Category Archives: Torah Study

Melakhim Bet Chapter 18

The Reading

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 18

Hizqiyahu, son of Ahaz, rules the Kingdom of Yehuda, and surpasses any of his predecessors or successors in his singular devotion to Hashem. Not only does he trust Hashem and observe the Torah, ridding the land of all idolatry, he takes the remarkable step of dismantling and eliminating the illegal private altars and sanctuaries, or Bamot, that had been allowed to proliferate in the kingdom for generations.

Hizqiyah destroys what he derisively refers to as “Nehushtan”, the copper snake that Moshe Rabbenu had fashioned as part of a miraculous cure for snake bites in the wilderness, because it had become a fetish object, venerated and worshiped by many of his subjects. Hizqiyah succeeds in all his endeavors, subjugating the Pelishtim and, unlike his father, refusing to subordinate himself to Assyria.

Eight years after the exile of the Northern Kingdom, Sanheriv (Sennacherib in English), the King of Assyria, lays siege to the fortified cities of Yehuda, conquering and decimating them. Hizqiyahu apologizes for his defiance and expresses his willingness to pay a large tribute in order to persuade the Assyrian King to halt his siege and leave Jerusalem in peace. Sanheriv demands an exorbitant sum from Hizqiyahu, forcing him to empty his own treasury and that of the Temple, as well as to remove the gold with which he himself had overlaid the doors of the Bet Hamiqdash.

Nevertheless, Sanheriv soon sends an enormous army to Jerusalem, led by three of his officers, Tartan, Rav-Saris and Ravshaqeh. In front of all the citizens assembled by the wall of the city, as well as Hizqiyahu’s three representatives Elyaqim, Shevna and Yoah, Ravshaqeh proceeds to “dress down” Hizqiyahu, demanding that he submit to the “great king” of Assyria.

Ravshaqeh criticizes the Jewish king for his reliance on the support of the weak and ineffective king of Egypt. Moreover, he mocks Hizqiyahu’s trust in Hashem, pointing out to the people that Hizqiyahu himself dismantled all of the individual altars devoted to Him and surely could not expect Him to be of assistance now!

Fearing that the Jews will be terrified by his message, the officers of Hizqiyahu ask Ravshaqeh to speak in Aramaic rather than Hebrew; however, he brazenly insists on continuing in Hebrew precisely so that the people will understand his words and be demoralized and intimidated by them. Ravshaqeh addresses himself directly to the subjects of Hizqiyahu, urging them to submit to the great king of Assyria who will relocate them to a bountiful land like their own and will provide them with a peaceful and prosperous existence.

Ravshaqeh warns the Jews against trusting in Hashem, their God, reminding them that none of the gods of the nations were able to protect their devotees from the mighty Assyrian king. In accordance with Hizqiyahu’s orders, no one responded to the speech of Ravshaqeh. The officers of Hizqiyahu tear their garments in mourning over the blasphemous words they have heard, and report them to their king. The chapter leaves us in suspense, as the crisis has not yet been resolved.

This chapter highlights the quality of Hizqiyahu that enabled him to demonstrate outstanding leadership: namely, his trust in Hashem. Prior kings of Yehuda had exhibited piety and devotion to Hashem and had battled idolatry. Many of them deferred to the guidance of the prophets and invested wholeheartedly in the upkeep and improvement of the Bet Hamiqdash. None, however, is described as trusting in Hashem with all of his heart. The fact that Hizqiyahu found his security in his relationship with the Almighty emboldened him to pursue unpopular courses of action, such as dismantling the private altars that previous monarchs were afraid to openly oppose. It is this very characteristic of trust in Hashem that Ravshaqeh ridicules in his monologue, suggesting that the king was “famous” for this trait.
Indeed, Ravshaqeh attempts to capitalize on the controversial initiatives of Hizqiyahu in order to weaken his base of support, drawing attention to the destruction of the bamot in particular. This substantiates our general assumption that taking down the local and private sanctuaries was a courageous, difficult, and highly unpopular move by the king. Hizqiyahu’s remarkable ability to face resistance and implement this policy stemmed from his reliance on the Almighty and not on the approval of public opinion. However, this confrontation with Ashur would be the ultimate test of Hizqiyahu’s reforms in the eyes of the people.

Until now, the citizens of Yehuda have stood behind their monarch and followed his direction, believing that his unflinching commitment to God will bring them salvation and prosperity. Recent events, especially the devastating military losses to Ashur throughout the kingdom (forty-six highly fortified cities were defeated) and the lengthy siege on Jerusalem, may have caused the community to doubt its resolute support for the radically new approach of their king.

Ravshaqeh throws down the proverbial gauntlet, casting this conflict in theological terms as a confrontation between the King of Assyria and the God of Israel, and the officers of Hizqiyahu recognize that he is right. If Jerusalem should fall to Sanheriv, the consequence will be a colossal desecration of Hashem’s name and the erroneous conclusion that Hizqiyahu’s religious initiatives, far from improving the state of the kingdom, were at best misguided and at worst disastrous.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 17

The Reading

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 17
Hoshea ben Elah rules over the Kingdom of Israel and pledges allegiance to Shalmanesser, King of Assyria. Hoshea follows the wicked precedent of the kings before him, but is not quite as evil as his predecessors. The Rabbis tell us that since the altars in Dan and Bet El had already been dismantled and carried off by the Assyrians anyway, he lifted the ban on visiting the Temple in Jerusalem, nullifying the longstanding policy established by Yarovam. This can be inferred from the fact that Hoshea is the only king of Israel who is not described as following the path of Yarovam and causing Israel to sin.

Hoshea eventually conspires with Egypt to rebel against Assyria. The plot is discovered, and the response of Shalmanesser is swift and decisive. He imprisons Hoshea, lays siege to the kingdom and exiles all of its inhabitants to other lands under Assyrian dominion.

The chapter then provides a “retrospective” on the slow disintegration of the Kingdom of Israel that eventuated in the exile. The text explains that the failure of the kingdom stemmed from their worship of idols, rejection of the laws and statutes of the Torah, immoral behavior, imitation of the superstitious and occult practices of the other nations, and refusal to heed the messages and warnings that were repeatedly conveyed to them by the prophets of Hashem. Only the Kingdom of Yehuda remains, but it, too, had fallen short of the Divine standard set for it.

The practice of the King of Assyria was to relocate conquered populations to new areas in order to exert his dominance over them. When the Jews are removed from their territory, the King of Assyria replaces them with a collection of citizens of other nations whom he had vanquished. These people settle in Israel and become known as the Shomronim, or “Samaritans”, because they now dwell in Samaria. They find themselves regularly attacked by lions and conclude that this must be the result of their neglect of the “God of the land”, that is, the God of Israel.

The Shomronim petition the King of Assyria, who sends them a Kohen – probably one of the appointed “priests” who served in the kingdom of Israel, not an actual descendant of Aharon – who instructed them in the laws of Hashem. Given the background of this “kohen”, it is unclear and probably unlikely that his teachings resembled authentic Judaism in any way. Nevertheless, the lion attacks ceased, and, from that day forward, the Shomronim committed themselves to serving their own native gods as well as the God of Israel. They developed some kind of fusion between their idolatry and occult practices and their acknowledgement of the God of the Jews.

The chapter concludes by once again noting that the Jewish people failed to fear Hashem and observe the laws He had given to them, ignoring the significance of the Exodus from Egypt and the obligation of Divine service it devolved upon them, and refusing to trust in Hashem’s promises of protection and support. The last verse of the chapter closes the narrative of the Shomronim, remarking on their odd combination of fear of Hashem and worship of graven images, which they would perpetuate as a tradition, passed down from generation to generation until the time of the Second Temple.

This chapter integrates the preceding narratives of the Book of Melakhim with its overarching theme. One might see in the destruction and desolation of the land of Israel an indication that Hashem abandoned the Jewish people or reneged on His promises to them. Alternatively, one could interpret the events as a sign that political power and military strength are, in reality, the forces that determine the course of human history.

Our book teaches us that, on the contrary, it was the nation that failed to fulfill its responsibilities, not the Almighty, and our exile from the land was part of His plan, not a function of the agenda of the King of Assyria. As students of Tanakh, we see the downfall of the Kingdom of Israel not as a contradiction to or disproof of the truth of Torah but as a concrete manifestation of its prediction, and the predictions of all the prophets, that our survival in the land of Israel would be dependent not on our wealth, international popularity or military strength but on our commitment to Torah and to Hashem.

The whole purpose of redeeming the Jewish people from Egypt and granting them gift of the Land of Israel was to enable them to establish a nation and a society that sanctified the name of God in the world, furthering the mission that was inaugurated by our patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchaq and Yaaqov who settled in Israel and devoted themselves to proclaiming the Oneness of Hashem and the futility of idol worship.

The Jews were to consecrate a sanctuary in the name of Hashem and to put a monarchy in place that would enforce the laws of God, maintain the centrality and sanctity of the Bet Hamiqdash and ensure that the nation remained singularly focused on the ultimate objective of its existence. When this lofty commitment was forgotten, the Jewish king became like any other king and the Jewish people became like any other nation. This led to their loss of the special privilege that had been extended to them.

When the prophet Shemuel addressed the nation about the benefits and drawbacks of establishing a monarchy, he noted that the king would not “save” his people – the psychological satisfaction they desired in having a king to provide them with security and stability was an illusion. In reality, both the citizens of Israel and their leader would be accountable to God Who is the ultimate source of all success. The careful reader will notice that our chapter quotes a phrase directly from the speech of Shemuel when it states “they went after nothingness (hevel) and became nothing [vayehbalu)”. We are only as good as that which we strive for in life. In chasing after empty fantasies, the Jewish people sacrificed the qualities of wisdom, justice, and compassion that had made them special and distinct, and rendered themselves obsolete.

The intertwining of the accounts of the Jewish exile and the Shomronim makes the flow of the text confusing. However, it also serves to highlight the ironic contrast between the two communities. The Jewish people continued to stubbornly disregard the messages being sent to them by Hashem, and their monarchs supported and even shared their resistance to those messages. The Shomronim, however, immediately interpret their crisis as an expression of Divine disapproval, and seek to learn His ways and fulfill His will. The King of Assyria, unlike the Kings of Israel, provides the people with a teacher to instruct them in the ways of God.

Granted, through no fault of their own, their execution of this is incomplete and lacks authenticity, and the lifestyle adopted by the Shomronim is far from a genuinely Jewish one. Nonetheless, it highlights the failure of the Jewish people, who willfully ignored Hashem’s word, neglected to turn to Him in times of crises and to repent, and whose kings and leaders resisted any suggestion that they embrace the Torah as the solution to their problems. The openness of the Shomronim to the will of God, however diluted and distorted, certainly reflects poorly on the Jews who should have known better but did worse.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 16

The Recording

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 16
Ahaz rules the Kingdom of Yehuda and initiates a radical departure from the religious path of his righteous father. Ahaz engages in occult practices, such as passing his children through the fire, a pagan ritual. Not only does he fail to remove the private altars and sanctuaries, he actively supports them, sacrificing and worshiping at them.

During this period, the Kingdom of Yehuda finds itself under siege from both the Kingdom of Israel and Aram, and suffers territorial losses that reversed the gains made a couple of generations previously. Ahaz reaches out to Tiglat-Pilesser, the King of Assyria, with a large bribe, taken from his own treasuries as well as that of the Temple, and requests that he intervene in the ongoing conflict on behalf of the Kingdom of Yehuda. The Assyrian king complies and attacks Aram, defeating them soundly.

Ahaz travels to visit and express his gratitude to Tiglat-Pilesser, to whom he basically pledges to become a vassal. He takes note of the design of the sacrificial altar used in Damascus and sends a sketch of the layout to Uriah the Kohen, instructing him to build a facsimile of the Assyrian altar in Jerusalem. When Ahaz returns, he sacrifices and offers libations on the new, Assyrian-style altar, and commands the Kohen to move the original altar of King Solomon to the side where it will be reserved for temporary use; from now on, the altar commissioned by Ahaz will be the primary site for daily, communal and individual offerings.

Ahaz dismantles several other components of the Bet Hamiqdash, removing the “Sea of Shelomo” from its base of oxen and cutting the washing stations off of their stands, and makes some architectural changes to the building itself. Apparently, the objective of all of these innovations was to make the Bet Hamiqdash less “Jewish”, more cosmopolitan and consistent with the fashions and expectations of the dominant local cultures. Ahaz dies and is succeeded by his son, Hizqiyahu.

At first, the contrast between the devoutly religious father and grandfather, Uzziya and Yotam, and their wayward descendant Ahaz is shocking. However, when we consider the errors that led Uzziya astray at the end of his life, we observe a certain continuity between the behavior of the two kings, and we may surmise that the grandfather exerted some influence upon his progeny.

Uzziya wished to break down the barriers that separated politics and religion, to arrogate to himself the privilege of serving in the Temple as a Kohen. Although he was committed to Hashem and genuinely close to the Almighty, he came to believe that his righteousness entitled him to conquer and direct even the Bet Hamiqdash. In a sense, Ahaz simply follows his grandfather’s minor mistake to its logical conclusion. He agrees that the Temple, like any other national institution, comes under the jurisdiction of the monarch; therefore, he feels justified in completely hijacking its operation and its resources for what he considered legitimate political advantage.

Ahaz pursues what he perceives as most strategically beneficial to his agenda; for example, rather than oppose or ignore the private altars, he worships at them, establishing himself as a “man of the people” who endorses and validates the practices of his citizens. Surely this openness won him much support from those who were attached to the individual sanctuaries and may have felt alienated by the kings of Yehuda who officially disapproved of them (although, in practice, they tolerated them).

