Mordechai Silverstein
Mordechai Silverstein

Don’t Offend God (Malachi 3:4-24)

The prophet, Malachi, preached his message during turbulent times, when the Jewish community was trying to reestablish itself in Eretz Yisrael at the end of the Babylonian exile. He yearned for a perfected world where society’s ills would be cured. His societal critique could easily apply today: “But I (God) will approach you for judgement, and I will be a swift witness against sorcerers and against adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who extort the hired man’s wages, who wrong widow and orphan and sojourner (mate’ ger) and do not fear Me (God), said the Lord of Hosts.” (Malachi 3:5) In other words, the oppression of the weak is equated with betrayal of God.

We must note here that when Malachi speaks of the “ger”, he refers to resident aliens and asserts that they too must be treated properly. Later, in rabbinic times, the word “ger” came to refer to those who entered into the Jewish fold and became part of the Jewish people, namely, converts. In the following drasha, Resh Lakish (Eretz Yisrael 4th century), one of the most prominent sages from the period of the Talmud, used the above verse to advocate for the proper treatment of gerim: “Said Resh Lakish: Whoever turns aside (mate) the judgment of the convert it is as if he turns aside the judgment of the All-High, for it is said: ‘subverts the judgment of the stranger (or convert)’: the consonants (mem, tet, yod) [can also be read]: And subverts (matee) judgment against Me (God). (3:5)” (Hagigah 5a)

Resh Lakish noticed an anomaly in this verse. For all of the other examples given in this verse, it is expressed as if God witnesses the wrong doing against the parties. With regard to the ger, it can be read as if the wrongdoer actually subverts God’s personal judgement when one harms the ger.

Sometimes, religion implores us to overcome our atavistic or animal instincts. We are intuitively suspicious of the outsider for obvious reasons. Our religious tradition instructs us, though, to show kindness and justice even to those whom we might not naturally view as insiders. We need God to remind us that they too seek His Presence. There is a lot going on in the world these days but these disquieting happenings should not turn us away from this very basic message that our turning away those who seek to join us is an affront to God.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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