Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
II KINGS CHAPTER 3
"And Jehoram son of Ahab ruled over Israel . in the EIGHTEENTH YEAR OF JEHOSHAPHAT king of Judah " (v 1). This verse appears to contradict the verse in II Kings 1:17 which says that Jehoram son of Ahab came to the throne in the SECOND YEAR of the reign of JEHORAM son of Jehoshaphat. A further problem is that the death of King Jehoshaphat has already been recorded at the end of I Kings 22:51, while our present chapter relates how Jehoshaphat joined Jehoram in his war against the rebellious Moabites.
The apparent inconsistencies are resolved through the rabbinic teaching that when Jehoshaphat agreed to join Ahab in his war against Aram at Ramoth Gilead (I Kings 22:4-5), it was decreed that Jehoshaphat should die in the battle as did Ahab. However, just as the Aramean forces were about to kill him, Jehoshaphat screamed out in prayer to God and was miraculously saved (ibid. vv 32-3) and in virtue of his repentance, he was granted another seven years of life. Jehoshaphat was greatly humbled, and gave over the throne to his son Jehoram in his lifetime (II Chron. 21:3).
The narrative of the war of the kings of Judah , Israel and Edom against Moab is positioned here in order to continue the cycle of stories of the miracles performed by Elisha. A careful count of these miracles reveals that they number a total of sixteen - double the eight miracles performed by Elijah, in fulfillment of Elisha's request to receive a "double portion" of his master's spirit (ch 2 v 9; see Rashi on ch 3 v 1).
Elisha had given up his livelihood and abandoned his family in order to follow Elijah (I Kings 19:20). Elisha's ministry continued through the reigns of five kings of Israel until his death in the time of Jeho'ash son of Jeho'ahaz ben Jehu (II Kings 13:14ff), and according to the Midrash Seder Olam, it lasted for more than sixty years - longer than that of any other of the prophets of Israel. Unlike his master Elijah, who was somewhat of a "loner" spending much of his time secreted away in Hisbodedus, Elisha not only traveled from place to place but also dwelled for extended periods in a variety of locations, where he taught the "sons of the prophets" and spread Torah - we find Elisha visiting Gilgal, Jericho, Mt Carmel, Shunem and Dothan in the Land of Israel as well as the wilderness of Edom and Damascus outside the Land. From ch 4 v 23 we learn that it was customary for Elisha's disciples to join him for Sabbaths and New Moons, somewhat like the way the latter-day Chassidim travel to their Rebbes for Sabbaths and festivals.
The rebellion of the Moabites has already been recorded at the beginning of II Kings 1:1 but only now in Chapter 3 do we hear of the campaign by Jehoram king of Israel to subdue them. He was joined not only by Jehoshaphat king of Judah (who was still trying to cooperate with the kingdom of Israel as a means of "Torah outreach") but also by the king of Edom , which was still subject to Judah and rebelled only after the death of Jehoshaphat.
Campaigning in the arid wilderness areas east of the Dead Sea , these three kings almost lost their entire armies because they found no water. The situation was critical and was saved only by Elisha, who went with them not to join the battle but because he had been ordered to do so prophetically in order to perform a miracle for Jehoram in the hope that it would bring him to repent (RaDaK on v 11). At the height of the crisis, when Jehoshaphat king of Judah characteristically asked to consult a prophet, the servant of the king of Israel who pointed to Elisha described him as "having poured out water over the hands of Elijah" (v 11). According to the Midrash, it was Elisha who had poured the water all around Elijah's altar on Mt Carmel in his contest with the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:34-5), and " his ten fingers became like fountains filling the entire trench with water" (Rashi and RaDaK on II Kings 3:11).
The true prophet thus flows with the waters of Torah, and in Elisha's merit, God miraculously filled the dry valley in the wilderness of Edom with wells brimming with water. Initially Elisha did not want to even look at the sinful king of Israel , and in his anger the spirit of prophecy left him, for wisdom and prophecy cannot dwell side by side with anger (Pesachim 66b). It was only when Elisha called for musicians to play joyous music that the spirit of prophecy dwelled with him again (v 15), teaching that "the Shechinah does not dwell through sadness and lethargy but only through the joy of a mitzvah, as it is written, Take for me a musician." (Shabbos 30b).