We can compare Ahaz to a modern day politician who panders to his constituents by cheerfully embracing “progressive” social innovations and legislation (we need not go into detail, I’ll leave it to your imagination) that were once frowned upon and tolerated by the leadership but were never openly endorsed. Alternatively, consider the common practice of politicians frequenting talk shows like Saturday Night Live; at one time, this would have seemed undignified, but today, failure to visit these “individual altars” would be seen as a reflection of elitism and a refusal to engage the common citizen.

Although there is no indication in our text that Ahaz worshiped other deities, he attempted to refashion the Temple, the altar and the practices of Judaism in a way that made them more compatible with “mainstream” religion and therefore more acceptable to the power brokers in the region. Ahaz promotes a kind of “Reform Judaism” or “Jewish Renewal Movement”, in which Jewish observances and institutions are adapted to include popular and attractive elements of the surrounding culture.

Ahaz’s craving for recognition and assistance from the King of Assyria may seem like pathetic weakness in our eyes, but his ultimate goal was to advance the interests of his kingdom by winning the favor, protection and support of the “global superpower” of his era and by “fitting in” with what was then perceived as cutting edge, progressive and worldly. We can hardly claim that today’s Jewish establishment is much different from Ahaz’s administration in this respect!

To Ahaz, who felt that the King of Yehuda had the authority to command the Kohen and was master even of the Miqdash, “modernizing” and “updating” the Temple of King Solomon in the mold of an Assyrian sanctuary was a great achievement, not a failure or an act of surrender. He saw his activities the same way that countries today consider “Westernization” or “Americanization” an ideal toward which to strive, a gateway to becoming a recognized member of the “international community”.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 15

The Recording

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 15
Azarya (also known as Uzziya) reigns in Yehuda and continues the tradition of his fathers, serving Hashem but not dismantling the private altars. His rule is uneventful; however, at the end of his career, he is stricken with leprosy and his son, Yotam, assumes leadership while his father is still alive.

Meanwhile, in the Kingdom of Israel, the dynasty established by Yehu comes to an end after four generations of rule and is followed by a great deal of instability, rebellions and a succession of coups. Zekharya, son of Yarovam II, is assassinated by Shallum ben Yavesh, who is himself killed after only one month of rule by Menahem ben Gadi. Menahem conducts and aggressive and violent campaign against Tifsah and reigns for ten years.During his rule, Pul, King of Assyria, dominates the region; Menahem levies a heavy tax on the population of Israel to pay Assyria a large bribe, essentially “buying” Israel’s independence from Assyrian hegemony.

After the death of Menahem, the throne is inherited by his son, Peqahya. Two years later, Peqahya is assassinated in a coup orchestrated by his own captain, Peqah ben Remalyahu and a group of fifty men. Peqah rules for twenty years until he is killed by Hoshea ben Elah who then occupies the throne.

Two years into the reign of Peqah, Yotam assumes leadership of the Kingdom of Yehuda. He is a righteous king who adheres to the way of Torah, with the notable exception of allowing private altars to continue operating in his kingdom. Yotam does, however, contribute to the beautification of the Temple by building its Upper Gate. There are international tensions at the borders of the kingdom that threaten the security of the country but are, for the most part, held at bay.

The reason for Azarya/Uzziya’s leprosy is not mentioned in the Book of Melakhim. In Sefer Divre HaYamim, we are told that the king became arrogant as a result of his many successes, which he attributed to his close relationship with the Almighty. He therefore attempted to usurp the role of the Kohanim and to offer incense in the Bet HaMiqdash, something strictly forbidden to ordinary Israelites. He was discouraged from pursuing his ill-conceived goal and reminded of its inconsistency with the laws of the Torah, but ignored all the warnings and was only stopped when leprosy erupted on his body.

While the king is expected to protect, support and promote the service of Hashem, it is not for a human ruler to decide who is worthy of serving in the capacity of the priesthood. Like Yarovam, who arrogated to himself the position of “Kohen Gadol” and appointed an array of priests for his illicit altars, Uzziya sought to merge the realms of the political and the religious. By commandeering the Temple Service in this way, Uzziya was neglecting his duty to subordinate his kingship to the Kingdom of Hashem and instead was subordinating the Holy Temple to his own dominion, like a type of conquest.

It is noteworthy that Sefer Melakhim does not offer us these details, instead merely commenting on Uzziya’s early retirement from public life. Apparently, the emphasis in this chapter is not on the particular failings of Uzziya who, in these respects, was not much different from the other “decent” kings of Yehuda. The theme of our chapter is the stark contrast between the Kingdom of Yehuda and that of Israel. In Yehuda, there is an evident stability and continuity in governance, even when a king is put “out of commission” prematurely, as Uzziya was. In Israel, by contrast, even when the kingdom is passed from father to son, the outcome is always tenuous and the balance of power fragile. Once again, with idolatry and assimilation come rampant violence, lust for dominance, and needless bloodshed.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 14

The Recording

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 14
Amatzya, son of Yehoash, reigns in the Kingdom of Yehuda. He follows the path of his father, worshiping Hashem but not eliminating the private altars that continue to operate throughout the land. He executes those who assassinated his father, however, in deference to the laws of the Torah, he refrains from punishing the children or families of the perpetrators. Amatzya wages successful wars against Edom and captures territory from them.

Emboldened by his military successes, Amatzya essentially declares war on the Kingdom of Israel (this is the interpretation of the vast majority of the commentators). King Yehoash of Israel warns Amatzya that he is foolishly overestimating the military prowess of Yehuda and is no match for the forces of Israel; however, Amatzya insists on pressing forward with his plan and is soundly defeated. The army of Israel penetrates as far as Jerusalem, breaching its walls, emptying the treasuries of the Temple and the king, and freeing prisoners who hailed from their kingdom.

Years later, there is a conspiracy against Amatzya in Yehuda; he flees to Lakhish but is pursued and assassinated. His son, Azarya (also known as Uziya) is appointed to rule in his place. He rebuilds the port city of Eilat which is restored to the Kingdom of Yehuda.
Yehoash, King of Israel, dies and is succeeded by his son, Yarovam. Although Yarovam (often called Yarovam II to differentiate him from the original Yarovam) continues in the corrupt religious path of his predecessors, Hashem has mercy on Israel and, despite his significant failings as a Jew and as a leader, enables him to accomplish substantial objectives on the battlefield. Yarovam II fights successfully with Aram and expands the territory of Israel to the original borders specified in the Torah, the first time this has happened in generations.

The story of Amatzya is particularly worthy of comment. In Sefer Divre HaYamim, many details are added to the narrative that fill in gaps in the development of the events but, in some ways, create even more difficulties for the reader, offering a complex and confusing portrait of the king. It is instructive to compare the accounts in Sefer Melakhim and Sefer Divre HaYamim; however, for our purposes, we wish to focus on the story as it presented in our text. Clearly, the prophetic author had good reason to provide only the information he determined was relevant to the message of the book, omitting anything extraneous to those themes.

It appears that Amatzya, inspired by his successes in battle against Edom, is spurred on by his achievements and wishes to seek a “Messianic” dream – the reunification of the kingdom under the Davidic monarchy. Trusting in his vision of a Greater Israel and probably with conviction in the idea that Hashem would support and bless his efforts, he confronts opposition forces much larger and more formidable than the armies at his command. Unfortunately, it seems that Amatzya overestimated his own closeness to Hashem and was therefore quite unrealistic in his hope that he would win the war.

Sefer Melakhim offers us an insight into the failings of Amatzya through its brief description of what he does and does not do. The text is very candid about the fact that, contrary to his self-assessment, Amatzya was NOT an ideal Davidic king; individual altars continue to thrive on his watch, which undermines his claim to being the “right man” to reunify the kingdom. Moreover, we notice a glaring omission from the picture – no consultation with a prophet who would inform the king in the name of God whether he was adopting the correct course of action and whether he would prevail.

In the version of events included in Sefer Melakhim, the story of Amatzya warns us of the danger of a king who overestimates the favor he has earned in the eyes of God. He may trust in Hashem’s help without actually seeking His word or His guidance and then pursue risky courses of action on that basis. A leader who is caught up in apocalyptic political or religious visions and sees himself as fulfilling a Messianic role may throw caution and rationality to the wind while chasing his dream, thereby setting himself and his people up for disaster.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 13

The Reading

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 13
Yehoahaz, son of Yehu, rules over Israel in Shomron. During his reign, the Jews are heavily oppressed by Aram at the hands of Hazael and his son, Ben-Haddad. Yehoahaz prays to Hashem and is granted some measure of deliverance from Aram, but the kingdom remains in a clearly inferior and fragile state, with minimal military infrastructure intact (it has mostly been decimated by the enemy).

Yehoahaz does not improve the religious condition of his people, allowing the sanctuaries of Yarovam to continue functioning and also permitting an Ashera remain standing in the capital. Yehoahaz dies and his son, Yehoash, assumes leadership, essentially following the same path as his father.

Elisha becomes ill and is on his deathbed. He is visited by Yehoash, the King of Israel, who weeps and calls the prophet “my father, chariot of Israel and its horsemen.” Elisha tells Yehoash to take a bow and arrows and to place his hand upon the bow and open the eastern window. The prophet places his hand upon that of the king and instructs him to shoot; this, Elisha says, symbolizes the prediction that Hashem’s “arrow of victory” will smite Aram.

Elisha then directs Yehoash to take the arrows and hit the ground with them; Yehoash strikes the ground three times. The prophet is upset and criticizes the king for not hitting the ground five or six times; now, he declares, Israel will only defeat Aram three times on the battlefield.

Elisha dies and is buried. One day, a group of Jews near the location of Elisha’s grave were interring their own relative, when a raiding band of Moabites approached them. Fearing a conflict, the Jews cast the body of their family member into the cave wherein Elisha was buried and flee. When the corpse touches the bones of Elisha, it is revived, and the formerly dead man stands up and emerges from the cave.

Hazael oppresses the Jewish people harshly all the days of Yehoahaz. Nonetheless, Hashem’s compassion for Israel prevents Aram from destroying them. When Hazael dies, his son Ben-Haddad reigns in his stead. Yehoash, son of Yehoahaz, takes advantage of the relative weakness of Ben-Haddad to conduct several successful military operations against Aram, recapturing many of the cities of Israel that had been taken from his father by Hazael over the course of their many battles.

There is a great deal to comment upon in this chapter. Let us focus, however, on the final episode in the life of Elisha, the remarkable prophet who served Israel for a span of sixty years – the longest prophetic career in our history! King Yehoash refers to Elisha with the same appellation that Elisha himself used for Eliyahu on the occasion of his mysterious departure – “my father, my father, chariot of Israel and its horsemen”.

Hearing Elisha declare this about his mentor, recognizing the role of Eliyahu in providing security and protection to the Jewish people, is not surprising. However, hearing the King of Israel acknowledge Elisha as his teacher and as the source of merit protecting the nation is truly remarkable. Without a doubt, Elisha had earned the respect, admiration and reverence of the political establishment of Israel despite the prophet’s implicit opposition to the values and policies of the regime. He successfully endeared himself to the same government that resisted and even spurned his predecessor.

Elisha conveys two messages to Yehoash before he passes away, and each one is communicated through a symbolic action that involves the king himself. There is much discussion about the nature of the prophetic message here and the role that the physical dramatization is supposed to play in the situation. For example, why does Yehoash’s striking of the ground three times necessarily mean that he will only strike Aram three times?

A closer examination of the interaction between the prophet and the king may help us discover the answer. Yehoash’s visit and his demonstration of deference to Elisha reflect his respect for the prophet but also reveal his insecurity – he fears that, with the loss of Elisha will come the loss of Divine providence in Israel. Elisha’s order for the king to shoot an arrow eastward while he himself places his hands on those of the king is a symbolic message that the merit of the prophet will continue to exercise an influence and assist the king in his battles against Aram.

The fact that Yehoash accepts the superiority of the prophet and embraces his guidance, and will therefore understand his victories as Divinely ordained and not the result of human might, entitles him to succeed against his enemies. The first prophecy, embodied by the arrow flying toward Aram, symbolizes the idea that Hashem will enable Israel to triumph over its persecutors.

In the second scene, however, Elisha instructs Yehoash to act alone, striking the arrows against the ground. Without Elisha’s hands involved, Yehoash is weaker, more reticent, and more reserved. This is a signal that, after the passing of the prophet, Yehoash will not have internalized the strength, conviction and courage necessary to inflict any lasting damage on Aram; he will succeed, at the most, in delivering his people from the oppression that has been debilitating them. Elisha is disappointed to see that Yehoash is too weak to carry the inspiration of the prophet within his soul; the physical departure of Elisha will rob the king of much of his strength as a leader.

Finally, let us consider the posthumous miracle of Elisha. It is noteworthy that there is a dispute among the commentators whether the man that was revived after his body was cast into Elisha’s tomb actually went on to live a productive life or whether he died again soon after. Either way, the Rabbis comment that Elisha’s revival of a corpse after his own death was a fulfillment of the promise that he would have a double portion of Eliyahu’s spirit; Eliyahu resurrected one person, while Elisha was responsible for two such miracles.

However, we must wonder what function this unusual deed serves – why did Hashem revive a dead man simply because his body came into contact with the bones of Elisha?
Some thinkers have suggested that this miracle was a sign of respect for the prophet and all that he stood for during his lengthy career. All his life, Elisha had done his best to show compassion and support for Israel and to defend the nation against its enemies. The scene of a band of marauding Moabites interfering with the funeral of an innocent Jewish man would have certainly disturbed Elisha had he witnessed it. He would have intervened to ensure that the Jew received a proper interment in his family burial plot rather than being an unwitting victim of the terrorism of Moab and being abandoned in a random cave.

Moreover, we can imagine that the emergence of a “ghost”, a newly risen dead man from the grave, would have scared and intimidated the Moabites who, witnessing this spectacle, were probably hesitant to conduct further border incursions into Israel in the future. So, as defender of Israel and thwarter of those who wished them harm, Elisha was granted one last opportunity to make a difference.

We can suggest an even simpler possibility that is consistent with our comments on the interaction between Elisha and Yehoash; namely, the miracle demonstrated the lingering effects of the prophet’s influence. Even after death, his memory, his teachings and his presence can be felt and can be a source of strength and guidance to the living. Contrary to Yehoash’s impressions, Elisha’s death did not have to mean the end of his role in protecting and assisting the nation of Israel, if only the community would continue to contemplate and revere his message.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 12

The Reading

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 12
Yehoash becomes king at the age of seven years old and is directed by Yehoyada the Kohen. All the years that he benefits from the wise guidance of Yehoyada, he remains true to the path of Torah. The primary focus of Yehoyada’s reign is the renovation of the neglected Temple. He orders the kohanim/priests to collect funds from their friends and family members for the purpose of this project; however, to his chagrin, they do not complete this assignment.

Yehoash relieves the kohanim of this responsibility and instead has a charity box installed in the Temple; money is deposited in the box by visitors to the Bet Hamiqdash, and whenever it is filled to capacity, the money is removed and used to pay for supplies and labor necessary for repairing and improving the building. The men appointed to count and disburse the funds are not supervised by any government authorities, nor are formal records kept, because the operations are conducted in good faith.

Hazael, King of Aram, conquers Gat and then moves to lay siege to Jerusalem. Yehoash empties the Temple treasury of all of the gold that he, his father and his grandfather had consecrated to Hashem, as well as the gold stored in his palace, and delivers it to Hazael to avoid a battle. Two of Yehoash’s servants eventually conspire against him and assassinate him, and his son, Amatzya, rules in his stead.

We can understand Yehoash’s profound devotion to the Bet Hamiqdash and his commitment to restoring it. First of all, he was raised within its hallowed walls, and his entire education was delivered by the Kohanim who ensured that he developed a deep understanding of its critical importance to the life of the Jewish people. Beyond this, Yehoash’s efforts symbolize a return to the tradition of the House of David and his ancestors David and Shelomo, both of whom were supremely dedicated to the objective of creating a House of God that would represent His presence and His eternal covenant with the Jewish people. Yehoash seems like a fitting heir to the legacy of his distinguished forefathers.

However, for reasons never explained in the text, Yehoash ultimately fails as king, surrendering to Hazael, sacrificing the wealth of the Temple and the Kingdom to placate the enemy, and dying a violent death at the hand of treacherous assassins. How can we understand the dramatic reversal in Yehoash’s fortune? Why did this righteous king fall before his enemies in such an ignoble manner?

Sefer Melakhim offers us no clear answer to these questions. In Divre HaYamim, which was composed much later during the period of the Second Temple, we read of the spiritual decline of Yehoash after the death of his teacher, Yehoyada. Succumbing to the flattery of his officers, his enthusiasm for the Temple wanes, and he allows idolatry to resurface in the kingdom. When he is publically rebuked by the prophet Zekharya, son of his mentor and teacher Yehoyada, he encourages the people to kill Zekharya and shows no remorse or regret. According to Divre HaYamim, as a result of these transgressions and Yehoash’s lack of gratitude to his teacher and protector Yehoyada, he is first defeated in battle and is ultimately assassinated.

Our text, however, omits all of these salacious and seemingly important details. Why doesn’t Sefer Melakhim tell us of the downfall of Yehoash and what led to it? Both classic and modern commentaries grapple with this problem, and there is no especially compelling solution to be found. I would like to suggest a possibility – I would argue that Sefer Melakhim, in its own framework, DOES tell us what we need to know about King Yehoash’s failings.

On what basis do I believe that Sefer Melakhim actually says what it apparently doesn’t say? Throughout the entire book, we notice a pattern in its evaluation and assessment of the leaders of the respective kingdoms. The monarchs of Israel are consistently judged with reference to the “sins of Yarovam”; namely, whether or not they removed the illicit altars and golden calves that were installed by Yarovam to prevent his subjects from pining for the Bet Hamiqdash and defecting to the Kingdom of Yehuda.The monarchs of Yehuda, by contrast, are always judged with reference to whether or not they removed the “bamot”, or unauthorized personal altars, that were built by individuals throughout the land.

In other words, the kings described in Sefer Melakhim are ultimately measured based upon one standard – their relationship to the Holy Temple and their attitude towards its centrality. Did they take the unpopular but religiously correct path and eliminate institutions that competed with or diminished the prominence of the Temple, or did they cave to pressure, allow the status quo to remain, and sacrifice, as it were, critical role that the Temple was supposed to play in the life of the nation?

With this in mind, we can now see that the essential flaw of Yehoash is, in fact, made clear from the outset; despite his devotion to the Temple and all he invested in renovating it, he did not have the courage or integrity to stand up against the “special interests” and dismantle the unauthorized personal sites of worship. In a way, for someone who took the Bet Hamiqdash as seriously as Yehoash did, this was an even more tragic failure than it might have been for other kings who were less attuned to its significance. There is poetic justice in the fact that Yehoash had to part with the treasures of the Temple to placate Hazael; symbolically, it demonstrates that all of his labor for the Bet HaMiqdash was futile as long as he did not insist on its exclusivity as the location of Divine worship.

Yehoash did much good but at the end of the day he put popularity ahead of principle and was therefore relieved of his position in a dishonorable manner. Divre HaYamim fleshes out exactly how this limitation of Yehoash expressed itself – first in his capitulating to the desire of the powerful and influential officers to reinstate some pagan worship (just as Shelomo, his role model, capitulated to the pressure from his wives) and then in his willingness to agree to the murder of a prophet whose only sin was confronting and humiliating him in the very Temple he had once cherished.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 11

The Reading

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 11
When Ataliah, mother of Ahazia the King of Yehuda, discovers that her son is dead, she promptly acts to seize power for herself. She has the entire royal line exterminated, ostensibly including many of her own children and grandchildren, and rules as queen. However, one son of Ahaziah, named Yehoash, is saved by his aunt and hidden in the Holy Temple where he is raised and educated by the Kohanim.

When Yehoash nears the age of seven, Yehoyada the Kohen summons key officers and soldiers of the royal guard (assumedly loyal to the House of David and not to Ataliah) and reveals his plan to overthrow Queen Ataliah and replace her with King Yehoash, who should rightfully inherit the throne. A vow of allegiance is sworn to him and security detail is assigned to protect him while the dramatic events unfold. Yehoyada provides the captains of the guard and their troops with weapons and shields that originally belonged to King David and had been stored in the Temple.

A coronation is held inside the Bet HaMiqdash and the sounds of celebration come to Ataliah’s attention. She arrives at the Temple, witnesses the coronation ceremony underway, and correctly concludes that a revolution has been declared and her life is in danger. Ataliah is killed, although care is taken to ensure that she is not executed on Temple grounds.

Yehoyada gathers the people together, has them recommit themselves to their historic calling as the nation of Hashem, and secures their official acceptance of Yehoash as the new king. Then his men enter the House of Baal, destroy it and smash its graven images. The chief priest of the Baal, Matan, is also executed. Officers are appointed to oversee the Bet Hamiqdash, which had been severely neglected. Yehoash moves from the Temple to the royal palace, assumes leadership of the nation and presides over a period of relative peace and tranquility in Jerusalem.

This chapter presents to us a fascinating contrast between the two “houses” built by Shelomo – the house of the king and the House of Hashem. The initial vision of the relationship between these two edifices, as we learned in the beginning of the Book of Melakhim, was for the Bet Hamiqdash to be the focal point of the kingdom and for the monarchy to play a supporting role, promoting the values of Torah and knowledge of Hashem.

Over time, the two institutions grew apart, with the Temple occupying its own “religious” sphere and the king primarily focusing on the practical, political affairs of the kingdom. This explains why no effort was made to put a stop to the unauthorized “bamot” or individual altars – they flourished out of neglect, because the king did not embrace his role as “steward” of the Bet Hamiqdash, responsible for safeguarding its exclusivity as the place of divine worship.

The bifurcation of the two great houses reaches its pinnacle in our chapter, where they are not only separate from one another but divided against each other; finally, the personnel of the Bet Hamiqdash, representing the spirit of the Jewish people and devotion to the Torah, overthrow the wicked, pagan regime of Ataliah (which, itself, evolved out of the evil regime that preceded it) and replace her with a monarch that they themselves have raised, imbuing him with a proper perspective and providing him with a thorough religious education.

The hope, of course, was that this bold political move would save the nation from oblivion and reestablish the Kingdom of Yehuda and the Bet Hamiqdash on a firm foundation of Torah and holiness. Symbolic overtones of this dream are found in the fact that Yehoyada armed the guards and soldiers with the equipment of King David himself, the man who best embodied the proper relationship between secular and sacred, political and prophetic, human power and service of Hashem.

The fact that the revolt is followed immediately by the elimination of idolatry from the land testifies to the religious motives that inspired this rebellion and determined its aim. It is also noteworthy that Yehoyada insisted on receiving the assent and support of the community before tearing down the House of the Baal; the religious revival had to be a reflection of a change in the orientation, attitudes and direction of the nation, not just a change in the structure of leadership.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 10

The Recording

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 10

Ahav still has has seventy sons living in Shomron. Yehu sends word to the elders of Shomron who are responsible for the king’s children and demands that they either defend Ahav’s descendants’ right to the throne or deliver the heads of his seventy sons to Yizreel. Out of fear of the might and ruthlessness of Yehu, the elders kill all seventy sons of Ahav and deposit their heads in two piles in Yizreel. Yehu comments that they are now also complicit in his act of rebellion against the house of Ahav. He further notes that the destruction of Ahav’s royal line is in fulfillment of the prophecy of Eliyahu.

Yehu then proceeds to eliminate any remaining relatives, friends or associates of Ahav in the area. Unaware of what has transpired, forty two kinsmen of Ahazya, King of Yehuda, come to visit their extended family in Yizreel, and Yehu slaughters all of them.

Yehu partners with Yehonadav ben Rekhav to eliminate the worship of Baal from the country. He declares his outstanding and exclusive fealty to the Baal and announces throughout Israel that there will be a mandatory day of worship that must be attended by all believers in the Baal.

The Baal worshipers gather together as commanded by the new king, filling the House of the Baal, and don their special ritual garments. Yehu pauses the proceedings to clarify that no servants of Hashem are present; he emphasizes that only truly devoted Baal followers are permitted to participate in the festivities. Once the sacrifices have been offered and the service is concluded, Yehu orders his men to close off the exits and kill everyone inside. He then demolishes the House of Baal and transforms it into a public restroom. By exterminating its adherents and destroying its institutions, Yehu effectively abolishes the worship of Baal in Israel.

Yehu’s zealous behavior earns him a promise that his line will occupy the throne of Israel for four generations. However, despite his opposition to Baal and devotion to Hashem, he does not remove the altars of Yarovam and their golden calves, allowing them to remain so that his subjects are not tempted to return to Jerusalem to serve God. This failure on his part diminishes the impact of the revolution and spiritual renaissance he had orchestrated in Israel.

During the twenty eight years of Yehu’s reign, Aram continues to whittle away at Israel, conducting raids, killing and pillaging Jews, particularly in the Transjordan. Yehu dies and is succeeded by his son, Yehoahaz.

Yehu’s plot against the Baal worshipers is another instance of his modeling his leadership style after that of Eliyahu HaNavi. Perhaps the most memorable episode in the prophet’s career was his “showdown” with the prophets of the Baal, where he, too, gathered the community together, encouraged the priests of the Baal to engage in worship, and followed up by having them all summarily executed. At least insofar as his passion, enthusiasm and penchant for dramatic flair is concerned, Yehu can be thought of as the “Eliyahu HaNavi” of kings. He understood that the political success of the Kingdom of Israel would depend on their devotion to Hashem and to Torah, and that the deeply entrenched Baal worship had to be uprooted and eliminated to allow Judaism to flourish.

However, like his predecessors, Yehu’s fear of losing the kingdom prevented him from confronting the legacy of Yarovam, which by now was a “given” in the cultural world of the Northern Kingdom and would have been even more difficult to reform. In the minds of the citizens of Israel, the altars and golden calves of Yarovam were expressions of their Jewish identity and connection to Hashem, not of any rebellion against Him or of idolatry; thus, Yehu may also have rationalized that allowing them to remain could be a positive thing, at least temporarily, as they weaned themselves off of the Baal. And like many of the temporary measures we rationalize in life (either individually or communally), over time, it settled in to permanency.

Yehu’s decision to slaughter the forty two visiting relatives of King Ahazia is, at first, shocking; like his killing of King Ahazia itself, these executions do not seem to be part of his prophetic “mandate”, which was directed mainly against the House of Ahav. Apparently, Yehu’s actions were based on his understanding that the Houses of Ahav and of Ahazia were inextricably intertwined as a result of the marriage of the children of King Yehoshaphat and King Ahav.

Our observation of the decline of the Kingdom of Yehuda and the developments in future chapters will substantiate this perception. The covenant between the families, as it were, united them and significantly expanded the range of Yehu’s legitimate targets as he fought to extirpate the legacy of Ahav in all of its incarnations.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 9

The Recording

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 9
Elisha sends one of his students on a secret mission to anoint Yehu ben Nimshi as the new King of Israel. The student arrives at the garrison in Ramot Gilead where Yehu is serving as leader of the Jewish army in their war against Aram. He takes Yehu into a private room, anoints him, and informs him that Hashem has tasked him with the responsibility of killing King Yehoram and wiping out the entire royal line of Ahav.

