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From ‘Ordinary’ to ‘Extraordinary’

Parshat Vayera

How fitting a selection is this week’s haftarah! It is fitting, not simply in its stories that relate closely to those in the parsha, but also in the very fact that — as Professor P. Meltzer writes — it is the first time since beginning of the Torah reading cycle, that the haftarah describes the accomplishments of the righteous, God-fearing individuals, i.e. the Navi Elisha and the Shunamite woman; just as the Torah parsha now focuses upon the deeds of the righteous, God-fearing Avraham and Sarah.

The haftarah — taken from the fourth chapter of Melachim Bet — actually tells two stories. At first glance, the initial story seems to serve as mere introduction to the second. After all, the second and lengthier story tells of the miraculous birth of a son to a once-barren woman and the near loss of that cherished son, which clearly parallels the story of the miraculous birth of Yitchak and his near-loss at the Akeidah. But we would be remiss, were we to dismiss the first story as being simply an “introduction” to the second one, because it too, echoes the events of our parasha quite powerfully.

In this first story, we read of a woman — already widowed of her righteous, Gd-fearing husband (“v’ata yada’ta ki avdecha haya yareh et Hashem meod”) — who stands to lose her only two sons. In similar fashion, we read in the parsha of a righteous, God fearing husband (“ ata yada’ti ki y’rei Elokim ata …”) who stood to lose both of his the sons: Yishmael, whom he was told to send away, and Yitzchak, whom he was told to sacrifice.

However — as Rav Yehuda Shaviv explains — there is also an interesting contrast between the parsha and the haftara in the behavior of two troubled, grieving mothers. In the Torah, we read of Hagar who, upon seeing (what she believes to be) the imminent death of her son, throws him beneath a bush and cries mournfully until the angel appears to her and tells her, “Kumi, s’ee et b’nech — Get up and carry your son,” to return to the son she had cast aside. And, of course, the angel subsequently shows her the source of water that would revive him. In the haftarah — on the other hand — the Shunamite woman does not cast the child aside. Instead, she places her son on the bed of the prophet and travels to Elisha for divine guidance. Nor does she suffice with summoning Elisha or depending upon the Navi’s servant, Gechazi, to revive her son. The Shunamite woman declares that she would not leave Elisha, insisting on remaining until the prophet brings her son back to life.

I find the contrast between the actions of the mothers to be most inspiring. In difficult times, when worried parents — anxious and concerned about their children — refuse to give up hope, refuse to throw the troubled or sickly youth “beneath the bush,” but instead search for answers, even organize new funds and support groups, in order to help their own and others suffering from similar conditions.

These seemingly “ordinary” parents — simple people — who never imagined what they could — or would — accomplish, follow the lead of the Shunamite and the example of Avraham (“vayelchu shneihem yachdav).”

They do not give up hope, nor walk away from the child.They take his hand, they tend to the child, and they turn to Hashem in tefilla and to their neighbors for help.And, by doing so, they prove that they are anything but “ordinary…” for they prove to be extraordinary!


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

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