the Jewish people. The entire prophecy in this chapter is written in the form of a dialogue between God and His nation Israel.
Does God Love Us?
Malachi’s prophecy begins with the statement: ‘ אָהַבְתִּי אֶתְכֶם אָמַר ה — I have loved you, God says. This prophecy is addressed to the Jewish people after they returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple — events that constitute evidence of God’s love for His people. Yet Malachi goes on to say: ואֲַמַרְתֶּם בּמַָּה אֲהַבְתָּנו — You said, “In what way do You love us?” Here, the prophet, as God’s messenger, relates the powerful doubts that gripped the Jewish people. True, God displayed His love for them by bringing them back to their land and restoring the Temple, but that love can be attributed to the fact that they are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Jews argued that God did not perform any wonders for them due to their own merits, and that He does not love them personally. The prophet goes on to describe God’s response to their doubts: הֲלוֹא אָח עֵשָׂו לְיַעֲקֹב נְאֻם ה’ וָאֹהַב אֶת יַעֲקֹב — Was not Esau a brother to Jacob, says the Almighty, and I loved [only] Jacob? God describes the marked difference between His relationships with Esau and with Jacob in order to assure the Jews that He does love them personally. After all, Esau and Jacob were twin brothers and both sons of Isaac; seemingly, they should have been equally loved by God. Yet God demonstrated love for Jacob, the progenitor of the Jewish people: ואְֶת עֵשָׂו שָׂנֵאתִי — and I hated Esau. The reason for this difference was that Jacob was righteous, a loyal servant of God, while Esau became a wicked man who was undeserving of God’s love. Thus the prophet is imparting to the people that God’s love for a person is dependent on his own merits, and cannot be attributed exclusively to his lineage.
Similarly, the prophet says, God redeemed the Jews from the exile in Babylon, returned them to the land of Israel, and enabled them to rebuild the Temple because of His direct love for them. With the Patriarchs no longer alive, the Jews could only have been granted redemption and renaissance because God loved them, not merely because of His love for the Patriarchs. In fact, it is precisely as a result of God’s love for them that the prophet goes on to rebuke them for their sins, to prevent them from sliding back into the evil ways that resulted in the destruction of the first Temple.
Derailing Evil Decrees
The fourth verse of this haftorah is the subject of a well-known incident described in the Midrash, which illustrates how the Almighty has always saved the Jews from their enemies. The prophet relates that when the nation of Edom (the children of Esau) assert their intentions to rebuild their destroyed cities, God promises: הֵמָּה יִבְנוּ וַאֲנִי אֶהֱרוֹס — they will build and I will destroy. The Midrash relates that a gentile philosopher challenged the Jewish sage Rabbi Eliezer: “Your prophet predicts that your God will destroy the buildings of Edom, yet our buildings are all still intact!”
“This verse does not refer to the physical buildings,” Rabbi Eliezer responded, “but to the plans and decrees that you concoct against us. No matter how much you sit and plot against us, God derails your plans.”
Upon hearing Rabbi Eliezer’s explanation, the philosopher exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are correct! Our people often plan various forms of persecution to inflict upon the Jews, yet an Old Man [a reference to the Almighty] thwarts all of our plans!”
In these words, then, the prophet imparts to us that Almighty protects us from the evil schemes of the gentile nations, thwarting their plans before we are even aware that they exist.
This excerpt was taken from Haftorah of the Week by Ervin Landau.