The student leaves hastily and the troops ask Yehu what transpired behind closed doors. At first he hides the truth; eventually, he reveals the content of his exchange with the young prophet. Apparently already dissatisfied with the current regime of Yehoram, the assembled men are happy to symbolically coronate Yehu as their new king by placing their garments under his feet and blowing a shofar. Yehu gathers an entourage and heads to Yezreel to confront Yehoram as he was commanded. As mentioned in the previous chapter, Yehoram was recovering from wounds he sustained on the battlefield and had been joined by Ahaziah, King of Yehuda, who had come to visit him.

King Yehoram’s watchman spots the approaching group of horsemen and informs the king. Twice, sentries are dispatched to clarify whether Yehu comes in peace; each time, he gruffly orders them to fall in step behind him. At this point, the watchman recognizes that the leader of the company of men is Yehu, who can be identified by his wild and reckless style of riding. The two kings have their horses saddled and go out to intercept Yehu; rejecting their salutations and offers of peace, he condemns the wickedness of Izevel that has corrupted Israel and kills them both in the vineyard of Navot. Yehu notes that his act is in fulfillment of the prophecy of Eliyahu that the blood of Navot would be visited upon the house of Ahav.

Yehu proceeds to the palace where he finds Izevel who has done her hair and makeup and is not surprised by his arrival. She insults Yehu, comparing him to Zimri who murdered his master, Elah. Yehu commands the guards attending to Izevel to cast her out the window onto the ground below, and they speedily comply with his instructions. She dies on impact and is then trampled by a horse.

Yehu sits with the men and has a meal. He then orders them to give Izevel a proper burial, since she was of royal lineage; however, dogs have already consumed most of her corpse, leaving only her skull, hands and feet to be interred. Yehu again notes that this is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Eliyahu who predicted that Izevel’s body would fall like dung in the portion of Yezreel, that dogs would eat her flesh and that she would be unrecognizable as a result.

One question that we can raise here is why Elisha does not anoint Yehu himself, instead appointing a student to carry out the task. It cannot be simply because the selection of Yehu was communicated by God to Eliyahu and not to Elisha directly. After all, Elisha personally anointed Hazael, King of Aram, even though this, too, was a fulfillment of a commandment received by his master, Eliyahu. What prevented him from approaching Yehu himself for the same purpose?

Elisha’s behavior can be explained in at least two possible ways. Perhaps he reasoned that a public figure like himself entering the Israelite garrison in wartime was too unusual and suspicious an act for it to go unnoticed. This would have undermined the elements of secrecy and surprise that proved to be critical to Yehu’s victory. Alternatively, Elisha may have thought that the theme of his prophetic career – demonstrating Hashem’s mercy and compassion rather than His strict justice – was fundamentally incompatible with the bloody and violent mission on which Yehu was being sent, and therefore delegated his anointment to a student.There is no question that the activities of Yehu, while sanctioned by Hashem, have little in common with Elisha’s leadership style and conduct.
Yehu, if anything, is very much a “throwback” to the methodology and attitudes of Eliyahu HaNavi. In fact, in this chapter and the one that follows, Yehu explicitly invokes the name and prophecies of Eliyahu as justification or validation of his deeds several times. Yehu describes himself as a zealot, again casting himself in the mold of Eliyahu, and both Yehu and the young prophet who anoints him are dubbed “crazy” during the narrative, indicating that Yehu had a rare religious charisma and energy about him that distinguished him from his colleagues and made him seem comparable in his aura to a prophet. We will hopefully identify more textual and substantive parallels between Yehu and Eliyahu in future summaries.

Yehu’s “retrogression” to the style and approach of Eliyahu seems, first of all, to suggest that the retired prophet was correct, although his timing may have been premature: the House of Ahav and the Kingdom of Israel were in need of some punishment to adjust their course. Elisha’s kindness and compassion have certainly endeared the prophet to many and have served as a source of tremendous benefit to the people but they have not addressed the root of the dysfunction in Israel – its entrenchment in idolatrous ideas and practices. Yehu emerges like another incarnation of Eliyahu to once again bring divine justice to bear on those who have created distance between the Jewish people and Hashem.

One wonders how, in the midst of rampant idolatry, Yehu happens to be a devoted worshiper of Hashem. Was he feigning religious fervor merely in order to legitimize his claim to the throne and the displacement of the house of Ahav? Did he take up the mantle of destroying idol worship just to avoid being labeled a rebel without a cause? When did this passion for Judaism become so central to Yehu’s life?

I would suggest that Yehu was not faking; he was a sincere Jew who genuinely abhorred idolatry and embraced Torah. True, he worked for King Yehoram and was a pragmatic “company man”; nonetheless, he harbored no illusions and recognized the spiritual and political corruption of the Israelite regime for what it was. From the very fact that Hashem specifically designated Yehu to become the next king of Israel, we must surmise that he was qualified for the position. This means that we must assume that Yehu rejected idol worship and served Hashem alone.

Although, in the final analysis, he too falls short of the expectations Hashem articulated to him, Yehu started out with a fundamental commitment to Hashem and Torah and – as we will see in the next chapter – was able to at least partially reverse the self-destructive national trend towards idolatry and paganism.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 8

The Reading

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 8
Elisha tells the Shunammite woman whose son he resuscitated that she should leave her home and find a new place to live because there will be a famine of seven years in the land. She relocates to the land of the Pelishtim for that period of time; however, when she returns, she finds that her property has been taken from her by squatters. The woman approaches the king to complain about this injustice and asks for it to be corrected.

Fortuitously, the king happens to be in the middle of a conversation with Gehazi, the former attendant of Elisha, whom he had asked to recount to him the wondrous deeds of the prophet. Gehazi is in the midst of telling the king the story of Elisha’s miraculous restoration of the life of the son of the Shunammite woman, when she arrives with her son and corroborates the tale. The king orders that her property be returned to her and that she be compensated for whatever her land had produced from the day she left Israel.

Ben-Haddad, King of Aram, is ill. He sends his general, Hazael, to Elisha to inquire whether he will survive his illness. Elisha instructs Hazael to tell Ben-Haddad that he will live; however, he adds, Hashem has shown him that Ben-Haddad will die. There is a long, awkward pause and Elisha begins to cry, much to the surprise of Hazael. Elisha explains that he knows that Hazael will cause much suffering to the Jewish people, killing young Jewish men, pregnant women and children. Hazael is perplexed by this prophecy until Elisha clarifies that Hazael has been chosen to be the next king of Aram. Hazael returns to Ben-Haddad and notifies him that Elisha said he will live. The next day, under the guise of taking care of his master, Hazael places a wet cloth over the face of Ben-Haddad, killing him.

There is an obvious difficulty here – how can Elisha instruct Hazael to lie to Ben-Haddad? There are a couple of approaches to this question. One is that he did not lie; the prophecy was that Ben-Haddad would recover from his illness, but that he would die nonetheless – by the hand of Hazael! Some interpret this as a mere foretelling of the future and some suggest that Elisha insinuated that Hazael should, in fact, kill his master.

Still other commentators understand this more as a matter of medical ethics; in other words, it is dangerous and counterproductive to inform a terminally ill person of a bad prognosis, even if it is true, because it can demoralize the patient and hasten death. Therefore, Elisha recommended that Ben-Haddad be given a positive, if inaccurate, report.

Yehoram, son of Yehoshaphat, is now king of Yehuda. His father, Yehoshaphat, enjoyed a close and productive friendship with Ahav and therefore Yehoram was married to Atalyah, the daughter of Ahav. This explains why, unlike his righteous predecessors, Yehoram follows the wicked path of the House of Ahav. Yehoram deals with uprisings in Edom and Livnah during his eight year reign and then dies and is succeeded by his son, Ahazya.

Ahazya, who is the son of Atalya, models his kingship after Ahav as well. Ahazya and Yoram, son of Ahav, go to war against Aram, currently led by Hazael. Yoram is wounded in battle and finds refuge in Yizrael where he can recuperate from his injuries. Ahazya arrives to visit the sick Yoram as he slowly recovers.

This chapter is comprised of multiple sections and each one deserves a treatment of its own; for the sake of brevity, let us focus on one or two of its intriguing elements. To begin with, the “epilogue” to the story of the Shunammite woman seems out of place. What did the prophetic author seek to gain by sharing this little vignette about her departure and return to the land of Israel, and her struggle to recover her misappropriated property? Moreover, what is Gehazi doing back in the picture, and why has the King of Israel engaged him in conversation?

In light of our analysis of the previous chapter, we may be able to explain several of these unusual aspects of the narrative. The struggle of King Yehoram until now has been his resistance to fully coming to terms with the reality of Elisha’s prophecy and miraculous “accomplishments”. The last story recounted his acceptance of the role of the prophet in Israel and drew our attention to the significant “step forward” that this represented for the king.

It makes perfect sense, in the aftermath of the fulfillment of Elisha’s prediction about the economic turnaround in Shomron, that the king would be inspired to further investigate the wondrous reports of Elisha’s activities. Gehazi comes across like a minor celebrity doing the rounds on the talk show circuit and promoting a “tell all” book about his life in Hollywood among the big stars. He is more than happy to satisfy the king’s curiosity about the prophet, no doubt touting his own close relationship with Elisha and participation in some of the remarkable anecdotes about him.

There is one further point worth noting about Gehazi. Based on numerous compelling hints in the text, the Rabbis say that the four lepers in the previous chapter who discovered the abandoned camp of Aram were, in fact, Gehazi and his three sons. What lesson do the Sages intend to convey to us by “inserting” Gehazi into the story of the four lepers? Apparently, in a fascinating reversal, Gehazi, the arrogant attendant of Elisha who took advantage of any and every opportunity to enrich himself, repented from his evil ways and did exactly the opposite!

This time, he insisted upon informing the king and the populace of his tremendous find and thereby saving them from the crippling famine. In the merit of his change of heart and adjustment of priorities, he was healed from his tzaraat. Not only did he share the material blessings with others, but we now read how he is involved in educating and inspiring the king of Israel with accounts of the miracles of Elisha. Through his interactions with Naaman, he diluted and undermined the sanctification of God’s name the prophet had wrought by healing the Aramean general. Here, Gehazi is seen correcting that failure, putting forth his best effort to sanctify Hashem’s name through his conversation with the king.

The three personalities of note in the story – the woman, Gehazi and the king –are all individuals who have evolved in their relationship and perspective on Elisha and who now respect and revere his status as a man of God. They have all grown from and continue to benefit from his influence in their lives, even when he is not physically present. And this positive engagement with the prophet is bi-directional. Elisha offers instruction and guidance to the Shunammite woman, sparing her from the famine – he has not forgotten her and still feels a sense of responsibility for her welfare and that of her son. In the merit of her abiding by his word, not only does the woman avoid the suffering to which famine would expose her, she is also in the “right place at the right time” to gain the audience with the king necessary for her to lay claim to her legal entitlements.

The fact that the woman is referred to throughout the narrative as “the woman whose son Elisha revived” points to the idea that, ever since his miraculous deed, the prophet has a “vested interest” in her survival and that of her son; he wishes to see his intervention safeguarded and perpetuated and to make sure that she and her son thrive, regardless of circumstances.

The story of Hazael is remarkable on many levels. Elisha here is completing the task initially entrusted to Eliyahu, selecting the King of Aram who he knows will cause tremendous harm to the Jewish people. Consistent with his persona as the man of mercy and agent of Divine Compassion, Elisha weeps when delivering the message to Hazael. We can surmise that these tears were not simply a spontaneous, unscripted emotional reaction; such a lack of composure would be unbecoming of a prophet. Rather, the crying was PART of the dramatic delivery of the content of the prophecy, intended to convey to

Hazael that he was capable of incredible cruelty but should restrain himself and temper his aggression with a sense of morality and sensitivity to others. Elisha thus informed Hazael of his future position as king and his success as military leader but subtly cautioned him that unleashing the full force of his might against Israel would be seen as a tragedy in the eyes of Hashem and, therefore, in the eyes of his prophet. Hazael will retain his freedom of choice and is called upon to adhere to principles of dignity and humanity even as he defeats his enemies.

From the outset, we see that Hazael is a character to be reckoned with; upon learning what destiny holds in store for him, he takes the law into his own hands, quietly murdering his convalescent master so as to speed up the process of his inheritance of the throne. Whether we accept the view of the commentaries that this was implicitly sanctioned by Elisha or the view that adamantly insists that it was not legitimized by the prophet, it is nonetheless a shocking act that reveals the sort of heinous deeds of which the new king of Aram is capable.

Despite Ben-Haddad’s ruthless behavior and corrupt values, he nonetheless reaches out to Elisha for a prognosis of his illness. Apparently, Elisha’s repeated acts of sanctification of Hashem’s name before the people of Aram have been successful; now, even their king acknowledges the legitimacy of his prophecy. This is a far cry from the beginning of Melakhim Bet, when even the king of Israel sought the opinions of foreign gods for advice!

During the era of Kings David and Solomon, the mission of the monarch was to inspire the nations of the world with Hashem’s greatness and wisdom. Now, the Kings of Israel have totally lost sight of this ideal and the prophets, particularly Elisha, rise to the occasion and ensure that the name of Hashem continues to be known and praised by all people, Jew and Gentile alike.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 7

The Reading

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 7
Elisha tells the King that by the next day there will be a radical reversal in the economic situation, with such an enormous surplus of food in Israel that the prices will plummet, providing sustenance for all. One of the captains of the Kings army who is also his attendant scoffs at this prediction, questioning Hashem’s ability to fulfill it. Elisha tells him that it will indeed happen but that he will not live to enjoy it.

