This chapter marks the end of several things: the end of Malachi, the end of Nevi’im, and the end of the second of three major sections of Tanakh. Therefore, I decided to focus on the final verses of this final chapter of the Prophets. “Lo, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord, that he may turn the heart of the fathers back through the children, and the heart of the children back through their fathers – lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction (Malachi 3:24).” Elijah the prophet comes up throughout the Jewish canon, and it’s believed that he will proceed the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, concluding the book of Prophets with a reference to this most famous one seems telling. This verse talks about connecting throughout the generations via the heartstrings of parents and children, all with the goal of achieving a peaceful end of days. It ties up the many messages that I’ve read throughout the last few months, bringing them all together with a cautiously hopeful message. And with that, we conclude the prophets.
Tomorrow, I begin the hardest part of this journey of 929 chapters. I’ll be starting on Psalms, which has 150 chapters in and of itself. It’s going to take over seven months to get through all of them, and I hope I’m able to stay motivated throughout that time. Today marks 567 chapters down and 362 to go!
This chapter is dedicated to the priests. “For a priest’s lips shall guard knowledge, and teaching should be sought from his mouth, for he is a messenger of the Lord of Hosts (Malachi 2:7).” Today, I don’t think there’s anyone who is truly the guardian of knowledge. As an educator, I’m regularly in conversations about how our field needs to change being that we live in a time when anyone can look up any information on their phones instantly. Teachers (or priests) aren’t needed to transmit knowledge and facts. So what is our purpose? Like the priests, we are here to serve the community, providing added value to our learners by applying the knowledge, making it deeper than that which they can Google. We need to view this as holy work, just like that of the priests, of positively impacting the journeys of each learner that we come into contact with.
The final book in Nevi’im opens interestingly. “The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel in the hand of Malachi (Malachi 1:1).” Being the prophet of God isn’t described as an honor, or a privilege, but rather as a burden. Bearing the weight of that must responsibility is indeed a heavy task, and I wish more leaders today took that into account, rather than only looking for glory. Leadership roles are burdens, and responsibilities, and should be treated solemnly, rather than as popularity contests. But I digress.
This chapter involves God essentially calling out the people for being insincere. They offer imperfect, inferior sacrifices, demonstrating a lack of respect and honor. Then, they question why God doesn’t show them favor. “O that there were even one among you that would close the doors [of the Temple] and that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain! I have no desire in you, says the Lord of Hosts. Neither will I accept an offering from your hand (Malachi 1:10).” Essentially, stop half-assing things Israelites! People are so lazy, and are seriously always trying to cut corners. And when you don’t bring the best of yourself to a situation, you never get the best results. This is God literally saying that He would rather someone shut the Temple all together rather than give without sincerity and honor. So let’s apply that to all of our lives – doing things wholeheartedly, or not at all. What would that look like?
The final chapter of Zechariah contains a great deal of end-of-days and messianic imagery. “And on that day His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem from the east. And the Mount of Olives shall split in the midst thereof-toward the east and toward the west-a very great valley. And half the mountain shall move to the north, and half of it to the south (Zechariah 14:4).” It’s crazy that these fantastical statements are being made about real places, places that I’ve been. This chapter is describing such out of this world events that it’s hard to reconcile them with reality. It’s statements like these that have made Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, such a hot commodity over the years. Would it maybe be better if this wasn’t all canonized in the Torah? After all, so many wars have been fought over our tiny strip of land. Would some these elements being left out have stopped all that bloodshed?
With that, Zechariah is done, and tomorrow I start the final (short) book of Prophets. Almost the end of 2/3 of the sections of Tanakh!
“On that day, a spring shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for purification and for sprinkling (Zechariah 13:1).” There are other verses in this chapter that are probably considered much more iconic and important, but this one jumped out to me because it connects to a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The concept of purification through water manifests for Jews today in the mikvah, the ritual bath that women (and men) immerse in so as to attain a state of purity. There’s something very freeing about being in the water, and I’ve personally grown to love the ritual, even though as a secular Jew, it’s not one that came to me naturally. But seeing the origins of water as a pure vessel and means of sanctification here makes me feel even more connected to the rite. The waters of the mikvah are called living waters, and seeing them described here as a spring hits home for me about the history and tradition that I choose to carry on.
