There are many people joking that this year they will be afraid to open their door for Eliyahi HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) since they don’t know where else he has been, which flights he took and what germs were in the cups that he already drank from. We are also being told to not let anyone in to our homes no matter what the circumstances.
In the Haftara for Shabbat HaGadol, from Malachi 3:4-24, we read “Behold! I will send you Eliyahu HaNavi, before the great (gadol) and terrible (norah) day of God.”
What is God’s purpose in sending Eliyahu?
According to Radak, God is sending Eliyahu to encourage the nation to repent before the Day of Judgment.
What is this great and terrible day?
It will be a day that will be great for the righteous but terrible for the wicked.
We see a similar concept in Yoel 2:11, “God has emitted His voice before the advent of His army, for His camp is very numerous, for those who carry out His word are mighty. For the day of God is great and very terrible; who will be able to bear it?”
Which army are we talking about here?
This is an army of locusts that God is sending to arouse the population to repent. The punishment on that day will be very harsh.
Abarbanel comments that nobody will be able to withstand the onslaught of the locusts.
Malbim’s view is that although the army of locusts is a strong force, the will of those who follow God’s word to repent will be stronger. They will succeed in driving the locusts out.
We also see in Yoel 3:4, “The sun will turn to darkness and the moon to blood (red) before the great and terrible day of God.”
These miracles through nature will symbolize that the great and terrible Day of Judgment for all of the nations is imminent.
If we go back to our Haftara in Malachi 3:24 we see what Eliyahu will do: “He will return to God the hearts of fathers with their sons and the hearts of sons with their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with utter destruction.”
What did the people at the time of Malachi (Second Temple) do that was so terrible?
The Jews outside of Israel refused to return. The Jews in the Land of Israel intermarried. They went to sorcerers and were adulterers. There was political and economic suffering. They treated the worker, widow, orphan and stranger unfairly. The Jews rejected God. The Priesthood was corrupt. Inferior offerings were sacrificed. The righteous suffered. Trumot and Maasrot were not separated for the Kohanim and Leviim.
According to Malachi’s prophecy, Eliyahu’s job is to wake everyone up to repent because without repentance, there will be total destruction.
This teaches us the power of tshuva, repentance. As we see in Dvarim 4:30-31, “When you are in distress and all these things come upon you in the end of days (acharit hayamim), if you turn to the Lord, your God, and are obedient to His voice; He will not forsake you, nor will He destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which he swore to them.”
We see from here that Eliyahu really is needed to come in and make sure that we are on the path to tshuva, to mend our ways, bring us closer to God and save us from destruction. Maybe we should count him in the category of an essential worker.
In Malachi 3:20, we also see a positive image of the sun (in contrast to the negative image in Yoel), “And a sun of righteousness will shine for you who fear My Name, with healing in its rays, and you will go out and flourish like calves in the stall.”
May the sun of righteousness shine upon us with healing rays and may the time come quickly when we can safely go forth from our homes like cows who were closed up in their stalls and are now being let out into the meadows.