|November 11, 2011 / 14 Heshvan, 5772
2 Kings 4:1-37
This haftarah for Va-yera is taken from the first book of Kings and is concerned with the stories surrounding the life of Elisha. Elisha which means “God is salvation” was an Israelite prophet who lived in the days of Jehoram the son of Ahab. According to the first book of Kings 19:16, God commanded Elijah to anoint Elisha on Mount Horeb as a prophet and as his successor.
Mount Horeb is the holy mountain referred to in the book of Exodus. It is called “the mountain of God” in Exodus 3:1, and named by Moses as the place of “Massah, and Meribah” (Exodus 17:6), the place where he struck the rock in order to create water for the children of Israel.
When Elijah, (yes the same Elijah who will herald messianic times and of whom we sing about at the end of Shabbat and at the Passover Seder) passed by the fields of Elisha's father and found Elisha busy plowing, he “cast his mantle upon him” the “mere touch of Elijah's cloak transformed Elisha into another person. From that moment on he became Elijah's devoted disciple and successor. The transfer of Elijah's prophetic mission to Elisha is also described in the story of Elijah's ascension. The second book of Kings 2:1-18 states that the spirit of Elijah rested on Elisha. We can date Elisha's ascendancy from farmer to prophet around 850 B.C.E.
The Torah portion and the haftarah readings are connected thematically through the mentioning of the birth of children and the extension of hospitality. Just as Abraham at Mamre greeted three visitors and offered them hospitality and afterwards received a promise that “at the same season” the following year Sarah will have a child, so too does the Shunemite woman receive a reward for her hospitality to Elisha. She is told that “at this season next year” she will be embracing a son. Of course the stories aren't exactly parallel and the Elisha stories seem more like folk tales about a wonder worker than a prophet.
I suggest that the Elisha stories in first book of Kings were written to attest to the fact that Elisha was the true successor to Elijah. He was a prophet unlike others. God spoke to Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel as if through a veil for them prophecy was a cloudy experience. It was rare occurrence for a major prophets to perform an act that appeared to be supernaturally underwritten. Elisha is one of the few of our great prophets who stands-out as a wonder worker. His stories are worth reading.
What were the ideas that motivated our ancestors to select this haftorah as the accompaniment for Va-yera? Could it be they wanted to stress the importance of our becoming a more hospitable people? After all being hospitable, being welcoming, is a value that is all too often neglected in our synagogues and communities. So many of us are dismayed to learn that the five most common words one hears in a synagogue is; “You're sitting in my seat!” The virtues of extending ourselves to others is a core Jewish value and one that needs to be taken to heart if we as members of families and of a people wish to be able transmit our legacy to future generations.
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Charles Simon, Executive Director of the FJMC and author of
"Building A Successful Volunteer Culture: Finding Meaning in Service in the Jewish" Jewish Lights Publishing.
The opinions expressed in this Unraveller are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the FJMC.
|FJMC's Shoah Yellow Candle Program
This week marks the 73rd anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Shattered Glass. On the night of November 9, 1938, 300 shuls were burned, 1700 shuls were ransacked, 7500 Jewish businesses were vandalized, 30,000 Jews were arrested and 91 Jewish souls were lost in the sanctification of God's name.
FJMC's Shoah Yellow Candle program is all about remembrance through one simple home observance. On Kristallnacht, it is appropriate to light a Yellow Candle. It is also the right time to start preparing for your club's Yom Hashoah program. For more information, go to the www.yellowcandles.org website.
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