May 30, 2024
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Parshat Ki Tisa

Among the most compelling rivalries described in all of Tanach is the conflict between Eliyahu HaNavi and the Israelite king Achav. The text describes Achav’s wickedness as being worse than that of any previous Israelite king, as he openly worshipped foreign gods, especially Ba’al. The king’s behavior encouraged the practice of idolatry within the nation, thereby corrupting the masses and angering Hashem. As a result, Eliyahu decrees a drought (and subsequent famine) that could be broken only by his word alone.

As our haftarah opens, at the beginning of perek 18 of Melachim I (according to Ashkenazic practice), God calls upon the prophet in the third year of the drought to appear to Achav so that Hashem could break the drought and bring the rain. Eliyahu arranges for a vivid display of God’s power as he challenges the prophets of Ba’al to a public confrontation and gathers all of Israel to Har HaCarmel. There, in dramatic fashion, God answers the navi’s prayers and sends down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice that lay upon the temporary altar (something, of course, that the prophets of Ba’al could not do). The people react by falling to the ground and proclaiming “Hashem is the (true) God!”

The connection of this selection from the nevi’im to the events depicted in today’s parsha seems quite obvious. Like Moshe in our parsha, Eliyahu strikes out against the idolaters of his time; like Moshe, Eliyahu punishes those who served the false god; and, like Moshe, Eliyahu brings the people back to God. But the similarities between these two spiritual giants go beyond this one story. Moshe “exiled” himself from his people by placing the Ohel Moed outside of the Israelite camp, while Eliyahu was exiled from the people throughout the years of drought. Moshe stayed atop Har Sinai for 40 days and nights without eating or drinking, while Eliyahu walked for 40 days and nights without eating or drinking in order to reach Har Sinai. Moshe was forced to flee a king for fear of his life, while Eliyahu was forced to flee a queen (Izevel) for fear of his life. The similarities continue (you might try to think of some yourselves!).

Ultimately, it is no surprise that the prophet Malachi ends his prophecies—and closes the Era of Prophecy—with the promise that God will send Elijah as a harbinger of messianic times. After all, it was Moshe who informed the nation of their soon-to-be redemption from the exile in Egypt. It only follows that Eliyahu would be the one to tell the people of their soon-to-be final redemption from all of the Diaspora.

May he come speedily and in our time.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler


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

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