The Shabbat immediately preceding Pesach is known as Shabbat HaGadol – the Great Shabbat. The name is very old; it was certainly in use in the Middle Ages, although even then its meaning was not clear.

Some explain that Shabbat HaGadol was named for the greatness of the festival that follows it, which invests this Shabbat with special significance. Others interpret that the word gadol here should not be understood as an adjective but as a noun. In other words, it is the Shabbat of the gadol – the Shabbat on which the synagogue’s greatest Torah scholar delivers a derasha. Some of the early commentators suggested a somewhat humorous explanation – that gadol refers to the length of the rabbi’s derasha, which makes people feel as though this Shabbat were much longer than any ordinary Shabbat.

Since there is a certain calendric mobility in the Torah portions that are read throughout the year, Shabbat HaGadol does not have a fixed parshah that is read each year on this Shabbat. However, it does have a special haftaraMalachi 3:4–24 – which in many places is read each year on Shabbat HaGadol, and in some places is read only when Shabbat HaGadol falls on the day before Pesach.

There are also several unique customs on Shabbat HaGadol, one of which is to read part of the Haggada in the afternoon, both as a reminder and as preparation for reading the Haggada at the Seder. In addition, as we noted earlier, the tradition in almost all Jewish communities is that the rabbi delivers a special derasha in the synagogue, generally on ­matters relating to the festival.

Only very few of the tens of thousands of derashot on Shabbat HaGadol deal with the central question of the haftara: What is its connection to Pesach?

The third chapter of Malachi, like the entirety of this small book, contains prophecies on various subjects that do not fit together in a logical way, nor do they relate explicitly to the festivals. At first glance, it would seem that this haftara is associated with Pesach because it contains general words of inspiration, which are connected with Pesach in only a very general sense.

One possible answer is that the haftara is not connected specifically with Pesach at all. Rather, the command, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house,”1 is connected with the requirement of biur hamaaserot, which must be fulfilled by the day before Pesach. This is the requirement to finish paying all agricultural dues in the fourth and seventh years of the seven-year agricultural cycle, and to recite the declaration of tithes in the Temple.

Thus, according to this explanation, the haftara is not connected with Pesach itself but with a halakha that happens to relate to this time of the year. Indeed, the first day of Nisan was the beginning of the Temple’s fiscal year, when people would bring to the Temple the new shekalim, and arrangements would be made for the whole system of korbanot, meal offerings, and Temple repairs for the coming year.

For this reason, there are communities whose custom is to read this haftara only in years when Shabbat HaGadol falls on the day before Pesach, so as to recall the prophet’s reproof precisely at the time when the mitzva was instituted.

This explanation fits especially well in light of the haftara’s first verse: “Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to G‑d, as in the days of old and as in previous years.”2 The prophet’s statement served as a call to all those who did not give the tithes, and as an assurance of blessing to those who did fulfill the mitzva.

However, there is a certain difficulty with this interpretation. As a rule, haftarot relate much more clearly either to a subject or several subjects mentioned in the parshah, or to a certain period of the year (as in the three haftarot of admonition that are recited before Tisha B’Av and the seven haftarot of consolation recited after Tisha B’Av). In most cases, the haftara refers directly to a particular section of the parshah, or to an incident or law that is mentioned therein, whereas here the reference seems much more opaque. Moreover, there are many other places in the prophetic writings where the prophets refer explicitly to the Pesach offering, and it would seem much more logical for those prophetic chapters to be read on Shabbat HaGadol rather than this chapter.

There is, however, another alternative. Although Pesach is not mentioned throughout the bulk of the haftara, it does relate to Israel’s redemption in general and to redemption that comes after dejection and distress in particular. Indeed, although most of the Haggada is devoted to remembering the Exodus, as the Torah instructs us to do, nevertheless, various sections of the Haggada allude to the redemption of the future as well. In addition to the role of Pesach as a remembrance of past redemption, it also embodies a broader conception of the world order on a larger plane. The Haggada deals extensively with the suffering of the Egyptian exile, but it relates to redemption on a far grander scale as well.

This combination presents a view of history on the larger plane, that is, as a cycle that begins with oppression and suffering and ends with great redemption. According to the prophets, the sages, and the kabbalists, the redemption from Egypt is considered the prototype of the historical process. This amounts to a fundamental innovation compared with other conceptions, both ancient and modern, of human history. Some historians regard the course of human history as a path of decline, from the Garden of Eden to this world, which is becoming increasingly difficult and harsh. Others regard history as a directionless and purposeless cycle of growth and withering. To be sure, the Jewish worldview maintains that mankind began in the Garden of Eden, from which it was thrown into this world, with all of its distress and suffering. But this worldview also maintains that there is great hope for mankind, that ultimately the redemption will come, and with it the solution to the world’s questions and suffering. This is a vision of a world that will ultimately reach not only the Garden of Eden but even higher.

The words of Malachi in this haftara likewise portray this grand design. Granted, Malachi begins with the complaints of the people of faith, who feel that precisely because of their faith, they lead difficult, restricted lives, and they ask questions that have no answers. As the prophet puts it, “You have said, ‘It is useless to serve G‑d. What have we gained by keeping His charge? We have walked about mournfully because of the Lord of Hosts’.”3 This is a complaint not specifically about exile but about something much broader: divine concealment. Why is the world beset with the reality of, “Now we consider the arrogant happy. They have done evil and yet are built up; they have tested G‑d and escaped?”4 This question does not stem from one particular tragedy but, rather, relates to the course of life in its totality, a miserable life in which G‑d does not seem to be involved at all. However, at the end of the prophecy, Malachi insists that days will come in which all the answers and solutions will be revealed, and the truth will be recognized. In those days, “you will come to see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between him who serves G‑d and him who does not serve Him.”5 And together with the answers and solutions, the time of reward will also come: “For you who revere My name, a sun of righteousness will rise, with healing in its wings.”6 This will be the time of clarification and response, when the righteous will ascend higher and higher and the wicked will descend lower and lower.

None of this pertains specifically to Pesach, although the account of the Exodus basically follows the same narrative arc, in which the wicked, brutal slave drivers are stricken and become wretched, while the downtrodden slaves emerge triumphant.

Thus, the end of the haftara reaches far back into the People of Israel’s history: “Remember the teaching of My servant Moses, whom I charged at Horeb with laws and statutes for all of Israel,”7 which takes us back almost to the starting point of our existence. The prophecy concludes with the end of days: “Behold, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”8 With that, the great circle is closed: No longer shall there be exile followed by salvation, followed by exile, followed by yet another salvation but, rather, a final great redemption, “the great and awesome day of the Lord.”

Indeed, at the conclusion of the Haggada as well, we recall with great enthusiasm the prophet Elijah, who symbolizes the great deliverance, the final redemption.

This prophecy is the final prophecy in Tanach, and as such it contains the complete vision of Israel, from the first redemption to the final redemption. Although this chapter mentions the Exodus only indirectly, it expands that redemption into a vision for future generations, until the end of days. For all of these reasons, it is the perfect introduction to Pesach.