Haftaras Shabbos HaGadol

On Shabbos HaGadol, the Shabbos before Pesach, we read a special haftarah from Sefer Malachi. In this haftarah, we find the following statement (Malachi 3:16):
Then those who fear Hashem spoke one to another, and Hashem paid heed and heard (ויקשב ה' וישמע), and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear Hashem and those who give thought to His Name.
 The Maggid raises three questions about this verse:
1. Why does the verse begin with the word then, which in context is seemingly nonessential?
2. Why is the Hebrew term for spoke not the usual form דברו but rather the unusual form נדברו, which is suggestive of passive voice?
3. In the phrase ויקשב ה' וישמע, what is the import of the word ויקשב, which bears a connotation of waiting, as in Rashi’s commentary at the beginning of Berachos 6a?
To answer these questions, and clarify the nature of the book of remembrance which the verse describes, the Maggid turns to a teaching in Sukkah 21b. The Gemara states that even the casual conversation of a Torah scholar calls for study, citing as a source David HaMelech’s statement in Tehillim 1:3 that a person who devotes himself to Torah is like a tree whose leaf never withers.
In explaining this teaching, the Maggid discusses two scenarios involving someone coming to a rich man’s home. In the first scenario, the host sets out food for the visitor, the visitor asks whether he needs to perform a ritual handwashing and recite the berachah of hamotzi over the bread sitting on the table, and the host tells him that he needs to do so. In the second scenario, the visitor comes while the rich man is in the middle of a meal with numerous guests at the table, and the host tells him to perform a ritual handwashing, sit down at the table, and recite the berachah of hamotzi. In the first scenario, the host’s directive can be regarded as Torah, for the host is stating the halachah that the visitor should follow. But in the second scenario, the host’s directive is not Torah, for it was not a halachic response to a halachic question; rather, it was just an invitation to join the meal.
A statement similar to that of the host in the second scenario appears in the first Mishnah in the second chapter of Sukkah. The Mishnah begins with the law that a person who sleeps under a bed inside the sukkah has not fulfilled the mitzvah of sukkah. Later, the Mishnah says further:
R. Shimon said, “There was an incident where Tavi, the slave of Rabban Gamaliel, was sleeping under a bed [on Sukkos] and R. Gamaliel said to the elders, ‘You have seen Tavi my slave, who is a Torah scholar, and knows that slaves are exempt from [the mitzvah of] sukkah, so he sleeps under the bed,’ and by the way we learned that one who sleeps under a bed has not fulfilled his obligation.”
We noted above the teaching in Sukkah 21b that even the casual conversation of a Torah scholar calls for study. The Gemara presents this teaching in the context of Rabban Gamliel’s statement about his servant Tavi. The Gemara in Sukkah 21b relates:
It has been taught: R. Shimon said, “From the casual conversation of Rabban Gamaliel we learned two things. We learned that slaves are exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah, and we learned that one who sleeps under a bed [in a sukkah] has not fulfilled his obligation.” But why does he not say, “From the words of Rabban Gamaliel” [rather than “from the casual conversation of Rabban Gamliel”]? He was informing us by the way of something else, along the lines of what R. Acha bar Adda (some say R. Acha bar Adda in the name of R. Hamnuna) said in the name of Rav: “How do we know that even the casual conversation of Torah scholars calls for study? From what is written (Tehillim 1:3), ‘And whose leaf does not wither.’”
The statement of Rabban Gamliel that R. Shimon quoted was not meant as a halachic ruling, for the elders he was speaking to surely knew the halachos that a servant is exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah and that one who sleeps under a bed in a sukkah does not fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah. Rather, it was just casual conversation, with Rabban Gamliel taking pride over Tavi’s knowledge. Nonetheless, the statement does convey the above halachos about the mitzvah of sukkah.
What did Hashem do with Rabban Gamliel’s statement? He did not accept it as a Torah statement, for, as we said, it was not meant as a Torah ruling. Instead, He stored the statement for later. He knew that in future generations a doubt would arise about sleeping under a bed in a sukkah. So He waited with Rabban Gamliel’s statement until the question about sleeping under the bed in a sukkah would be asked.
We can now explain the verse in the haftarah:
Then those who fear Hashem spoke one to another, and Hashem paid heed and heard (ויקשב ה' וישמע), and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear Hashem and those who give thought to His Name.
The word then indicates the passage of time from the moment when the God-fearing men spoke to each other. The use of the unusual form נדברו indicates then the men were not speaking with deliberate intent to present a Torah teaching; rather, some words of Torah came out in the course of a casual conversation between them. Hashem waited with these words of Torah, and marked them down in a book of remembrance, in the way one does with matters that have not yet come to a conclusion. After some time passed and the appropriate moment arrived, Hashem “heard” these words – that is, He registered them as part of the corpus of Torah.
Note: the d’var Torah I presented last week is actually not on the haftarah of parashas Vayikra, but rather on the haftarah of parashas Lech-Lecha, in a nearby chapter in Sefer Yeshayah. But still it is a fine example of the Maggid’s wisdom.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.