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Malachi (d. 312 BCE) was a member of the Great Assembly during the beginning of the second Jewish commonwealth and was considered the last Jewish prophet.
Who Was Malachi?
Some opinions in the Talmud maintain that Malachi was Mordechai,1 the hero of the Purimstory, but referred to as Malachi because of his position as viceroy of Persia—a designation similar to that of an angel (“malach”) who is subordinate to G‑d.2 Another view, supported by many authorities,3 is that Malachi is a pseudonym for Ezra the Scribe,4 while a third perspective identifies Malachi as neither Mordechai nor Ezra, but a third prophet entirely.
The Book of Malachi
The Book of Malachi comprises three chapters of prophecies exhorting the Jewish people to better their ways and portending future upheavals should they fail to do so. It is the last of the series of 12 prophets known collectively as Trei Asar (“twelve”) or Minor Prophets.
Some suggest that the prophecies ascribed to Chaggai, Zechariah, and Malachi were actually transmitted to the prophets of preceding generations but publicized by Chaggai, Zechariah, and Malachi who had received them by tradition.6 In the interim, Jeremiahprophesied and was the last to do so.7 Nevertheless, the Talmud still ascribes the conclusion of the prophetic period to Malachi because his prophecies were published at a later date.8
An alternate perspective is that prophecy continued, albeit in minute measure, during the lifetime of Chaggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Indeed, the Talmud teaches that these prophets prophesied during the second year of King Darius’ reign9 regarding the rebuilding of the Temple.10
The Withdrawal of Prophecy
The life of the prophet Malachi is an important turning point in Jewish history, as it marks the close of the glorious era of Jewish prophecy.11 The Talmud teaches, “After the last prophets Chaggai, Zechariah, and Malachi died, the Divine Spirit of prophetic revelation departed from the Jewish people.”12
Nevertheless, the works of the Talmudic era testify to the continued presence of Divine inspiration amongst the Jewish people well after Malachi’s demise. Moreover, many medieval Jewish works point to the possibility of achieving Divine inspiration should one be worthy of it.13 Although varying in degree and intensity from that of the prophets, Divine inspiration is a subcategory of prophecy,14and the Talmud’s statement limiting prophecy to the pre-Malachi era therefore implies only a general decline in the spiritual efficacy of subsequent generations without precluding the possibility of exceptional individuals attaining prophecy.15
Love by Choice
Although small in size, the prophecies of Malachi are noted with great interest in Jewish thought, beginning with the very first line—a sententious statement that is most telling of G‑d’s unique relationship with the Jewish people:
I have shown you [Israel] love, said the L‑rd. But you ask, “How have You shown us love?” After all—declares the L‑rd—Esau is Jacob’s brother; yet I have accepted Jacob and have rejected Esau.
This declaration conveys a fundamental principle of Jewish thought: While from a human vantage point it may appear that Esau and Jacob are brothers—equals—and that Jewish identity and Jewish destiny are not guided by Divine preference, Malachi informs us that the Jewish people were singled out by G‑d to be His people. Rabbi Yosef Albo explains that the love described by G‑d in these verses is supra-rational; it cannot be justified by logic alone. It is a love of choice.16
The Chassidic masters further develop this teaching, considering the unique qualities of Divine choice. Unlike human choice, which is an exercise in decision-making based on specific advantages and characteristics of an object or experience, G‑d’s choices are made within His essence which is not contingent upon anything else.17 As such, His love of the Jewish people is unconditional and eternal; as G‑d is eternal so is His chosen people.
Another of Malachi’s noteworthy prophecies speaks to the heart of Jewish theology:
The prelude to the daily prayers includes the following declaration of Malachi’s:
G‑d’s enduring and unchanging existence is the fundamental principle of faith upon which the entire edifice of Judaism stands. More specifically, it involves the recognition that the act of creation does not redefine G‑d in any way.
He who is everlasting, constant, and in no way subject to change; immutable in His Essence, and as He consists of naught but His Essence, He is mutable in no way whatever; not mutable in His relation to other things: for there is no relation whatever existing between Him and any other being . . and therefore no change as regard; such relations can take place in Him. Hence He is immutable in every respect, as He expressly declares,” I, the L‑rd, do not change”20: i.e., in Me there is not any change whatever.21
Chassidic teachings expound upon this and explain that since the world is truly nullified in its entirety in relation to G‑d, and is wholly united with Him, He remains one after the world was created as He was prior to its creation.22
Malachi also implies that G‑d’s immutability is what drives the eternal nature of the Jewish people (“And you are the children of Jacob—you have not ceased to be”). Even if worldly affairs seem to indicate that G‑d has abandoned His people, we are reminded by Malachi that G‑d does not change and His love for His people always remains intact. And just as it is impossible for Him to cease to exist, so will the Jewish people eternally endure.23
The eternality of the Jewish people leads us directly to the final lines of Malachi’s prophecy, which tell of the Messianic redemption:
See Otzar Yisrael (Eisenstein), Malachi (vol. VI p. 209). Encyclopedia l’Toarei kavod b’Yisrael, p. 1550.
This is in line with the teaching of the Midrash that all prophecies were initially transmitted at Sinai and were later revealed by the prophets when the time was ripe (See Rashi, Malachi 1:1).
See Midrash Aggadah ibid. stating, “The prophecies were deposited with them [for safekeeping].”
Bava Batra 14b.
Yoma 9b. Sotah 48b. Tosefta ibid, 13:4; Sanhedrin 11:1.
See Pirkei Giluyim, introduction to She’elot uteshuvot Min Ha-Shamayim (Margolis), pp. 25-41.
Likutei Sichot, vol. XIV, p. 73, note 20.
See Likutei Sichot ibid. where the language of the Talmud is demonstrated to be most precise in that the word chosen for the removal of prophecy is nistalkah, meaning withdrawn, as opposed to batlah (“annulled”), or paskah(“curtailed”). Cf. Griz Ha-Levy, Malachi ibid.
Sefer Ha-Ikarim 3:37.
See Torah Ohr p. 120c, Likutei Torah (Gimel Parshiyos) 37a, Ohr Ha-Torah Bereishit vol. III, pp. 565a, and Likutei Sichot vol. IV p. 1341, vol. VII p. 25, vol. XXXVI p. 50.
See Yalkut Shimoni, Va-Etchanan sec. 836.
Guide to the Perplexed I:XI.
See Sha’ar Ha-Yichud Ve-Ha-Emunah ch. VII.
Rambam, Igeret Teiman, sec. U’kvar hivti’ach.