This chapter contains a new prophecy from God about the fate of Israel. “Behold! I am making Jerusalem a cup of weakness for all the peoples around, and also on Judah, [that he] shall be in the siege against Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:2).” Jerusalem is the center, but it’s a besieged center. It will eventually be saved, with all those surrounding it, all those attacking it, being consumed by God. Eventually, He will avenge Jerusalem, and protect His city. I recognize that in many situations, suffering eventually gives way to better things, and it’s the difficult moments that enable us to learn and grow. But honestly for many of the past several books, these constant refrains of tragedy without a seeming end have been difficult to read. Why do we need to endure this much? Can we really deserve it?
Throughout Tanakh, there’s a constant theme of God and the leaders of the people as shepherds caring for their flocks. This concept figures prominently into this chapter. “For, behold! I am setting up a shepherd in the land. Those that are cut off he shall not remember; the foolish ones he shall not seek. The lame he shall not heal; the one that can stand he shall not bear. And the flesh of the fat one he shall eat, and their hoofs he shall break (Zechariah 11:16).” If we accept the premise that the shepherd is a leadership model, this descriptor definitely raises a few questions. I personally don’t believe that a good, effective leader forgets the weaker members of his or her tribe, and leaves them behind. It’s definitely easier to do that – once someone leaves the fold, assume they’ve checked out and move on. But I think a true leader doesn’t write people off that quickly, and continues to work for the betterment of even those who aren’t front and center.
Today, a little levity. The first verse of this chapter reads, “Request rain from the Lord at the time of the latter rain; the Lord makes rain-clouds, and He shall give them rain; for each person, grass in the field (Zechariah 10:1).” Yes, on a macro level, God is responsible for the wonders of nature, including weather phenomena. But today, the DC area (where I live) had anticipated snow, and did not get it. While our New York counterparts got a great snow day, we were up and about for business as usual. I can’t begin to count the number of conversations that I’ve had over the course of today that have centered around requests for precipitation, so it was funny to open my chapter for the day and to see encouragement to make just such pleas. Even on a borderline irrelevant (in the long term) level, Torah continues to be relevant!
“Be exceedingly happy, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold! Your king shall come to you. He is just and victorious; humble, and riding a donkey and a foal, the offspring of [one of] she-donkeys (Zechariah 9:9).” Today, for many personal reasons, a commandment to be happy is welcome, because it’s not necessarily coming on its own. Sometimes the world just gets overwhelming, and daily life is so all-consuming that seeking and experiencing happiness sadly gets relegated as just another item on a never-ending to do list. And this verse is asking for not just happiness, but excessive happiness. The kind of joy that’s almost infectious in its purity and contagious when others encounter it. I love when I meet people who have that kind of attitude, and hope that, at least sometimes, it’s something I put out into the world as well.
This chapter begins by discussing Jerusalem. “And the streets of the city shall be filled, with boys and girls playing in its streets (Zechariah 8:5).” Verses like this drive home for me why so many things that are mundane and unimpressive elsewhere appear to be magical and holy in Jerusalem. During the three years that I lived there, it was easy for certain things to become taken for granted, as it is in any familiar place. But Jerusalem is something different – it’s not just the walls of the Old City or the spires of churches or the sounds of Shabbat songs that radiate holiness. It’s the very light itself when it reflects off of the ancient stone, and the echo of children laughing, something that is written about in Tanakh itself as a beautiful thing, worthy of being discussed by God. Jerusalem is one of the most controversial cities in the world, but in the quiet moments of twilight when the hardness of the stones seems to soften, running smooth after thousands of years of feet treading over it, you just know it’s like nowhere else on earth, in the best way.