Four men with tzaraat (leprosy) have been confined outside the city and are suffering from the famine as well. They decide that they have nothing to lose and might as well approach the Aramean camp in hope of winning their sympathy and receiving some food. When they arrive, they discover that the entire outpost has been abandoned; food, clothing and other provisions are strewn everywhere. Hashem had caused the army of Aram to hear the sounds of a vast array of chariots and troops approaching and, in their panic, they fled, leaving their possessions behind. (No doubt, these mysterious “chariots” are related to the chariots of fire that surrounded Elisha, signifying his role as protector of Israel!)

At first, the men with tzaraat begin to help themselves to the food, clothing gold, silver and other precious items they have found. However, they realize that they are acting selfishly and must inform the King of their discovery for the benefit of the nation. When the king hears their report, he is skeptical at first, assuming it may be a trap set by the Arameans who know they are hungry and will wait for the Jews to forage in the camp and then ambush them.

The King sends a search party out and once the report has been confirmed, the entire populace descends upon the abandoned camp to collect the spoils. There was such a tumult as a result of the excitement generated by this development that the attendant of the king, who had doubted Elisha’s prophecy, is trampled and killed by the gate. He does not have the opportunity to eat of the great bounty that is brought into the city and indeed, as Elisha promised, dramatically reduces the prices of food and other necessities in Israel, providing much needed relief to the community.

What was the reason for the sudden reversal of fortune experienced by the Jewish people in this chapter? The cause for the famine and siege is not specified; however, from our knowledge of Tanakh and the overarching theme of the Book of Melakhim, we understand that such painful experiences afflict the Jewish people when they fail to honor their covenant with Hashem and when they stray after other gods. As far as we can tell, though, this spiritual status quo has not changed – why then does Hashem determine that the decree should be suddenly lifted?

From an examination of the king’s behavior and statements in the narrative, we may be able to arrive at a tentative explanation. Apparently, up till now, he has not approached or consulted with Elisha regarding the current crisis, although he seems to believe that Elisha is, at least to some extent, responsible for it. It seems that he is holding onto the hope that it will simply pass, and only once it becomes intolerable does he seek an audience with the prophet.

In this way, Yehoram can be compared to his father, Ahav, who waited until circumstances were desperate before conducting a manhunt to find Eliyahu. There is, however, a key difference: Eliyahu went into hiding and could not be located until Hashem instructed him to present himself to Ahav and put an end to the drought. Elisha, on the other hand, is readily accessible, and is even sitting and conversing with the elders of Israel!

We can see from here that the king had anticipated that the crisis would resolve itself so that he wouldn’t have to humble himself before Elisha. Elisha had a strong following, even among the elders of Israel, and this may have been disconcerting to the king who perceived it as a threat to his political power. Although Yehoram does not have a problem fasting, donning sackcloth and praying to God, he stops short of acknowledging the authority of the prophet until he is compelled to do so.

In general, we have found that although Yehoram is willing to listen to and even follow the directions of the prophet, he never reaches out to him in the first place; it is always Elisha who sends word to Yehoram, either providing him with information, offering his assistance, or bringing him the troops of Aram. In fact, when Elisha would give the king “inside information” regarding the plans of the king of Aram, Yehoram did not simply accept them without reservation; rather, he would send an investigative team to confirm that Elisha’s predictions were true. His trust in the prophecy of Elisha was, as it were, lukewarm. This is the first instance in which we find the king actually taking the initiative to locate and seek guidance from Elisha.

As we know from the Books of Shemuel and Melakhim, a Jewish king must have a strong relationship with a prophet who serves as teacher and mentor and ensures that his governance is in line with the will of the Almighty. Yehoram’s struggle with this issue – particularly, with the challenge, first encountered by Yarovam, of suppressing his own ego and desire for control in order to subordinate himself to the instructions of the prophet – shows that he has potential as a king but has not yet lived up to it.

This may be the key to understanding the transformation that occurs in this story. The fact that, rather than plotting to kill Elisha, King Yehoram seeks the word of Hashem from prophet, is a major step forward for him. It signifies acceptance of the leadership and authority of Elisha, and in this merit he deserves to have the famine alleviated. On the other hand, the narrative emphasizes that the attendant of the king, who expresses skepticism about Elisha’s prediction, is not permitted to benefit from its fulfillment. This further reinforces the point that the core issue at hand is the authority of the prophetic message – the king, who embraces it, is saved, while the captain, who denies it, loses out.

The role of the four metzoraim, victims of tzaraat, is a noteworthy element of this chapter. Typically, as we saw in the case of Naaman, tzaraat visits a person who is arrogant and selfishly indifferent to others, singularly focused on his own power and accomplishments. Remarkably, these four individuals who were forced to live outside of the city on account of their tzaraat, resist the temptation to keep their discovery of the bounty of the Aramean camp to themselves. On the contrary, they feel morally obligated to share the provisions and material goods they have discovered with all of Shomron; through this, they demonstrate empathy, compassion, and a sense of justice, and are worthy of serving as vehicles of Hashem’s salvation of his people.

Thus, we find that the repentance of two “arrogant” parties arouses Divine mercy and brings an end to the debilitating famine. King Yehoram is able to humble himself sufficiently to seek the word of Hashem from the mouth of Elisha, despite the prophet being a popular and influential political “threat” to the crown. The king’s acceptance of the Divine will and acknowledgement of Elisha’s role in the kingdom was a breakthrough on the side of the recipients of the blessings to follow.

At the same time, the repentance of the lepers who fortuitously discover the abandoned Aramean camp, inspires them to become the means by which Hashem delivers the blessings He intends for His people. Here, as always, Elisha does not involve himself in punishing or even confronting the king for his recalcitrance; instead, he merely reinforces the “positive steps” of growth he sees in the king and in the nation by serving as the agent of Hashem’s compassion and providing them with news of relief, sustenance and success.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 6

The Reading

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 6

Elisha’s students find that their lodgings do not provide sufficient living space. He instructs them to move to a new area and build a dwelling for themselves; one of them insists that he accompany them, and he agrees. While they are cutting down trees, the axe-head of one of the disciples falls into the Jordan River and disappears; he is very distraught because he had borrowed it from someone else. Elisha throws a stick into the water and the axe-head floats to the top, at which time he tells the student to retrieve it.

The King of Aram is continually attempting to attack Israel, but his designs are thwarted because Elisha regularly informs the King of Israel of the enemy’s plans in advance. The King of Aram decides to focus on apprehending and killing Elisha so that the King of Israel loses his greatest defensive asset. Elisha and his servant wake up in the morning in Dotan to discover a vast array of chariots and soldiers encamped about the city to seize them, and the servant is afraid. Elisha reassures his attendant that they have a greater army on their side than does Aram, and prays to Hashem to open the young boy’s eyes so he can perceive the heavenly horses and chariots of fire that encircle Elisha like a protective wall.

When the troops of Aram descend to arrest Elisha, he prays to Hashem to strike them with blindness and then convinces them that they have come to the wrong address. The prophet guides the soldiers of Aram to Shomron where he stands them before the King of Israel and then restores their vision. The King of Israel, seeing the enemy forces vulnerable and within his grasp, asks Elisha if he should strike them down. Elisha responds that they should be treated not as combatants but as captives, and therefore should be provided with ample food and drink. The men of Aram partake of bread and water offered to them in Shomron and then return to their country. The border incursions from Aram cease from this point on.

Ben-Haddad, King of Aram lays siege to Shomron for three years and there is a severe and crippling famine in Israel (there is much discussion in the commentaries of how this war broke out in light of the “peace” that seemed to be achieved in the previous paragraph). Even normally inedible items like donkey’s heads and dung are exorbitantly priced because they are the only sustenance the population has available. One day, the King of Israel is walking along the wall of the city when a woman calls out to him for help. At first, he dismisses her plea, since he is not in a position to help anyone, but then he invites her to share her story.

The woman recounts how she and a neighbor had entered into a gruesome agreement: they would cook and consume her child for dinner to save themselves from starvation and, when they were again hungry, they would cook and consume the neighbor’s child. They had already eaten this woman’s child but her neighbor now refused to honor her end of the deal! The King is so terrified and moved by the depths of depravity to which the suffering has brought his people that he tears his garment, revealing sackcloth underneath – a sign that he has been praying and repenting, hoping for God to improve their situation.

However, the King’s moment of sadness quickly translates into anger. He declares his intention to execute Elisha for having allowed this horrific ordeal to befall the people, and he sends a messenger to seize the prophet. Meanwhile, Elisha is sitting in his house and conversing with the elders of Israel when he receives a prophetic message that, in his words, “this son of a murderer [Yehoram, son of Ahav]” has come to kill him – a messenger will soon arrive with the king far long behind him. Elisha instructs the elders to shut the door and keep it closed; when the messenger finally does arrive, he is followed by the king who speaks to Elisha (apparently, at least initially, from behind the door) and bemoans the evil that has been visited upon Israel, asking how much longer the Jewish people must wait for deliverance from the Almighty.

There is a great deal to comment on in this chapter. Let us highlight just a few of its interesting elements. The Rabbis observe that it is only after the “removal” of Gehazi that the number of disciples of Elisha becomes too large for their accommodations. Apparently, Gehazi’s negative influence and perhaps his policies of exclusion prevented those who sought to learn from Elisha from gaining access to him. The absence of Gehazi allows for a positive change of dynamic in the “academy” of Elisha.

The whole episode, however, reveals to us how fundamentally different Elisha is from his teacher, Eliyahu. Eliyahu was a loner who spent most of his time in solitude; the majority of his interactions with others are prompted by necessity. Elisha, by contrast, is intimately involved with other people; he lives with his students, eats with them and builds houses with them. As we have seen from the very outset, Elisha’s conception of the role of the prophet is of a teacher and mentor who lives among the people, shares their burdens and advocates for their welfare.

The story of the army of Aram also emphasizes this quality of Elisha. He serves as an asset to the King of Israel, providing him with “inside intelligence” that safeguards and promotes the interests of Israel. When the troops descend upon Elisha, he allows his worried attendant to perceive the chariots and horses of fire that surround and protect them. Undoubtedly, these chariots of fire are the same ones that Elisha saw carry Eliyahu away to heaven, and that inspired him to refer to Eliyahu as the “chariot of Israel”.

Elisha called Eliyahu the chariot of Israel because, like a military chariot that provides safety and security to its nation through physical strength, Eliyahu protected his nation through spiritual strength, in the merit of his relationship with Hashem. Elisha, who will also be dubbed “chariot of Israel” when he passes away, enables his servant to see that he, too, is a vehicle of divine providence and protection for Israel, and that they have nothing to fear from the threat looming over them. However, perhaps unlike Eliyahu, Elisha seems to embrace his role in a more positive spirit than did his mentor.

Just as Elisha asks Hashem to endow his attendant with special “vision” so that he can perceive the invisible, spiritual activity occurring behind the scenes, so too does he ask Hashem remove vision from the army of Aram that attempts to besiege him. Many of the commentaries explain this not as a physiological blindness but as a state of confusion that descended upon them and confounded them. When he has finally guided them to Shomron their clarity of perception returns and they must have rightfully feared for their lives.

Rather than allow the King of Israel to take advantage of the vulnerability of his enemies, however, Elisha directs the King to follow his path of compassion and mercy, offering them food and drink, and then send them home. Just as with the healing of Naaman, Elisha places the highest value on the sanctification of Hashem’s name through manifesting His infinite kindness to all of his creatures. And, indeed, this approach was successful in fostering a state of peace and tranquility between Aram and Israel, at least for some time afterward.

There is much discussion in the modern commentaries about the identity of the King of Israel (who is never named) in this story, since the one that follows seems clearly to refer to Yehoram, son of Ahav. Many contemporary writers find it difficult to accept that the wicked Yehoram would show such deference to Elisha, calling him “my father” and heeding his instructions so carefully when given the opportunity to strike the army of Aram.

For this and several other reasons, they suggest that this episode took place during the period of one of the later kings who enjoyed a closer and more cooperative relationship with Elisha, and that it is included here out of chronological order because it fits the theme of this catalogue of the deeds of Elisha. Proponents of this view offer a number of persuasive arguments to support it.

Nevertheless, we will follow the opinion of our Sages that these stories all describe Yehoram, son of Ahav. Throughout his career, we see that he had a complicated and ambivalent attitude toward Elisha, sometimes ignoring him, sometimes seeking him, sometimes rejecting him. And in all the stories about him (whether he is named or not) he has a signature style of operation; he tends to react first, and only think later. For instance, when contacted by the King of Aram about Naaman’s illness, his first response is to panic, and he is not able to regain his composure until Elisha reaches out to him. Similarly, when the army of Aram arrives in Shomron, his initial thought is to kill them until Elisha steps in. We see this again when he runs to execute Elisha for his purported role in the famine but then backtracks and humbly requests his guidance.

This pattern of behavior strongly supports the traditional view that the King of Israel in all of these stories is Yehoram who, like his father Ahav, was a complicated personality. Indeed, we can see why he is regarded as a substantial improvement over his father in terms of his principles, policies and relationship with Hashem; then again, it seems that Elisha’s influence had much to do with that as well.

It is quite conceivable that when Elisha brought nothing but blessing to the king, he was willing to heed his directives, and that, when famine decimated the population, the King held Elisha responsible and vented anger toward him. In this way, the appellation “my father” is quite apt – Elisha was a sort of father figure to the people and to the king, dealing kindly and generously with them, helping them, yet never compromising on or apologizing for the high moral standards by which Hashem judged and punished them.

