02 Dec 2016

Haftara for Toledot 5777: The Crown

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Haftara for Toledot 5777: The Crown

‘I declare before you all that my whole life whether  it be long or short shall be devoted to your service’. —Queen Elizabeth II

Malakhi 1:1 – 2:7


Malakhi, the last prophet of Israel, responds to a dire reality. The Kingdom of Judah was now a weak vassal state in the mighty Persian Empire. The priesthood was corrupt and brought careless and inferior offerings. The relationship between God and Israel was low. God sends Malakhi to respond saying that, although God’s presence may not
 be overtly manifest, God’s care had not left them and that their very existence is
testimony to God’s love.  They are reminded of the beauty and truth that the cohanim (priests) stood for andthat it is that integrity that  is their true hallmark.


St Edward’s crown is officially used at the coronation of the British monarch. The current version of the crown was fashioned for Charles II and dates back to the year 1661. Its frame is made of solid gold and weighs 4.9 pounds (2.23kg). It is quite a weight to bear and hold steady on one’s head for a prolonged period. For this reason only six monarchs have actually worn it at their coronations[1]. Among them was Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The weight of the crown, can be understood figuratively. The head upon which the crown rests is one that also bears the weight of great responsibility.

This challenge of responsibility is central to our parasha and haftara. We are told the tale of twin brothers, Esav and Yaakob, the children of Yitzhak and Rivka. The elder of the two, inherits the ‘crown’ of the birthright, which was the crown of Abraham the Patriarch. The bearer of the birthright is the one destined to carry on the legacy and values of Abraham; to recognise the one true God, teach about Him and to faithfully uphold the covenant with Him. This was now the charge of Esav, the first born.

Esav knew that his role was one of accountability, and that it required focus, determination, vision and great self-discipline. But the crown of Abraham’s legacy weighed heavily upon his head and it was not a burden that he was keen to bear. He came to resent it and dreamt of abdication. He wanted a private life — one in which he did not have to measure his personal desires against his broader responsibilities and future. He felt bound and burdened. Rashi comments that Esav in essence rejected the priestly service[2].

Esav took an opportunity to sell his birthright to Yaakob for nothing more than a visually stimulating lunch (Gen., 25:30-31). He obliged saying that “he was tired, and in the end, like everyone else, would die.” What good would a birthright do him?(ibid., 25:32) He scorned the responsibility and handed it over to Yaakob who readily accepted it (ibid. 25:33-34). In doing so, Esav abdicated Abraham’s crown.

Almost fifteen hundred years later, the descendants of Yaakob, having lived over seven centuries on the land that God had promised to Abraham, also grew weary of service. In fact, the same Hebrew word in the parasha that speaks of

Esav’s scorn of the birthright (vayibez) is used here to speak of the people’s scorn of God’s name (boze shemi).  The people sought a way out from their responsibility, forgetting Abraham’s vision and covenant. They engaged in service carelessly and mechanically — without heart, soul or honour.

You offer defiled food on my altar. But you ask ‘How have we defiled You?’…When you present a blind animal for offering — it doesn’t matter?! When you present a lame or sick one — it doesn’t matter?! (1:7-8)

God sent the prophet Malakhi to speak to the people. His purpose is evident in the very first word of his address – משא- the burden.

The burden of the word of God in the hands of Malakhi (1:1)

He comes to speak of the burden of God as it had indeed become so for the people. He reminds them that God has cared for them and kept them throughout their generations. It is Esav, the one who abdicated, that is no more.

I have made his hills a desolation, his territory a home for beasts of the desert…They may build, but I will tear it  down. (1:3-4)

The responsibility to care, build and be faithful to relationships and covenant is no small task. The obligation to learn and teach wisdom and truth and to serve creation and mankind is a great weight, yet in Hebrew, honour is kavod, literally meaning weighty.

Abraham’s discipline, love, passion and excitement for life meant that he was a person who, because of his great spiritual and moral competence, was called upon by God to serve the world. God’s call to ministry reverberates to his descendants throughout their generations.

You shall be to me a kingdom of cohanim (priests), a holy nation. (Ex., 19:6)

While Malakhi’s words begin with burden they end with majesty. Although historically Malakhi was speaking to the cohanim of the time who had shirked their own responsibility to the people of Israel, being the very last prophet, Malakhi’s words echo throughout history to us all. We, in a sense, are the cohanim in this prophecy, and are reminded of our nobility and purpose.

I had with him a covenant of life and well-being, which I gave to him, and of reverence, which he showed Me. For he stood in awe of My name…He served Me with complete loyalty and held the many back from iniquity. For the lips of a cohen guard knowledge; And people seek rulings from his mouth; for he is a messenger of the Lord of  Hosts. (2:4-7)

As we pass through the ages and grow into a mature and wise old nation we sometimes feel the weight of our responsibilities and grow weary like our twin brother Esav. Malakhi reminds us of his fate and of God’s love for, and commitment to us and our accountability back to Him.

We have seen as many miracles as we have misfortune, and we have, against all odds, returned as a sovereign nation to the land promised to Abraham four-thousand years ago. Malakhi reminds us that the burden we sometimes feel, is in actuality the weight of an old and splendid crown that we should wear with pride, majesty and honour.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck


[1] Charles II (1661), James II (1685), William III (1689), George V (1911), George VI (1937) and Queen Elizabeth II (1953).

[2] 25:31,34


Parasha Perspectives

VI  Toledot

26                Birth of Eisav and Ya’akov,
Eisav sells his birthright to Ya’akov (25:19-34)
27a              Yitzchak and company go to Gerar   (26:1-33)
Yitzchak pretends Rivka is a sister (26:1-16)
Yitzchak and wells (26:17-33)
27b              Eisav and his wives   (26:34-35)
27c              Yitzchak gives a blessing or two   (27:1-28:9)
Yitzchak tells Eisav to bring food (27:1-5);
Rivka overhears and tells Ya’akov (27:6-17);
Fake Eisav is blessed by Yitzchak (27:18-29);
Real Eisav begs & gets a blessing (27:30-41);
Rivka plans sending Ya’akov away (27:42-46);
Yitzchak blesses Ya’akov. Eisav marries again (28:1-9)

Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS