Eliyahu HaNavi - A Peace Activist?
by Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students, Diaspora Yeshiva
In the special Haftarah for Shabbat HaGadol, we are told, that Eliyahu's task is to "turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents" (Malachi 3). Rashi explains that the "main parent" in this verse refers to Hashem, and the "children" to the Jewish People. Eliyahu is appointed to restore our relationship with HASHEM. He will be the ultimate outreach worker, bringing all Jews back to their Father in Heaven.
Eliyahu repeatedly complained to HASHEM that he was the only faithful Jew left, because everyone else had "forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and killed Your prophets" (Melachim Alef 19).
The Midrash states that these verses are a reply to a specific question from HASHEM. "Why are you protesting my honor?" HASHEM asked Eliyahu. "Whose altars are they breaking, yours or Mine? And whose prophets are they killing, yours or Mine?" (Shir HaShirim Raba). HASHEM was not pleased about Eliyahu's complaints against the Jewish People.
In the final' words of the last of the prophets (Malachi), we are taught that Eliyahu, who doubted our faithfulness, will restore our relationship with HASHEM. Rashi tells us that this time instead of rebuking us, Eliyahu will fortify our relationship with HASHEM based on love. This matches Rashi's comment on the Sh'ma, where he explains that while fear and coercion may force people to act faithfully for a short time, only love can inspire an enduring relation with HASHEM.
This idea was powerfully expressed in a story about the Baal Shem Tov. A man once came to the Baal Shem Tov and complained, "My son is not observant and he rejects our faith," the man cried. The Baal Shem Tov replied, "Then you must love him more." The man returned a few months later, complaining that he had seen no improvement in his son's behavior. The Baal Shem Tov's response was' decisive, "Then you must love him even more," he said.
This need for loving relationships is found in the Mishnah, which takes the words of our verse literally. The Mishnah explains that when the Prophet says that Eliyahu will settle disputes between parents and children, this means that he will settle disputes among all Jews and make peace in the world (Eduyot 8).
In fact, these interpretations are closely related, for we can't have a close relationship with HASHEM if we are fighting among ourselves. Eliyahu's mission is to be a Peace Activist. Only love and peace can restore our relationship to HASHEM, our family and all Jews.
On the Seder night, Eliyahu HaNavi visits every Jewish home. The symbolism is very powerful. HASHEM's prophet does not just visit the rich, the famous, the scholars and the Tzadikim, Eliyahu comes to every Seder, caring about each and every Jew.
The Radak states that the children and parents will unite in rebuilding their relationship to HASHEM. As we sit around the Seder table, asking questions and sharing knowledge, we strengthen our families, friends, and reinforce our relationship with HASHEM.