Haftarah for Toldot

God's expectations for the Israelites and the priests.

Commentary on Parashat Toldot, Genesis 25:19 - 28:9

Malakhi lived in the 5th century BCE and was the last of all of the prophets. Because Malakhi means “my messenger,” it is probably not a personal name, but rather a vague title for a man who was known only as a messenger from God. His short book of prophecy is full of frustration and disappointment with the people and their lackluster Temple service.

The opening of Haftarat Toldot contains a direct allusion to the Torah portion: “I have shown you love, said the Lord. But you ask, ‘How have You shown us love?’ After all–declares the Lord–Esau is Jacob’s brother; yet I have accepted Jacob and rejected Esau.”

Though Esau was the firstborn, and thus had the birthright to his father’s inheritance, it was Jacob who received the more prestigious blessing, and who went on to be the patriarch of the family. Malakhi is likely mentioning Jacob and Esau because Esau was also known as Edom (Gen 25:30), the progenitor of the Edomites. During Malakhi’s life, the Edomites looted Jerusalem and killed many of those who fled. The people of Israel might reasonably have questioned whether Jacob and the people of Israel really were being accepted and Esau and the Edomites rejected, but Malakhi assures the Jews that God is still on their side.

A Different Kind of Prophecy

Much of the haftarah is written in a back and forth style as an argument between God and the people of Israel. This is unique to the book of Malakhi. In many ways it points away from the traditional prophesy and toward the question and answer style of talmudic discussion that will become popular in the legal texts that star in the next era of Jewish history.

Yet Malakhi maintains the classic message of the prophets: that the people have been doing wrong, and need to repent. In 1:7 he says, “You offer defiled food on My altar. But you ask, ‘How have we defiled You?’ By saying the table of the Lord can be treated with scorn.'” He is scolding the people for their lax treatment of sacrifices and their subsequent surprise when the sacrifices do not elicit positive responses from God.

This theme of dissatisfaction with the sacrifices being offered in the Temple is repeated throughout the first chapter of the book of Malakhi. The people have been offering animals that are blemished, stolen, lame, and sick, and God will not accept them. God chastises the people, reminding them that “My name is honored among the nations, and everywhere incense and pure oblation are offered to My name” (1:11).

In addition to the problems with the goods sacrificed, Malakhi takes issue with the priests, who have been neglecting their duties. The haftarah closes with a charge to the priests, reminding them that they are examples for the rest of the Israelites, and that they need to serve with loyalty. They, like Malakhi, are messengers of God.

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