In the story of the famine itself, we see the inner conflict of the king as well. Distraught over the plight of his nation, he has been wearing sackcloth and probably praying and fasting, hoping for deliverance from God. This reflects positively on his capacity for self-reflection and introspection. He takes responsibility for the situation and recognizes its divine origin.Yet, when he is pushed over the edge by the tragic tale of the two desperate women plotting to consume their children, he is filled with rage and blames the prophet for the terrible state of affairs. This shows us a side of his character that is less noble and more immature. However, despite the aggressive intentions he articulates and Elisha’s labeling him “son of a murderer”, when he reaches the prophet, we again see humility and desperation, not violence. We will consider Elisha’s response to Yehoram in the chapter ahead.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 5


The Recording

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 5

Naaman is the highly acclaimed general of Aram but suffers from tzaraat, often translated as “leprosy”. In one of his successful campaigns against Israel, he captured a young maiden who attends to his wife. The maiden suggests that Naaman seek out the prophet in Israel who can cure his disease. The King of Aram sends a message to the King of Israel directing him to arrange that Naaman, who is en route to Israel bearing gifts of precious metals and clothing, will be healed of his tzaraat.

The King of Israel, realizing that he is not capable of fulfilling the demand of the King of Aram, interprets it as an attempt to seek a pretext for war. He tears his garments as a sign of mourning, anticipating the worst. Elisha is apprised of the situation and sends word to the King of Israel not to worry. Elisha encourages the King to have Naaman come to him for healing. Naaman arrives with a large entourage and chariot and stations himself outside the home of Elisha. Elisha has his messenger convey instructions to Naaman: the general is to immerse himself in the Jordan River seven times, and he will be cured.

Naaman is very upset, disappointed that the prophet did not appear in person and perform some magical ritual. If all that is necessary is a bath in the river, Damascus has far superior bodies of water for that purpose than Israel! However, his attendant prevails upon him to at least try out the recommendation of Elisha; after all, had he told him to do something more difficult and mysterious, he would have complied, and it can’t hurt to simply bathe in the river a little. Naaman follows the instructions of Elisha and the health of his skin is immediately restored.

Naaman returns to the home of Elisha and stands before the prophet face to face. He acknowledges that Hashem, God of Israel, is the only true God, and urges Elisha to accept his gifts of tribute. Elisha adamantly refuses. Naaman takes some earth from the land of Israel in order to carry home with him and to build there an altar to Hashem for worship.He also asks Elisha to intercede on his behalf for forgiveness from the Almighty. Although Naaman himself will no longer serve any other gods, he occasionally must accompany his master into the idolatrous temple. His master leans upon him and so, when he bows down to his god, Naaman must prostrate himself as well. Elisha assures Naaman that this is accepted in the eyes of God.

Our Sages learn an important law from this incident: unlike a Jew who must die before bowing to a graven image even under duress, a gentile who believes in God is not obligated to sacrifice his life for his beliefs and may feign worship of an idol to escape death.

Gehazi, Elisha’s attendant, witnesses the exchange between Elisha and Naaman and is upset that this “Aramean” left without paying the prophet anything. He runs after Naaman and is greeted with great deference. Gehazi lies and tells Naaman that his master, Elisha, was just approached by two of the disciples of the prophets who are in dire straits and in need of one talent of silver and two changes of clothing. Naaman generously gives Gehazi two talents of silver and the clothing he requested, and Naaman and his men escort Gehazi back to his home where they are deposited for “safe keeping”.

When Gehazi returns to Elisha, he is questioned about his absence and denies having left the area. Elisha, of course, knows where Gehazi has been and rebukes him for taking advantage of Naaman for material gain. He curses Gehazi who contracts the very disease of tzaraat with which Naaman had been afflicted.

This episode is nearly the opposite of the opening chapter of Melakhim Bet. There, a seriously ill King Ahazya dispatched messengers to Eqron to consult with a foreign god about his prognosis. This was a potentially terrible desecration of Hashem’s name, as it implied that there was no deity in Israel worthy of consulting, and it was therefore intercepted by Eliyahu. Here, a foreign dignitary who is actually in a position of dominance vis a vis the Jewish people (the King of Israel is afraid of him and his maidservant is a Jewish girl he captured in battle) nonetheless leaves his country to seek advice and healing from the One God of Israel. This results in a spectacular sanctification of God’s name on multiple levels.

The orientation of the Arameans to the office of the prophet reflects pagan culture. First, they assume the prophet works for the king and therefore reach out to the monarch in order to access the prophet’s services. Second, Naaman arrives at Elisha’s home in full regalia and with a company of officers, placing himself in the position of superiority relative to the man of God. Third, Naaman expects Elisha to be a magician or miracle-worker who will enact some elaborate ritual of hocus-pocus to heal him. Finally, Naaman assumes that Elisha will expect to be compensated handsomely for his efforts and prepares accordingly.

Each of these preconceived notions is negated in the story. The prophet, a servant of God, is neither employed by nor beholden to any human king. As long as Naaman sits regally atop his chariot, Elisha declines to stand before him and sends a messenger instead. The instructions Elisha offers are deceptively simple because he wants to teach Naaman that humbly conforming to the will of God is the only path to recovery. No ritual, however impressive, can force Hashem to respond to our demands. Lastly, Elisha attributes the miracle to the Almighty and not to himself, adamantly refusing to accept any material reward for the assistance he has offered.

All of these “corrections” to the perspective of Naaman draw him closer to a true understanding and recognition of Hashem Who is absolute and transcendent, receives no benefit from His creatures and cannot be magically manipulated. Naaman has clearly been transformed by this experience and adopts a far more modest and self-effacing attitude toward Elisha after he is cured.

This helps us to appreciate why Gehazi’s sin was so terrible. Aside from lying and misrepresenting the prophet, Gehazi detracted from the sanctification of Hashem’s name for his own personal gain. He gave the impression that, at the end of the day, Elisha did want to “cash in” on his prophetic services, and was perhaps just being gracious in allowing Naaman to leave without paying. Gehazi was motivated here not only by a desire for material wealth but also by his disdain for Naaman, whom he terms “this Aramean”. He saw Naaman as the political foe of Israel and therefore someone who should not be granted any favors.

An opportunist by nature, Gehazi did not see the intrinsic value in sanctifying Hashem’s name before a fellow human being, let alone a great leader of a gentile nation; he merely saw the property of an enemy of Israel that would go to better use in the hands of a Jew. This arrogant perspective earned him the curse of tzaraat. Tzaraat is a divine punishment meted out to arrogant people who attempt to aggrandize and promote themselves at the expense of others. Since such an individual thrives on his ability to interact with and take advantage of others, isolating him from society robs him of his power and forces him to engage in meaningful reflection and repentance.

From the fact that Elisha maintained such an intimate relationship with him, we can infer that Gehazi must have been an impressive person, highly intelligent and talented. The two seem to have been inseparable and to have shared a level of closeness similar to the one Elisha himself enjoyed with his master, Eliyahu. Undoubtedly, Elisha had high hopes for Gehazi and expected him to work on and overcome the character flaws that held him back in his development. Consistent with his kind and patient disposition, Elisha was willing to allow Gehazi plenty of time to improve himself in his areas of weakness, and Gehazi was the beneficiary of the remarkable opportunity to develop a deep and edifying relationship with his illustrious teacher.

However, Gehazi instead chose to use his position as Elisha’s attendant as a source of political clout, distancing others from the “inner circle” of the prophet and, in the case of Naaman, even undermining the holy efforts of Elisha when doing so served his own personal ambitions. He abused his relationship with Elisha as well as his standing in the eyes of others. For all of these reasons, suffering from tzaraat, which excluded him from social interaction indefinitely, was a fitting consequence.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 4

The Summary

(Sorry,  I realized that the Taamim recording for this chapter was corrupt – has to be redone!)

Melakim Bet Chapter 4

Elisha is approached by the widow of one of the disciples of the prophets. She has been left destitute and is being pressured by creditors to sell her two sons into slavery in order to settle her debt. She has nothing but a single vessel of oil in the house. Elisha instructs the woman to borrow empty vessels from her neighbors, close the door behind her and to start pouring the oil to fill them. Miraculously, the oil flows uninterruptedly until all of the containers are filled. Elisha tells her to sell the surplus oil to earn the money necessary to pay off her debts and then to live off of what remains.

Whenever Elisha visits Shunem, he is invited to dine with a prestigious woman and her husband. After a while, the woman convinces her husband to set up a modestly furnished attic apartment for the prophet to reside in when he is in town. Elisha wishes to repay the woman for her kindness and asks his attendant, Gehazi, to inquire what she would like to receive in exchange for all that she has done. The woman declares that she is content and needs nothing; Gehazi, however, points out to Elisha that her husband is elderly yet she has no son. Elisha promises the woman that by next year she will bear a child; she has difficulty believing the prediction, but it indeed comes true and she gives birth to a son.

One day, the boy is working with his father in the field when he collapses. His mother lays his lifeless body on the bed in Elisha’s apartment and sets off to Mount Carmel to find the prophet. Seeing her from afar, Elisha sends Gehazi ahead to meet her; however, she insists on interacting with Elisha directly, falling at his feet. Gehazi attempts to intervene but Elisha tells him to let her be.

The woman confronts Elisha for having promised her a child that she never asked for, only to allow him to die. Elisha sends Gehazi ahead with his staff and commands him to revive the child, but the woman will not leave unless Elisha accompanies them as well. Gehazi arrives first and cannot resuscitate the boy. Elisha enters the room, closes the door, prays to Hashem, and, after laying atop the child several times, he sneezes seven times and awakens. Elisha hands the child to his relieved mother and departs.

There is a famine in the land and Elisha’s disciples are suffering from the food shortage as well. He tells them to prepare a stew and they disperse to gather the various ingredients. Once they have begun to taste the food, it becomes clear that one of the items that had been added to the mixture was poisonous. Elisha requests that the disciples bring him flour, which he casts into the pot, nullifying its dangerous effects.

A man comes to visit Elisha with a care package of bread, fruits, and grain, and Elisha instructs the disciples to serve it to the famished community. They protest that there are insufficient provisions to feed to such a multitude. The prophet responds that Hashem has declared that the people will eat and even leave over extra when they have finished, which is precisely what happens.

The parallels between the stories of Elisha in this chapter and the accounts of the miracles of Eliyahu are unmistakable. Both prophets provide an “unending” supply of food to a widow and both find lodging with a family and revive the deceased child of that family. These similarities underscore Elisha’s emergence as the successor of Eliyahu and the perpetuator of his legacy.

However, the differences in the description of the activities of the two prophets are also very instructive. Eliyahu’s miraculous provision of unlimited oil and flour was prompted by HIS need for sustenance; in fact, he instructed the widow to prepare a cake for him before she did so for herself or her son, since it was in his merit that she was being granted divine assistance. In other words, Eliyahu’s support of the widow was a function of justice, not mercy.

By contrast, Elisha gains nothing personally from the widow whom he assists, nor does he know whether her claim is justified; he acts purely out of compassion and kindness. Moreover, not only does he provide her with sufficient funds to settle her debts, which could have been seen as justified by the merit of her husband, who was a prophet; far beyond this, Elisha ensures that she has a surplus that will benefit her and her children for the foreseeable future.

Similarly, when Eliyahu revives the dead child of his hostess, he complains that Hashem has harmed the person with whom he has found lodging – in other words, the tragedy affected him, disrupted his life, and therefore he sought for it to be reversed. The fact that, in the aftermath of her son’s death, the widow perceived Eliyahu as a liability rather than an asset was a denigration of his stature as a man of God and had to be addressed.

By contrast, Elisha only stays with the woman in Shunem occasionally, he is not dependent upon her; his initial miracle of bringing her the child as well as his intervention to save the child were both motivated by kindness alone. Elisha sought out the woman to promise her a child – she never asked for anything and never expected anything – and he responds sensitively and warmly when she arrives to complain about the boy’s sudden death.

The compassionate aspect of Elisha’s behavior is underscored by the postscripts to his miracles; he always follows up his wondrous deeds with a command to the beneficiary, like “lift up your child”, “go, sell the oil, pay your debt, and you and your sons live off of the rest”, “pour for the people that they may eat”, or “give to the people that they may eat”. In other words, Elisha empowers the recipients of his miraculous actions, equipping them with the tools they need to live a prosperous or happy life. He has no personal vested interest in the outcome of these interventions.

Unlike Eliyahu who embodied the Divine quality of justice – Midat Hadin – Elisha is a living example of the Divine quality of mercy, Midat HaRahamim, giving freely and generously to all. Both prophets were devoted to the cause of heightening awareness of Hashem in the world, one through a strict insistence on law, judgment and punishment and the other through the passionate distribution of an abundance of blessing and bounty.

Fascinatingly, during the period of Elisha, there were famines and wars; the Divine wrath is apparent, and yet Elisha never addressed this or sought to change it, he simply looked for ways to remind people of the infinite kindness of the Creator that can be experienced even in the worst of times.

There is much to comment upon in this remarkable chapter. For the sake of brevity, we must pass over much of its rich content and symbolism for now. However, I would be remiss if I did not address the fascinating parallel between Elisha’s interactions with the widow and the interactions between the three visiting angels and Avraham and Sarah in Parashat Vayera.

In both circumstances, following an act of hakhnassat orhim, welcoming of a guest, a barren woman and her elderly husband are promised a child. In both cases, the woman expresses her doubts about the possibility of the promise being fulfilled (we all recall Sarah laughing), and in both texts the term “at this time” (lamoed hazeh), an unusual phrase, is employed, indicating that the similarities being drawn between the two cases are deliberate.

