As wildfires burn around the world, one rabbi turns to the prophet Malachi who wrote that such fires would precede the pre-messiah appearance of Elijah, burning away evil while comforting the righteous.
Massive fires have been breaking out all over the globe. Wildfires broke out in Canada in June and on Sunday, 105 fires were burning in Ottowa. Other fires raged in the Western US with the largest in northern California leading to evacuations of residents in its path. Smoke from the fires could be seen in other parts of the country. In late July, huge fires on the Italian island of Sardina burned over 27,000 acres of forest, damaging homes and farmland. At least 800 people were evacuated in Avila, Spain on Sunday as almost 200 firefighters attempted to bring forest fires under control. The fire destroyed over 12,400 acres of land. Similar wildfires have recently hit Greece, Iran, and Turkey.
But the largest and most terrifying wildfires are burning in Siberia. On a record scale, n estimated 30-40 separate fires have been burning since late spring, laying waste to the Siberian wilderness. Fueled by record drought, are claimed now to cover 3.7 million acres of wilderness, larger than all the fires raging this summer around the world combined. The Russian authorities stated that they do not have the equipment or the manpower to cope with the fires.
Israel has also been struck by wildfires. On Sunday, a massive fire surrounded the community of Shoresh. The proximity of the fire to Jerusalem generated some dramatic images of orange-colored smoke hovering over Jerusalem in the manner described by the Prophet Amos:
Malachi: pre-Elijah burning
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Tsfat (Safed), explained that the widespread fires are a pre-redemption phenomenon prophesied to “heal the righteous with warmth and to burn away the evil ones.”
“These massive fires that are now burning around the world lead us to read the last chapter in the Bible book of Malachi that deals with the coming of Elijah the prophet before the day of judgment,” Rabbi Eliyahu said. “Even though we cannot claim to know precisely what they mean, these are verse in the Bible and we must attempt to understand them.”
Behold, I am sending My messenger to clear the way before Me, and the Lord whom you seek shall come to His Temple suddenly. As for the angel of the covenant that you desire, he is already coming. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can hold out when he appears? For he is like a smelter’s fire and like fuller’s lye. (Malachi 3:1-2)
“Even within the people of Israel, he is purifying us for our great role,” Rabbi Eliyahu said.
He shall act like a smelter and purger of silver; and he shall purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they shall present offerings in righteousness. Malachi 3:3
The rabbi cited a verse from later in the same chapter:
For lo! That day is at hand, burning like an oven. All the arrogant and all the doers of evil shall be straw, and the day that is coming—said the lord of Hosts—shall burn them to ashes and leave of them neither stock nor boughs. Malachi 3:19
Rabbi Eliyahu then cited the Talmud (Nedarim 8b):
“Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: There is no Gehenna [hell] in the World-to-Come. Rather, the Holy One, Blessed be He, will remove the sun from its sheath [minartika], and the righteous will be healed by it and the wicked will be punished by it. The righteous will be healed by it,” the Talmud stated, quoting the next verse in Malachi:
But for you who revere My name a sun of victory shall rise to bring healing. Malachi 3:20
“And moreover, not only will they be healed by it but they will even be rejuvenated by it,” the Talmud continues, citing the end of that verse:
“You shall go forth and stamp like stall-fed calves,” Malachi 3:20
“Even an evil person that is burned is not lost,” Rabbi Eliyahu continued. “It is like fertilizer that is for the good of the plant” the rabbi said, continuing in Malachi
And you shall trample the wicked to a pulp, for they shall be dust beneath your feet on the day that I am preparing—said the lord of Hosts. Malachi 3:21
“Whoever looks at the huge fire that was in Beirut last year that eliminated a huge stockpile of explosives that was meant to harm us, and anyone who looks at the huge fires that are now burning in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iran, even California and Russia, cannot ignore what is written in the Gemara about the fires that come to wash the world from its evil just before redemption.”
“We do not know how to say such things with clear certainty, but neither can we ignore and say it is simply the result of unusual weather,” Rabbi Eliyahu said. “God speaks to us through the weather.”