Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The One-God Revelation

Melachim B (Kings II) 5:15: The Prophet Elisha cures Naaman, the Goy (Gentile) Aramean general, of Tzaraat (skin disease.) Naaman proclaims, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except Israel.” Why did the Aramean King experience a one-God revelation when many far more amazing miracles performed by Eliyahu and Elisha failed to convince Israel?  It seems that Naaman was a, “pure,” idolator in that he believed each god had a specific power (god of rain, god of the sun, etc.) and so too each prophet of each god had only that specific power.  When Elisha cured Naaman of Tzaraat, which he thought was outside the purview of the God of Israel, it completely shattered his worldview and he was able to immediately accept his error and modify his entire way of thinking.  The Israelis of the time, however, believed that their God was quite powerful and versatile, but that on occasion it was quicker, easier, and cheaper to go to other gods for their day-to-day needs.  It was this mixture of Jewish and pagan belief that proved much harder to do teshuvah (repentance) from than pure idolatry.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Sacrifice of the Firstborn

This and future Tanach posts are dedicated to Refael Elisha Meir Cohen, taken from us yesterday by a brain tumor before we even had a chance to really get to know him. His neshama (soul) should have an aliyah (ascent) in the next world.


In Melachim B (Kings II) 3:27, as the combined forces of the Kingdoms of Israel and Yehuda (Judea) suppress the Moavi (Moabite) rebellion, Meysha King of Moav, in desperation, sacrifices and burns his son and heir apparent on the city walls.  Israel at the time didn’t disbelieve in the God of Israel, they had simply reverted to polytheism and believed him to be one of a pantheon of gods who could be called upon. So too, the Moavim were also educated in the God of Israel, were aware of the Akeidah, the binding and almost-sacrifice of Yitzchak (Isaac,) and figured that if the God of Israel demands sacrifice of the firstborn, then it should work for King Meysha too.  Ironic considering that the events of the Akeidah were specifically done to prove that the God of Israel hated the practice of firstborn sacrifice.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Serving Your Master

In Melachim B (Kings II:3), the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judea ally themselves to put down a Moabite rebellion.  The armies become lost and are dying of thirst in the desert.  King Yoram (Joram) says, “Elisha son of Shaphat is here. He used to pour water on the hands of Eliyahu (Elijah.)”  The fact that Elisha is known not for having studied with Eliyahu but for having washed his hands is taken as a sign that there is a deeper spiritual connection forged between talmid (student) and rebbe (teacher) through actual service in the real world rather than theoretical learning or rhetorical debate.  This concept that extends to performance of the Mitzvot (commandments) generally.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Danger of Receiving Prophecy

When it becomes known to the prophets that Eliyahu (Elijah) will be leaving the world on that day, Eliyahu’s talmid (student) Elisha follows him, despite Eliyahu’s request that everyone stay behind, and his specific concern for Elisha.  Accepting the gift of prophecy seems to be a double-edged sword, which can burn the person receiving it if he is unready, hence Eliyahu’s reticence to hand it over to Elisha, and the other prophet’s decision to remain at a safe distance as it happened.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Eliyahu Leaves Israel

Personal reflection: I’m wondering why Eliyahu (Elijah) had to leave the Land of Israel in order to ascend into the next world.  Eliyahu is seen as a parallel to Moshe (Moses,) not only in the sense that he was second in prophetic power only to Moshe, but also that in that many of the events in his life, culminating in a personal revelation at Sinai, parallel those of Moshe.  I find it interesting that he has to cross over the Jordan River before he can be taken away, much like Moshe who was buried opposite the Jordan.  It may also have something do to with the fact that, unlike Moshe, when Eliyahu was presented with the option of preventing the exile of the People of Israel from the Land of Israel, he remained silent (acquiescing) whereas Moshe always stood up for Israel.  Perhaps, as the one who gave the final stamp of approval for exile, he had to be the first one to suffer it.  It could also be that he was just going home, as he came from the Giladi mountains, across the Jordan River in the modern day Jordanian city of Jalad. If he shows up at anyone’s seder, please ask him for me.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Elisha's Double Portion

At the beginning of Sefer Melachim Bet (Kings II 2:9), as Eliyahu (Elijah) prepares to leave the world he asks his talmid (student) Elisha if he has any last requests, and Elisha asks him for a doubling of Elijah’s spirit.  It seems like an odd request, given that prophecy is not passed from one prophet to the next but from God to his selected instrument.  One interpretation is that he’s asking for the double portion of the ben habechor (the double portion that the firstborn son inherits on his parents’ passing.)  What he seems to be saying is, “For me to continue, you need to make it absolutely clear that I am your chosen successor.”  A reasonable request given the difference in methodology and attitude between the two of them, which might raise doubts.

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Rejection of Elisha The Prophet

Continuing Tanach studies where I left off a year ago when we had a baby and my sleep-work-tanach cycle was disrupted…


Melachim 2:23; Elisha has replaced Eliyahu (Elijah) as the head prophet.  He is accepted in Yericho (Jericho,) in the Kingdom of Yehuda (Judea), but when he comes to Beit El (Bethel) in the northern Kingdom of Yisrael (Israel), he is mocked for his baldness by 42 youths.  Two bears then come out of the wilderness and tear the youths to pieces.  One explanation of this strange passage is that they were mocking him for not being a prophet made of sterner stuff like his predecessor Eliyahu (who was known for his long flowing hair.)  The act-of-God nature of the youths’ deaths (the youths may have been local prophets) seems to indicate divine affirmation that Eliyahu’s method of prophecy, rebuke, had now been replaced by Elisha’s, compassion.