Confronted with miracle after miracle performed by God in favor of the Israelites, the king of Moab turned to his astrologers and asked them what was the secret of the Israelites' success. When they told him that their first patriarch Abraham had been willing to sacrifice his very son to God, the Moabite king took his own firstborn son and offered him up AL HACHOMAH (v 27). This is literally translated as "on the wall", but since the word CHOMAH is spelled here without the letter Vav and can be read as CHAMAH, "the sun", we learn that this sacrifice was to the sun-god whom the Moabites worshiped (Rashi and RaDaK ad loc., Sanhedrin 39b). The king of Moab 's sacrifice caused "great anger" against Israel (v 27) because they too had taken to worshiping idols and no longer showed the same willingness to sacrifice all for God as Abraham.
Some have compared the Moabite king's willingness to slaughter his first-born son for the sake of victory to the Jihadi willingness to send out suicide bombers in all directions. However the comparison is not quite accurate as research indicates that the typical profile of the suicide bomber is one of a chronic depressive social reject who has very little to lose by giving up his life for the sake of 72 virgins in "paradise". Nevertheless, the lesson Israel should learn from the suicide bombers is that the way to dissipate God's "great anger" is not by throwing away our lives in an orgy of destruction but by heroically offering all our strength and vitality on the altar of God's service every day.
The first part of this chapter (vv 1-37) is familiar as the Haftara of Parshas Vayera (Genesis 18:1-22:24) telling of the announcement of the birth of Isaac, which is paralleled by Elisha's promise to the woman of Shunem that she would bear a son (II Kings 4:17).
The miracle of the oil performed by Elisha for "a certain woman" as narrated in the opening section of this chapter (vv 1-7) is, like the ensuing story of the birth, death and revival of the son of the Shunemite woman (vv 8-37), a very heavily veiled allegory that is explained at length by ARI (Sepher HaLikutim on Kings 2:4) in terms that are incomprehensible without an extensive knowledge of the Kabbalah and the Hebrew language. While the rabbis of the Midrash identify this "certain woman" as the widow of the prophet Obadiah, who was unable to repay to Jehoram son of Ahab the debts and very heavy RIBIS ("interest") incurred by her late husband in supporting the persecuted prophets of God (I Kings 18:4), ARI explains that she represents Rachel/Shechinah, whose vessels are empty owing to the sins of Israel, which make it impossible to elevate the scattered sparks and "pay back the debts".
In the case of Elisha's miracle for the woman of Shunem, ARI explains that his purpose was likewise to release and redeem the souls of Israel from sin. "And it was on THAT DAY" (v 8): this refers to Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment. This was when Elisha "passed over to SHUNEM", which literally refers to a town in the Jezreel Valley, but which, according to ARI, is emblematic of the treasury of all the souls - for on Rosh Hashanah it is decreed who will die and who will come to life. The purpose of the Shunemite woman was to bring a very elevated soul into the world - according to Zohar her son was the prophet Habakuk (cf. v 16, "you will embrace - HOVEKES - a son").
Returning to the level of PSHAT, the "simple meaning", we see that the Shunemite woman excelled in the virtue of HOSPITALITY to a Torah scholar, and "everyone who hosts a Torah scholar in his home and gives him benefit from his possessions is accounted as if he had offered the daily Temple CONTINUAL OFFERING" (=TAMID, the last Heb. Word in v 9; see Talmud Berachos 10b). The Shunemite woman created a miniature Sanctuary in her own home (v 10). The "bed" corresponds to the Ark of the Covenant, the "table" to the Showbread Table, the "chair" to the Incense Altar and the "lamp" is the Menorah. Through her hospitality to Elisha, the Shunemite woman gave birth to one of the great prophets of Israel, demonstrating that even when it is difficult or impossible to go up to the Temple, through creating a sanctuary of in our very homes and our private lives, we can draw holy spirit and prophecy back into the world.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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