Finally, in both stories, the “miracle child” almost dies while alone with his father – Yitzchaq at the Aqedah and the Shunnamite woman’s son in the field – until he is saved by an intervention from an angelic messenger – the prophetic vision revealed to Avraham to stop the process of sacrificing his son and the appearance of the prophet Elisha who resuscitates the Shunammite’s son. What is the deeper connection between these narratives that inspired the literary parallels we have identified?

I would like to tentatively suggest that the text here is emphasizing the power of kindness, and specifically of welcoming guests into one’s home. Extending yourself for the sake of other people demonstrates that you understand and appreciate their intrinsic value as human beings and wish to support and assist them. The Shunammite woman, like Elisha himself, was able to look beyond the four walls of her home and see the greatness of the prophet as well as his need for sustenance. Through welcoming him into her abode she revealed her interest in contributing to his mission of spreading knowledge of Hashem and manifesting Hashem’s compassion in the world.

This selflessness made the Shunammite woman similar to our ancestors Avraham and Sarah who opened their tents to all passersby in order to share the spiritual and material blessings they received with others, fellow human beings they recognized were also worthy of consideration and compassion. Once Avraham and Sarah had reached the pinnacle of their development, as expressed in their welcoming of the three angels, they were deemed worthy of the miracle of being blessed with a son who would carry on their legacy. Their child wouldn’t be a source of selfish pride for them but would be a gift of God to whom they would pass on their religious principles and ethical values.

When Avraham began enjoying little Yitzchaq too much, however – the Midrash says this reached its height when Avraham celebrated weaning the boy without sufficient acknowledgment of Hashem – our Forefather was given the task of the Aqedah. Confronted with the Divine command to sacrifice his son, Avraham had to refocus on his true mission in the world and remember why he had been given Yitschaq to begin with – for the sake of serving Hashem and not for his own sake.

Similarly, it stands to reason that the Shunammite woman had begun to take her son for granted as he toiled with his father in the field. The boy had to be taken away temporarily so that his mother would reflect upon the reason why she had been blessed with him in the first place – because of her dedication to Hashem, her admiration of the prophet and the expectation that she would raise her son with proper Torah values, not merely so he could help contribute to the family business!

Interestingly, the Zohar states that this mysterious “miracle child” was none other than the Prophet Havaquq, whose name derives from the statement of Elisha “you will be embracing [hoveqet] a child”; according to the Zohar, the second letter “quf” is a reference to the embrace of the child by Elisha when he resuscitated him. This suggests that the Shunammite woman learned the lesson of her son’s temporary “death” and quickly placed him back on the path to spiritual success.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 3

The Recording

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 3

Yehoram, son of Ahav, rules over the Kingdom of Israel. He does not follow the path of Torah; however, he is not as wicked as his parents. In fact, he removes the monument to the Baal created by his father, indicating that he did not participate in the worship of foreign gods. Nevertheless, he did not dismantle the illicit sanctuaries erected by Yarovam.

Mesha, King of Moav, had been paying a very large annual tribute of wool to the King of Israel for many years. After the death of Ahav, however, he rebels. Yehoram enlists the support of his ally, Yehoshafat, King of Yehuda, to put down the rebellion. They partner with the king of Edom who joins their military operation. After a seven day journey through the wilderness of Edom, the kings’ water supply is depleted, human beings and animals are weakened, and chances of defeating Moav under these circumstances are bleak.

True to form, Yehoshafat, the righteous king of Israel, inquires whether there is a local prophet who can be consulted immediately. He is advised that Elisha dwells nearby, and the three kings visit with him. Elisha has harsh words for Yehoram whom he condemns as a hypocrite for seeking an audience with a prophet of Hashem. Elisha clarifies that he only consented to meet the kings out of deference to the upstanding Yehoshafat. Elisha summons a musician to play music and this enables him to enter the prophetic trance necessary for him to receive a communication from Hashem.

Elisha informs the kings that Hashem will provide them with an ample supply of water very soon; moreover, he assures them that they will vanquish Moav in the impending war. Elisha commands them to adopt a “slash and burn” approach to the battle, cutting down all trees, filling up all wells, and covering the ground with stones.

As Elisha predicted, the valley becomes filled with water that night (possibly this was due to a flash flood in the mountains that flowed down to them). The Moabites awaken in the morning and see that the liquid that has permeated the area has a reddish hue – possibly because of the sunlight shining on the water or the mud it had dredged up – and they infer from this that the “alliance” of the three kings fell apart and that the armies slaughtered one another.

Assuming that all that remained for them to do was to swoop down and collect the spoils left behind by the armies who had decimated one another, the men of Moav arrive at the Jewish camp unprepared for battle and are handily defeated. The Jewish armies follow the instructions of Elisha in carrying out a harsh and destructive campaign against Moav. Perceiving these setbacks, the King of Moav panics and orders his soldiers to confront and break through the ranks of the King of Edom, but they fail.

Ultimately, in an act of supreme desperation, the King of Moav ascends to the wall of his city and slaughters his first born son as a burnt offering. This unspeakable act spells the end of the conflict; the armies of Yehuda, Israel and Edom return to their respective homelands.

On the surface, there is a basic theological difficulty with this narrative. Yehoram has “repented” for at least some of the sins of his parents. At the very least, he does not worship the Baal. Why is he punished with having to handle the rebellion of Moav – something his parents, who were more wicked, never had to face – and the harsh rebuke of the prophet Elisha?

One possibility, mentioned by some of the modern commentators, is that Yehoram’s move away from idol worship occurred after this encounter with Elisha, not before. In fact, perhaps his experience in this war contributed to his change of heart. Although his removal of the monument to Baal is mentioned at the opening of the chapter, that is the signature form of the Book of Melakhim – briefly summarizing the whole career of each king before providing the details – and need not be interpreted as suggesting that the actions described happened first.

On the other hand, we may suggest that Yehoram had already engaged in some repentance prior to the battle against Moav. There are a couple of pieces of evidence that support this approach. First, we hear no objection from Yehoram when Yehoshafat suggests that Elisha be consulted; were Ahav the King of Israel, we would have expected him to register a protest here as he did when Mikayhu ben Yimla was summoned to the royal court. Second, we find that it is one of Yehoram’s own men who recommends Elisha as a local prophet of Hashem who could be contacted, indicating that Elisha was no stranger to the officers of Yehoram.

Therefore, it seems likely that Yehoram had already begun something of a shift of direction toward service of Hashem prior to the conflict with Moav. The emergence of the rebellion was not a punishment for past transgressions as much as it was an opportunity to deepen Yehoram’s understanding and awareness of Hashem and perhaps inspire him to implement even greater changes in the religious life of his kingdom.

Along these lines, we may speculate that Elisha offers his criticism precisely because he knows that Yehoram may take it to heart and benefit from it. Since Yehoram has been contemplating his relationship with Judaism and Torah, Elisha urges him to fully disengage with the “heritage” of his ancestors and embrace Hashem as his ally, Yehoshaphat, has done.

The miraculous provision of water and military triumph of this chapter are, as we will see in upcoming episodes, typical of the career of Elisha. Unlike the fiery and combative Eliyahu, Elisha is calm, conciliatory and positive. When Elisha is distraught, as when he interacts with Yehoram, he does not persist in that state; rather, he immediately calls for a musician to set his mind and heart at ease. Although the Jewish people during the time of Elisha were still steeped in idolatry and perhaps unworthy of divine intervention for many reasons, Elisha nonetheless predicts blessing and success for their armies so that they will perceive the hand of Hashem in their activities.

In other words, Elisha’s educational philosophy puts more emphasis on the proverbial “carrot” than the “stick”; his preference is for showcasing the kindness and compassion of Hashem to draw the people closer to Him rather than serving as a mouthpiece for God’s judgment, ceaselessly challenging the shallowness and stupidity of their idolatrous and immoral culture like his teacher, Eliyahu, had done.

The concluding verses of the chapter are the subject of much debate. What prompted Mesha’s human sacrifice, and how did this idolatrous action achieve its desired objective of putting an end to the battle? There are numerous approaches to this thorny issue. Some traditional commentators opine that the heinous deed of Mesha was a “reminder” of the corruption of the Jews themselves and an indictment of their own equally wicked practices; therefore, perhaps when they saw the behavior and identified with it, this caused the divine favor to withdraw from Israel.

Another interpretation suggests that Mesha did this to galvanize and raise the morale of his own troops who had been losing their motivation, and that it restored their faith in the cause and enabled them to fend off their enemies. In other words, it was effective for psychological, not theological reasons.

One classic interpretation found in the writings of the Geonim and cited by some of the traditional commentaries is that Mesha did not sacrifice his own son but the son of the king of Edom, who is mentioned in the previous verse. Consider that the act of human sacrifice is described immediately after the account of the failed attempt to break through the ranks of the King of Edom. Apparently, according to this view, the soldiers of Mesha succeeded in kidnapping the crown prince of Edom, and Mesha made a public spectacle of executing him as a sacrifice to the god of Moav.

This interpretation maintains that the consequence for the Jewish people was not the result of the Divine “recollection” of their sins nor the rise in the morale of the Moabite troops; rather, it was because their coalition with Edom fell apart in the wake of this incident. Just as he had hoped, Mesha was able to drive a wedge between Israel and Edom that weakened Israel considerably. The King of Edom was not likely to forgive the kings of Israel and Yehuda for enticing him to participate in a battle in which his first born son was slaughtered.

Looking at the chapter as a whole, we see how significant but complicated a role this Israel-Edom alliance plays. For example, the troops approach the battle by traversing the wilderness of Edom, testifying to the strategic benefit for Israel in this political friendship. The troops of Moav who believed that they saw blood filling the valley immediately assumed that it must have been as a result of the dissolution of the partnership between Edom and the Jews and the bloody civil war that must have ensued. This itself indicates that the agreement between them must have been assumed to be a precarious one.

Even on a literary level, when the text describes the water that fills the valley and appears red like blood, we cannot avoid being reminded of the origin of the name “Edom” as an appellation for Esav who was ruddy (“admoni”) and who desired the “red stuff”, the soup of his brother Yaaqov. Clearly, the text is going to great pains to highlight the remarkable teamwork and partnership between the descendants of Yaaqov and Esav, Israel and Edom; a partnership that is, in the final analysis, a tenuous and temporary one.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 02

The Recording

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 2
Eliyahu and Elisha are together in Gilgal. Eliyahu informs Elisha that Hashem has commanded him to travel to Bet El, and he tells Elisha to remain behind; Elisha, however, insists on accompanying him. Once in Bet El, a group of young prophets approach Elisha and ask him if he is aware of the fact that this is the day that Eliyahu will finally disappear. Elisha responds that he is, indeed, aware of this, but tells them to be silent about it.

Eliyahu again attempts to leave Elisha behind in order to fulfill a divine command he has received to travel to Yeriho; Elisha, once again, refuses to part from his master and goes as well. The young prophets in Yeriho have the same exchange with Elisha that their counterparts in Bet El did.

Finally, Eliyahu announces his plan to head to the Jordan River and to leave Elisha behind; Elisha, still standing his ground, escorts Eliyahu to his destination. Eliyahu removes his cloak and strikes the waters of the Jordan with it; they split and allow the two prophets to cross, in clear view of a group of young prophets who are watching the event from afar.

Eliyahu asks Elisha what he can do for him before he departs. Elisha requests a double portion of the spirit that has rested upon his master. Eliyahu comments that this is a tall order. However, he tells Elisha that if he witnesses Eliyahu’s final ascent to heaven, this is a sign that the spirit he seeks will indeed rest upon him.

As they are walking and talking, a chariot of fire driven by horses of fire appears between them, and Eliyahu is whisked away in a whirlwind. His mantle falls to the ground and is retrieved by Elisha, who uses it to miraculously split the waters of the Jordan once again.

Once back on the mainland of Israel, he is greeted by the younger prophets who recognize that he has inherited the spiritual power of Eliyahu. Nevertheless, they wish to organize a search party to find Eliyahu; at first, Elisha protests, but at their repeated urging, he relents. Unsurprisingly, Eliyahu is not found.

The young prophets in Yeriho share with Elisha that their city is very pleasant but the water is bitter and induces illness. Elisha requests a new container with salt inside, and he pours it into the water, permanently “healing” it. Retracing the steps of his teacher, Eliyahu,

Elisha proceeds to Bet El, where he is taunted by a group of youths who hurl insults at him, calling him “bald one”. Elisha curses the boys and forty two of them are mauled by bears. Elisha then travels to Mount Carmel, the site of the famous showdown between Eliyahu and the prophets of the Baal, and ultimately returns to Shomron.

This chapter is shrouded in a considerable amount of mystery. We won’t be able to dispel or even explore all of it, but we must touch upon at least a few points. What is the nature of Eliyahu’s ascent to heaven, and why is he the only prophet in our history to have concluded his career in such a dramatic and remarkable manner? Moreover, what is the significance of the lead up to his departure – his visit of various communities, crossing of the Jordan, and dialogue with Elisha?

The commentaries are divided on the precise nature of Eliyahu’s “ascent”. Some, like Radaq, interpret it in purely spiritual terms and explain the story as the death of Eliyahu and his entry into the World-To-Come. Others, like the Ralbag (and, seemingly, most of the mainstream Sages of our tradition), understand that Eliyahu continues to live in the physical world in a secret location where he awaits the future redemption.

Of course, there are difficulties with both approaches. On a fundamental level, Radaq’s interpretation basically amounts to saying that Eliyahu died but that his remains – like those of Moshe Rabbenu – were not buried by human hands. While this downplays the supernatural aspects of Eliyahu’s ascent, it does little to explain how is fate is much different than that of an ordinary person who passes away. On the other hand, the view that Eliyahu continues to live for eternity in this world can be hard for us to imagine and accept; it would be the most extraordinary and long-lasting miracle Hashem has ever performed!

