Avraham ben Yaakov


* * * I Kings 18:46 and 19:1-21 is read as the Haftara of Parshas Pinchas, Numbers 25:10-30:1 * * *

With the rout of the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel Elijah had brought about a tremendous KIDDUSH HASHEM ("Sanctification of God's Name"). Even Ahab was impressed, but the implacable Jezebel was unshaken and intended to use repressive terror to undo the results of Elijah's feat, swearing by her gods to kill him (v 2).

Elijah understood that now was not the time to "press the hour" and insist that God should overthrow the regime immediately, for "whoever tries to press the hour, the hour presses him" (P'skika Zuta Gen. 27). Instead Elijah fled, just as Jacob had fled from Esau and Moses from Pharaoh. Elijah had tried to use drought and famine followed by the miracle on Mt Carmel to bring Israel to repent, but now he was overwhelmed with a terrible sense of failure and he wanted to "resign" from his ministry and leave it to God to redeem His people. Elijah went out into the wilderness without any food or water, and crouching under a solitary broom-tree that afforded scarcely any shade, he begged God to take his life.

God miraculously provided Elijah with sufficient refreshment to sustain him for forty days and nights - parallel to the forty days and nights that Moses did not eat when he ascended to Heaven to receive the Torah - and Elijah retraced the steps of the Master of the Prophets in reaching "the Mountain of God in Horeb", i.e. Mt Sinai, where Elijah entered into the same cleft in the rock from which Moses had seen God's glory (Ex. 33:22).

"And he said, I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts." (v 10). Elijah's zeal for God was like that of Pinchas, whose soul he bore, and of whom God had testified that "he turned My wrath away from the Children of Israel in that he was ZEALOUS for My sake" (Numbers 22:11). Feeling that he had failed in his mission, Elijah was now asking God Himself to avenge the breach of His Covenant and the destruction of His Altar and the killing of His priests.

Without yet giving Elijah any answer, God told him to stand at the opening of the cave where, as a reward for his zeal God "passed before Him" to let him see His glory. Targum Yonasan explains that the "great and mighty wind", "earthquake" and "fire" (vv 11-12) were successive revelations of great "camps" of angels - the agents through whom God controls the creation. (RU'ACH and ESH are respectively the air and fire elements, while RA'ASH is not necessarily only an earthquake but also alludes to the water element: Targum renders RA'ASH as ZIYAH, which also has the connotation of sweating: from the sweat of the Chayos comes the River Dinoor.)

In a lesson to all spiritual seekers at all times, our text teaches that the true glory of God was not in these sensational pyrotechnics but in the tranquil silence of the "still, small voice" that came afterwards (v 12). When we search for God, we must listen with the utmost attentiveness to the almost imperceptible voice of truth that speaks so softly deep down in the heart and soul.

Metzudas David explains that God took Elijah through this "performance" to show him that He wants to show kindness rather than arousing all His anger and coming against His creatures with hurricanes, earthquakes and fire. In asking him again, "What are you doing here Elijah?" (v 13) God was saying "Are you still here to ask for vengeance?" It was when Elijah repeated his complaint about the breach of the Covenant and his implicit request for vengeance (v 14, cf. v 10) that God told him to anoint another prophet in his place (v 15), in effect saying, "I can't take your prophecy since you are making accusations against My children" (Rashi ad loc.).

It is said that for having accused the Children of Israel of abandoning the Covenant (i.e. ceasing to practice circumcision) while seven thousand still remained faithful (v 18), Elijah was penalized by having to attend every BRIS MILAH ("circumcision") ceremony performed ever after by those who go by the name of Israel. For this reason it is customary to prepare the "Chair of Elijah" at every circumcision and to place the baby upon it for a moment immediately prior to the performance of the operation, invoking the spirit of Elijah to inspire the child and everyone else present with his spirit of purity and zeal.

In accepting Elijah's request to resign his ministry God told him to anoint (1) Haza-el as king of Aram (2) Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel (3) Elisha son of Shaphat as successor to himself (vv 15-16). To appreciate the significance of these prophecies, it is necessary to understand that Elijah himself did NOT personally anoint either Haza-el or Jehu. It was Elijah's disciple Elisha who anointed both of them (II Kings 8:9ff and 9:2ff). Since on Elijah's return from the wilderness he immediately encountered and anointed Elisha (our chapter v 19), he realized that the third element in God's message was fulfilled before the first and second and thereby inferred that Elisha would be the one to anoint Haza-el and Jehu later on as his "agent" (RaDaK). Haza-el proved to be a far crueler adversary against Israel than the kings of Aram who preceded him, while after the death of Ahab Jehu overthrew and massacred his entire house in a bloody coup, taking Israel deeper into sin and idolatry.

