May 28, 2024
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Parshat Ki Tisa

This week’s parsha of Ki Tisa relates the story of “ma’aseh ha’egel,” Israel’s sin in worshiping the Golden Calf. Over half of the 139 pesukim in the parsha are dedicated to that sin, to Moshe’s prayers for the nation and Hashem’s response to those tefillot. Our rabbanim established the prophetic reading from Sefer Melachim A as the haftarah, a reading that tells the story of Eliyahu Hanavi and the people’s worship of the false god, Ba’al, and the dramatic display of God’s power before all of the nation at Har HaCarmel.

The background to the episode lies in the conflict between Eliyahu and the king of the northern tribes, Achav. As our haftarah opens, at the beginning of perek 18, God calls upon the prophet to appear to Achav in the third year of the drought so that Hashem could bring rain to the parched land. Eliyahu arranges for a clear proof that the drought was a heaven-sent punishment for the people’s idolatry as he challenges the prophets of Ba’al to a public confrontation, gathering all of Israel to Har HaCarmel. After the prophets of Ba’al fail to get any response to the entreaties to their “god,” Hashem answers the navi’s prayers in dramatic fashion, and sends down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice that lay upon the temporary altar. The people react by falling to the ground and proclaiming the phrase that we echo at the end of Yom Kippur, “Hashem Hu HaElokim, Hashem is the (true) God!”

The connection between the haftarah and the events in our parsha is multiple: Just as the Israelites in the desert turned to idol worship—so did Bnei Yisrael in Eliyahu’s time; just as Moshe struck out against the idolaters and punished them—so did Eliyahu; just as Moshe brings the people to regret their sin and return to Hashem, so did Eliyahu. Yet, the similarities between these two spiritual giants go beyond this one story: Moshe stayed in the desert atop Har Sinai for 40 days and nights without eating or drinking and, subsequent to the miracle at Har HaCarmel, Eliyahu walked through the desert for 40 days and nights to Har Sinai without eating or drinking; Hashem spoke to Moshe at the opening of the cave at Har Sinai (“b’nikrat hatzur”) as He spoke to Eliyahu there (“Vaya’mod petach ham’arah”).

But the stories are not identical. Throughout Israel’s travels in the desert, Moshe remained with them, available for them, while Eliyahu disappeared from his people for three years during which time they searched for him. Following Israel’s sin, Moshe prays to Hashem for His forgiveness of the people; Eliyahu never does—and actually condemns them for their sins. Moshe succeeded in bringing the nation back to Hashem never again to worship another god (until the sin of Ba’al Peor) while the generation of Eliyahu reverted back to their idolatry almost immediately after the revelation at Har HaCarmel. And, while Moshe was able to bring the people to the very threshold of their promised land, Eliyahu left this world while the nation was still entrenched in idolatrous practices.

Ultimately, Moshe fulfilled his divine mission before he passed and Eliyahu was charged to return in order to complete his mission.

“Eliyahu HaNavi….bim’hera yavo eleinu im Mashiach ben David.”


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

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