Thoughts on Metzora and Shabbat Hagadol

This Shabbat is another special Shabbat, Shabbat Hagadol, the Shabbat before Pesach. This week’s parasha is Metzora, Leviticus 14:1 – 15:33,* which continues the discussion of tzara’at that began in last week’s portion, Tazria, specifically the offerings that are brought to the kohanim when the metzora appears before him to have his or her cleanliness verified. While there is no special Torah reading for Shabbat Hagadol, there is a special Haftarah, Malachi 3:4-24 (3:4 – 4:6 in most English Bibles). The reading from the Apostolic Writings is Luke 1:5–22.

I find it interesting that in the Matthew narrative, chapter 16, we read that the P’rushim and Tz’dukim (Pharisees and Sadducees) once again came to Yeshua seeking a sign, supposedly to verify his authority, though actually in hope of testing or trapping him (16:1). Later, after traveling to the area of Caesarea Philippi and discussing what others thought of him, Yeshua pointedly asked his talmidim (disciples) “But who do you say I am,” (16:15)? And Peter being the ever out-spoken one answered immediately, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (16:16). And then a few verses later Yeshua “ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah” (16:20). At this point in my thought process, we come to this week’s readings from the Apostolic Writings. The reading from Luke deals with the prophetic announcement of John’s birth (eventually known as John the Immerser). This prophetic announcement connects directly to the haftarah. In Luke, the heavenly messenger prophetically proclaimed,

Many of Bnei-Yisrael will turn to ADONAI their God. And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to the children, and the disobedient ones to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready for ADONAI a prepared people.

Luke 1:16-17

Earlier, in Malachi, the same spirit of prophecy stated,

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and terrible day of ADONAI. He will turn the hearts of fathers to the children, and the hearts of children to their fathers—else I will come and strike the land with utter destruction.”

Malachi 3:23-24 or 4:5-6

Now remember Yeshua’s command to his talmidimnot to speak of his messiahship. Matthew 17 sets the stage for that command to be adjusted. 

After six days,Yeshua takes with Him Peter and Jacob and John his brother and brings them up a high mountain by themselves. Now He was transfigured before them; His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Yeshua… As they were coming down from the mountain, Yeshua commanded them, saying, “Do not tell anyone about the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” 

Matthew 17:1-3, 9

Do not misunderstand me, I believe that John the Immerser operated fully in the spirit of Elijah as such he directed men and women to the Messiah. However, I equally believe that Moshe and Elijah actually appeared to Yeshua on the mountaintop, (cf. Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36) and this was the literal fulfillment of Malachi. 

In his commentary on Malachi, Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein notes,

Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the prophet) has mythical standing in the Jewish tradition. Not only was he a prophet and a miracle worker, but he seems not to have died but rather to have ascended to heaven: “Behold, there was a chariot of fire and horses of fire… and Eliyahu went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” (2 Kings 2:11) This tradition already had an impact on Malachi, the last of the prophets, who speaks of the return of Eliyahu … (as we read in Malachi 3:23-24). … As a result of these traditions, Eliyahu took on a role of “messianic” proportions as someone who would establish justice, be a reconciler and a harbinger of peace.

(http://www.uscj.org.il/commentaries/parshat-metzorah/)

Could it be that the reason Yeshua told his talmidimnot to speak of his messiahship was because he had not yet been announced formally? Moshe’s presence on the mountaintop validated Yeshua’s presence and ministry as the one who would continue in Moshe’s stead as it is written, 

ADONAI your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your midst—from your brothers. To him you must listen.

Deuteronomy 18:15; cf. Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, and Luke 9:35

Likewise, Elijah, who like Enoch did not die (Genesis 5:24), at least not in a natural way, stood with Moshe in the three Besorah accounts affirming who and what Yeshua is, thereby beginning the fulfillment of the prophetic word of Malachi. 

According to Rav Shaul, everything happens for a purpose and in its proper time. To the believers at Rome he wrote, “…we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28), and to those in Galatia he wrote, “…when the fullness of time came, God sent out His Son born of a woman…” (Galatians 4:4). Furthermore, at the right time he was affirmed and validated by his heavenly Father, by the witness of three of his talmidim, the Torah (Moshe) and the Prophets (Elijah). There are no loose ends and no ambiguity for those who have the ears to hear.

What might all of this have to do with Shabbat Hagadol? Traditionally, the very first Shabbat Hagadol was on the tenth of Nissan, five days before HaShem delivered Bnei Yisrael from Egyptian oppression. It was also on the tenth of Nissan that everyone was to choose an unblemished lamb that would become the Pesach sacrifice the evening before they left Egypt. Today the Lamb has already been chosen for us (cf. John 1:29). Another thing to note is that Shabbat Hagadol often falls on or near Metzora. Remember that metzora, the person afflicted with tzara’at, can be understood as motzi shem ra, the one who spreads slander. Rav Shaul wrote to the believers in Corinth, 

…don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Don’t be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, those who practice homosexuality, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

As we begin preparing our hearts and our homes for Pesach and Unleavened Bread, one of the types of chametz that we need to remove is that of lashon hara, slanderous speech. So, this Shabbat Hagadol, as we prepare to celebrate the festival of our redemption, let us do so with “clean hands and a pure heart,” (Psalm 24:4) and insure that HaShem is well pleased with “the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart,” (Psalm 19:15).

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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