In this way God relieved Elijah of his public ministry (though he continues to serve God and intervene, visibly or invisibly, at all kinds of junctures) and He took back the providence into His own hands, as it were, while appointing Elisha to succeed Elijah. It was not that Elijah had never seen Elisha before: according to tradition, it was Elisha who poured the water into the trough when Elijah called for fire from Heaven to consume his sacrifice (I Kings 18:34-5). However Elijah now placed his mantle over Elisha for a moment (v 19) as an invitation to full ordination as his successor. Elisha was already presiding over twelve pairs of plowing oxen - a sign that he was to be appointed as prophet and reproof-giver to the Twelve Tribes of Israel (RaDaK). Delaying only to bid his parents and friends farewell, Elisha went after Elijah "and ministered to him" (v 21) - for "ministering to Torah scholars is even greater than learning the Torah itself" (Eliahu Rabbah 5).


The wars of Aram against Israel narrated in our present chapter are NOT the war that God foretold to Elijah (ch 19 vv 15 &17), which came a generation later. Nevertheless, ever since the end of King Solomon's reign the Arameans had been organizing to throw off the yoke of subjugation that King David had laid upon them. The endemic Aramean envy and hatred of Israel dated back to Laban and Bilaam, who epitomize the use of crafty intelligence and wisdom to HIDE Godliness. Behind the account of their war against Israel as told in this chapter lie allusions to the way in which the KELIPAH (husk) of Aram (corresponding to the vernacular language - "Aramaic" - and mundane intelligence) seeks to "hijack" the holy wisdom of the Torah for its own purposes.

Thus Ben-Haddad king of Aram came against Israel with THIRTY-TWO kings (corresponding to the thirty-two pathways of wisdom rooted in the twenty-two letters and ten vowels of Hebrew).

The rabbinic interpretation of Ben-Haddad's provocative ultimatum to King Ahab (vv 3; 6, see Sanhedrin 102b) is that he did not only want Ahab's silver and gold and wives and children but "all the MAHMAD - delight - of your eyes". This is an allusion to the Torah, whose teachings are "more delightful - NE'HMADIM - than purest gold" (Psalms 19:11). Ben-Haddad wanted to have the Torah surrendered into his own hands in order to reinterpret and falsify it in any way he chose. The amazing thing is that Ahab - the Baal and Ashera-worshipper - was perfectly willing to give up everything else but BALKED at the idea of giving up the Torah to the point that he was ready to go to war rather than submit. Ahab called all the elders of Israel (v 7), who certainly included the seven thousand who were still faithful, and the entire nation agreed to flout Aram, which shows that they were far from being crude idolaters who were in flight from their whole tradition. "For what reason did Ahab merit to rule for 22 years? Because he gave honor to the Torah, which was given with 22 letters" (Sanhedrin 102b). Verse 9 contains 22 Hebrew words.

It was surely in the merit of the Israelite zeal burning in King Ahab that a true prophet informed him that God would deliver the Arameans into his hand (v 13). The prophet told him that instead of sending out his entire army to fight them, the king should dispatch only the "young men of the princes of the provinces" (v 14). These were the children of the princes of Ahab's subject states, whom they were forced to send to his capital as "collateral" to ensure that they would not rebel. The fact that there were 232 of these children again points to the great extent of Ahab's sphere of influence, which the Arameans were now trying to undermine. In addition, 232 is significant as the sum of the gematrias of the four chief MILU'IM ("fillings") of the name of HaVaYaH - 72, 63, 45 and 52. Moreover, this figure encompasses all the 231 "Gates" through which the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are permuted with one another to make up the words of the Hebrew language (see Sefer Yetzirah and commentaries).

Through a series of miraculous deliveries, God proved that Aramean military might was nothing in the face of Torah spirit. To disabuse the Arameans of their illusion that the God of Israel had power only in the hills, He lured them out to the valleys, where Israel smote 100,000 of them in one day (alluding to the destruction of a complete array of the Ten Sefirot of impurity, each consisting of sub-arrays and sub-sub-arrays). After the survivors fled to Aphek (which is a few kilometers east of the southern tongue of the Kinneret, Lake Tiberias), collapsing fortifications killed another 27,000 (corresponding to the 22 basic letters of the Hebrew alphabet together with the five "final" letters, a total of 27, each of which contains its own arrays and sub-arrays of the Ten Sefirot).

Ben-Haddad fled but he knew as well as Israel's Arab adversaries know until today that the Israelite heart is tender, merciful and forgiving and that he would only have to say a few soothing words to the king against whom he had just unleashed two major wars in order to be able to enter into a "peace process" with him (vv 31-34). God had maneuvered Ben-Haddad into His trap (v 42) but Ahab let the Aramean king get away, much as recent Israeli governments have almost never lost an opportunity to allow the country's enemies to get away with their endless aggressions and provocations. God's prophet told Ahab that his misplaced kindheartedness would cost him his life and cause enormous national suffering, but Ahab did not want to listen and rushed off home in a furious temper.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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