Like in all non-leap years, Parashat Tzav is the last Shabbat before Pesach. The last Shabbat before Pesach is known as Shabbat HaGadol, and when it comes time to read the Haftarah, congregations all across the world will replace the regular Haftarah for Parashat Tzav with an excerpt from the third chapter in Sefer Mal’achi. In these Pesukim, Hashem, through the prophet Mal’achi, relates to the Bnei Yisrael the process of Teshuva and the potential consequences of not performing it. The Sefer ends with Hashem telling the people that He will send Eliyahu HaNavi to them and that he will“VeHeishiv Lev Avot al Banim VeLev Banim al Avotam Pen Avo VeHekeiti Et Ha’aretz Cherem” (Mal’achi 3:24). This pasuk is a bit strange, as it literally translates as “and he will return the hearts of the father on the children and the hearts of the children on their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction.” What does returning the hearts of the father on the children, or vice versa, mean?
Rashi (Ibid. s.v. Al Banim) adds in the word “Yedei” to the pasuk. It therefore reads: “Al Yedei Banim”, that “the fathers will return to Hashem through their children” (and vice versa). With this translation in hand, the Pasuk suddenly becomes grammatically and syntactically understandable. However, a few questions still remain. What does it mean that the fathers will return to God via the hands of their children, and the children through the hands of the father? How will that happen? Rashi (Ibid.) explains that Eliyahu HaNavi will go to the children and tell them to “Go and speak to your fathers, and tell them to adopt the ways of Hashem.” Eliyahu will do the same for the fathers. Radak (Ibid.) explains it slightly differently, replacing the word “Al” with “Im” (with). The fathers will return to Hashem with their children -- they will both return together.
A fundamental question emerges from the calendar context of the Haftarah: What does this story have to do at all with Pesach and the Bnei Yisrael’s exodus from Egypt? To understand the connection, it is necessary go look at the story of Pesach in Parashat Bo. Tucked in at the very end of the Parashah (Shemot 13), a connection can be found. After the sacrifice of the Korban Pesach and the exodus, the Torah relates the Mitzvah of Pidyon Haben -- redeeming the firstborn male. Moshe explains that once in Eretz Yisrael, every firstborn son belongs to Hashem and must be redeemed. Then he adds something very important -- “ VeHaya Ki Yishalcha Bincha Machar Leimor Mah Zot, VeAmarta Eilav BeChozek Yad Hotzi’anu Hashem MeMtzrayim MeBeit Avadim”, “And it shall be when your son will ask you at some future time, ‘What is this?’ and you shall say to him, ‘with a strong hand Hashem removed us from Egypt from the house of bondage’.”(Shemot 13:14)
On its face, this Pasuk is fairly straightforward. The son asks his father about Pidyon HaBen, and the father responds by telling him about Yetziat Mitzrayim. However, this Pasuk also relates a linguistic and geographic subtext. Unlike a few Pesukim earlier (Shemot 13:8), where the commandment of VeHigadetah, to tell your children about Yetziat Mitzrayim, is brought up, the content of this Pasuk applies only in Israel. It is also more of a prediction about a conversation between father and son than a direct commandment. In the future, in Eretz Yisrael, the son will ask his father about the Pidyon Haben, and the father will respond by telling him about Yetziat Mitzrayim. Both the son and the father are active participants -- the father’s answer is a direct response to the son’s query.
When looked at in isolation, these differences may seem of ancillary interest. Yet when looked at with a wide lens, I think it can help us understand why the last twenty pesukim of Mal’achi are chosen as the Haftarah for Shabbat HaGadol, and how they relate to Pesach. Once the Bnei Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael, and the Mitzvah of Pidyon HaBen set in, the Bnei Yisrael had a means to connect back to Yetziat Mitzrayim; a need necessitated by the nation’s relative youth and inexperience. The Pidyon HaBen acts as a constant reminder of Yetziat Mitzrayim. Whenever the son asks about Pidyon HaBen, the father must respond by relating the Mitzvah’s historical origin: Hashem saving us and taking us out of Egypt. The Bnei Yisrael had a means to link back to Yetziat Mitzrayim.
However, generations later, during the time of Mal’achi, the Bnei Yisrael’s connection to Yetziat Mitzrayim wavered. The Bnei Yisrael had gotten to the point where if they didn’t return to Hashem, their time in Eretz Yisrael would be over. They and the land would be destroyed. If they wanted to survive, they would need to return to Hashem. But how could they return? Eliyahu HaNavi would come back, the fathers would return through their sons, and their sons would return through their fathers. As the Radak explains, both father and son will return to Hashem BeYachad, together.
When the Bnei Yisrael came out of Egypt and entered Eretz Yisrael, the children were brought up by their fathers, who instilled in them the importance of Yetziat Mitzrayim and Hashem’s greatness whenever they asked. Yet, in Mal’achi, the Bnei Yisrael’s time was up. The lessons taught to the Bnei Yisrael were either lost forever, resulting in imminent destruction, or they were internalized somewhere deep down within their soul, where they were able to be accessed. This is the final test of Yetziat Mitzrayim: whether the lessons took root or not. And in the end, when it seemed as though the Bnei Yisrael were at their lowest point and had forgotten everything, they recovered. Fathers and sons together, each reinforcing the other, were able to remember the values of Yetziat Mitzrayim and find their way back to Hashem and their salvation.