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Parshat Vayeira

When studying this week’s haftarah over the past years, we have discussed the parallels between the stories included in the parsha itself and those found in the haftarah. And, indeed, the similarities between the stories of Avraham in Sefer Bereishit and those of Elisha found in Sefer Melachim II are quite striking. In the parsha we read of a God-fearing man who almost loses his only two sons: Yishmael in the desert and Yitzchak on Har HaMoriah, both of whom were miraculously saved. In a similar fashion, we read in the haftarah of a righteous, God-fearing woman who stands to lose both of her sons until they were miraculously saved.

In fact, the same similarities can be found in the story of Eliyahu HaNavi, the mentor of Elisha, in Sefer Melachim I. There, we read the story of a poor widow who welcomed Eliyahu into her home, and, together with her son, were saved from starvation through a miracle performed by the navi—extending the little flour and oil she had so it would last until the drought was broken. When, subsequently, the widow’s son took ill and died, Eliyahu brought him back to life once more. These two miracles were performed by Elisha also, as we read in the haftarah. In the first story, he revives the dead son of a wealthy woman who hosted Elisha in her home, and in the second story he extends the small amount of oil of a poor widow so she could sell the excess and feed her family.

Given the similarities of both of the stories from Sefer Melachim to the stories of Avraham Avinu, it is difficult to understand why our rabbis choose to read the experiences of Elisha, the student, rather than those of Eliyahu, the master? After all, both episodes parallel the events that Avraham experienced, those that we read in the Torah this Shabbat!

I would suggest that perhaps the additional connection to the parsha that Chazal saw in our haftarah is not based on the events but on the personalities. Avraham Avinu was a character who was well-known and well-respected by the wider community. The agreements he made with the king of Philistia, the alliances he had with Aner, Eshkol and Mamre and the high regard with which he was held by the residents of Kiryat Arba/Chevron attest to the respect and admiration he acquired during his lifetime. Together with that, Avraham also connected to surrounding peoples. Our rabbis speak of the many followers he and Sarah gathered (“v’et hanefesh asher asu b’Charan”) as they spread the belief in the One God to a pagan population. That success was based upon the gentle ways of this great man who preferred to part from his nephew Lot rather than feuding with him, just as he spoke to Avimelech when he felt that he was treated unjustly. This was a man of the people who understood that they were not rejecting Hashem but were ignorant of Him.

Elisha followed the same path. He had to deal with a nation that did not deny God but who did not know God. After the extended reign of the wicked King Achav, the first king to openly worship a false god, the younger generation was ignorant of Hashem. Elisha brought them closer to God by serving the people, helping those in need and generally building warm relationships with the people. Eliyahu faced a different challenge in facing the Israelite king and his Phoenician queen. It was up to him to prove that the idolatrous worship was useless and senseless because Hashem was the ultimate and only true power in the world. And so, he relied on harsh punishment to express God’s anger and on public miracles that would reflect His power.

In the end, it was not the similar stories alone that moved our early scholars to choose this haftarah for this parsha, but also the similar qualities of the individuals that inspired their choice.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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