The reason behind the ascent of Eliyahu can be found not in these differences of opinion but in the common denominator between the two schools of thought. Both agree that Eliyahu will one day reappear as the harbinger of the Messianic Age, preparing the way for the arrival of the Mashiah. So, one way or another, his unusual departure conveys the message that his career is not over – the idea that he “lives forever”, whether in this world or the next, means that his mission as a prophet is “on pause” but has not yet reached its conclusion. In his own era, Eliyahu did all he possibly could to bring the Jews back to the way of Torah, but his efforts were ultimately not successful. We know that he will have another opportunity to achieve his goal under better circumstances, in the future…And, in one way or another, he is waiting for it.

We can best understand the travels of Eliyahu as a farewell tour; he visits each community of prophets and repeatedly attempts to bid farewell to his own protégé, Elisha, before departing from the world. Fascinatingly, the route that Eliyahu takes – from Gilgal to Bet El to Yeriho to the opposite side of the Jordan River – is a reversal of the path taken by the Jewish people when they entered the Land of Israel by crossing the Jordan River, conquering Yeriho, passing through Bet El, and camping in Gilgal.

Symbolically, Eliyahu is taking leave of his students, his people, and his role in Jewish history – he is exiting the stage, at least temporarily. Elisha, who grasps the mantle of his master and crosses back over the Jordan to retrace the journey to Yeriho and Bet El and ultimately Mount Carmel, demonstrates his assumption of the role of Eliyahu and his “reentry” onto the scene as the new prophet of the generation.

Until the very end, Eliyahu seemed like he was not quite sure if Elisha would be able to “fill his shoes” after his departure. Elisha’s stubborn insistence upon accompanying his teacher was evidence of his determination to serve as a worthy successor to Eliyahu. Unlike the way Yehoshua succeeded Moshe – as a “second choice” because the ideal, Moshe himself, was unavailable – Elisha asked to have the capability to continue the legacy of his great master fully and authentically. His witnessing of the ascent of Eliyahu – his participation in the prophetic experience of his teacher – was proof that he had, in the eyes of Hashem, reached a level of development that qualified him to take Eliyahu’s place.

Nevertheless, if Elisha is to gain the respect of the nation, the community must also embrace him as the “new Eliyahu”. The younger prophets, although they saw the power of Elisha in his splitting of the Jordan, were not convinced that he was the official replacement for Eliyahu until they conducted a search and determined that Eliyahu was no longer among them.

Similarly, the young boys who taunted Elisha as “bald” – in contrast with Eliyahu, who was known as a hairy fellow (as reported by Ahazya’s messengers) – were essentially stripping him of his credibility, accusing him of being a usurper or a pretender to the “throne” of the great prophet. When all was said and done, in the eyes of Hashem and in the eyes of the community, Elisha emerged as the preeminent prophet of his generation, filling the shoes of Eliyahu but enriching and improving his teacher’s educational methods with his softer, gentler and more compassionate style.

Melakhim Bet Chapter 1

The Recording

The Summary

Melakhim Bet Chapter 1

Moav rebels against Israel following the death of Ahav; however, we will not learn more about the details of the uprising until later. Ahazya, son of Ahav, falls from the attic of his residence and sustains serious injuries. He sends messengers to Baal Zevuv, god of Eqron, to inquire whether he will survive his accident or not. Eliyahu the prophet is sent by Hashem to intercept Ahazya’s emissaries and sends them back to Ahazya with a harrowing message.

Ahazya’s behavior in seeking guidance from a foreign god implies that there is no God in Israel, and is the ultimate desecration of Hashem’s name; therefore, he will not recover from his illness and will die imminently. From the content of the communication and the messengers’ description of the appearance of the man who confronted them, Ahazya correctly infers that it was Eliyahu, and he sends a company of fifty troops to apprehend and probably kill the prophet.

The first group of soldiers approach Eliyahu and order him to surrender to them by the command of the king; instead, a fire descends from heaven and consumes Ahazya’s men. Undeterred, Ahazya sends a second set of troops who are even more aggressive and meet the same fate. When a third delegation arrives, the leader begs Eliyahu to have mercy on their souls and not to destroy them.

Eliyahu receives a command from Hashem not to fear these men but to accompany them to the bedside of their master. In the presence of Ahazya, Eliyahu once again announces the Divine decree that the king will die for having cast aside the God of Israel and gone in search of guidance from foreign deities. Ahazya indeed perishes and, since he had no sons, his brother, Yehoram, reigns in his stead.

There are a couple of key points worth highlighting in this chapter. Ahazya has certainly departed even more from the fold of Israel than his father did. While Ahav participated in idol worship and endorsed it, at a fundamental level he acknowledged Hashem and valued his Jewish identity. Ahazya has abandoned that identification and awareness entirely, as evidenced by his dispatch of messengers to Eqron to inquire about his fate. This loss of any regard for the God of Israel cost Ahazya his kingdom.

Eliyahu Hanavi’s interactions with the messengers who approach him are quite instructive. On the surface, his reaction of incinerating them with heavenly fire seems excessive. However, when we consider the interactions more deeply, we can understand Eliyahu’s motives more clearly. There is a “contest” here between the word of Hashem as declared by Eliyahu, His messenger, and the “word of the king” as declared by his messengers.

Ahazya’s attempt to seize and execute Eliyahu was prompted by his desire to demonstrate that he could extinguish the Divine pronouncement by eliminating its spokesperson. The messengers intercepted by Eliyahu made the correct decision, forsaking their role as agents of the human king and embracing the mission of conveying Hashem’s word. The two groups of soldiers, by contrast, refer to Eliyahu as the “man of God” yet invoke the supreme authority of Ahazya, a mere human king who intends to thwart the Almighty’s designs. In fact, the second group is even more brazen in its language than the first (although they keep their distance, perhaps hoping to be “out of range” of Eliyahu’s miraculous firebombs), insisting that Eliyahu rush and conveying Ahazya’s demands in the language of prophecy – “so says the king” – as if setting him equal to God. This indicates that they have failed to take the implications of the first group’s demise to heart.
Although these officers and troops were just “following orders”, they were morally responsible for their behavior. In taking the “wrong side” in this dispute, they suffer the consequences of attempting to undermine God’s word, learning that Hashem’s will and his messenger cannot be overcome by human resistance, artifice or attack. Only the last delegation, which accepts the Divine authority of Eliyahu’s position and the inviolable nature of God’s word, is spared – they had the wisdom and humility to appreciate that human might was powerless against Hashem, and that all they could do was serve as agents to support Eliyahu and enable him to proclaim his message to the king.

Sefer Melakhim Alef Chapter 22 – Conclusion!

The Audio Recording

The Summary

Melakhim Alef Chapter 22

After three years of peace with Aram, tensions arise as Aram occupies Ramot Gilead, territory that belongs to the Kingdom of Israel. Ahav reaches out to Yehoshaphat, King of Judah, with whom he has a strong alliance, and requests his support in fighting Aram and reestablishing his dominion over Ramot Gilead. Yehoshaphat expresses solidarity with Ahav but requests that before they proceed, they seek the word of Hashem regarding their course of action.

Ahav gathers his four hundred “government employed” prophets who all declare in the name of Hashem that the Jewish forces will prevail in the war. Among them is the memorable Tzidqiya ben Kenaanah, who fashions horns of iron, places them on his head and announces that “with this shall you gore Aram!” Yehoshafat perceives that these alleged prophets are not genuine, and presses Ahav to consult with a bona fide prophet of Hashem. Ahav is loath to do so, because the only available prophet of Hashem is Mikhayhu ben Yimlah, and he has a reputation for delivering pessimistic and negative messages to the king.

Nonetheless, Mikhayhu is summoned to the court of Ahav, informed that all of the prophets thus far have given positive predictions, and is asked for the word of Hashem. He replies that he will only convey the message that Hashem has instructed him to preach. At first, he mocks the request and simply mimics the declaration of the false prophets. Ahav chastises Mikhayhu and demands that he report the word of Hashem fully and truthfully. Mikhayhu states that Hashem has decreed that Ahav will be seduced by the empty assurances of his false prophets and will fall in battle at Ramot Gilead, leaving his kingdom without a leader.

Tzidqiya ben Kenaana slaps Mikhayhu in the face and berates him for lying in the name of Hashem; Mikhayhu responds that Tzidqiya will, indeed, learn the truth of the matter when he must run and hide from the imminent devastation. Ahav orders that Mikhayhu be placed in jail and fed meager rations until the day that he returns from the battle in peace. Mikhayhu replies that if Ahav does, in fact, return in peace, then he should rightly be considered a false prophet.

Ahav and Yehoshafat head to the battle. Ahav disguises himself so that he will not be a target of the Aramean forces. The army of Aram has been given strict instructions to focus on assassinating the king of Israel and not be distracted by the other troops. At one point, they pursue Yehoshafat, believing him to be the man that they seek; however, when they realize he is not Ahav, they leave him alone.

An archer of Aram shoots a random arrow that happens to hit Ahav in one of the cracks of his armor, wounding him severely. He is carried away from the battlefield in his chariot and dies. The rest of the men of Israel escape the war and return home. Ahav’s chariot is cleansed of his blood by the pool of Shomron, a place where dogs drink and harlots bathe, in fulfillment of the prophetic vision that his blood would suffer this demeaning fate.

The chapter then provides a brief biography of Yehoshaphat, son of Asa, king of Yehuda. Yehoshaphat was a righteous king who adhered to the Torah and continued his father’s efforts to rid the land of the practitioners of immorality. However he, like his father, did not dismantle the Bamot, or personal altars, that proliferated in Israel during the time of Rehavam and diluted the centrality and exclusivity of the Bet Hamiqdash. At one point, Yehoshafat had commissioned a fleet of ships to bring gold from Ophir, something reminiscent of the opulent days of Shelomo. However, the ships were damaged and the project was abandoned.

Although Yehoshaphat made peace and cooperated with the Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Ahav, this relationship seems to have weakened or fallen by the wayside during the rule of Ahav’s son, Ahazya. Ahazya, like his father and mother, did not follow the ways of Hashem and served the Baal. The description of his brief and tragic reign will be the first topic addressed in Sefer Melakhim Bet.

One intriguing point in this chapter is that Yehoshaphat can readily distinguish between “real” and “fake” prophets of Hashem. How did he know that the men encouraging them to battle Aram were not authentic representatives of the Almighty? Apparently, this reveals to us one of the fundamental differences between pagan prophets in the ancient world and prophets of Israel.

The “prophecies” of pagan prophets were like blessings they conferred upon the king; they would endorse, promote, and encourage the leader on the course of action he had already decided to take. The job of such a professional prophet was to give the impression that there was some kind of spiritual backing to a king’s initiatives that gave them larger-than-life significance and would therefore win the commitment and support of the populace and the troops.

Prophets of Israel, by contrast, primarily serve an instructive and educational purpose. At times, they convey Divine approval of choices made by the king, but at other times – especially when the very essence of a particular king’s agenda runs counter to the will of Hashem – the job of the true prophet is to oppose, criticize and redirect a misguided ruler for the benefit of the nation. Yehoshaphat could immediately perceive – and so could Ahav, who does not protest – that the so-called prophets initially gathered by Ahav were merely his “cheerleading squad” who were expected to engage in dramatic and theatrical behavior and to repeat slogans and mantras in support of the king’s decisions.

In today’s terms, we might compare their function to that of the media outlets that are decidedly biased and engage in propaganda and spin on behalf of the cause, political party or movement to which they are dedicated. They are not critical thinkers or meaningful sources of objective insight; they are helping to drum up popular support for one or another agenda.

Despite his awareness of this fact, Ahav disregards the prophecy of Mikhayhu and trusts the false claims of his “yes men”. We must bear in mind that this is an unusual move for Ahav; in the past, he has been generally receptive to the word of Hashem as conveyed by true prophets, even though he has had adversarial relationships with them on a personal and political level. However, as Mikhayhu’s vision revealed, this “seduction” of Ahav by the false prophets was part of his punishment from Hashem; it was out of character but, like Pharaoh whose heart was hardened in the story of the Exodus, Ahav had exhausted his chances to repent and Hashem took away his clarity of judgment and discernment so that he would inevitably meet his final downfall.

One remarkable feature of this chapter is that Ahav is not once mentioned by name – he is referred to simply as “the King of Israel” throughout, with the exception of the verse describing his death. The reason for the omission of his name is a mystery. It is possible that this is the text’s way of showing disdain for Ahav, effacing his name and referring to him only by his title. On the other hand, it is possible to interpret this anomaly as a veiled praise of Ahav.

As we saw in the previous chapter, Ahav took pride in his accomplishments and all that he had achieved for the sake of his nation. He was more troubled by the prediction that the legacy he had established as a successful leader in Israel would be destroyed than he was by the prospect of his own disgrace and demise. In the merit of his demonstration of humility before God, Ahav was spared the pain of having to witness the obliteration of his dynasty.

Perhaps it was in the same spirit of “accepting the repentance” of Ahav that the prophetic author adorns him here with the name “King of Israel”, a title and an office that he showed meant more to him than life itself. The “King of Israel”, as it were, ignored the danger that battle posed to him personally, put himself at risk to defend the territory of his people, and died a tragic but manifestly patriotic and heroic death. However, when all is said and done, he is simply Ahav – a Jew with tremendous leadership potential who failed to live up to the expectations Hashem had of him.

Melakhim Alef Chapter 21

The Recording

The Summary

Melakhim Alef Chapter 21
Navot of Jezreel owns a vineyard that is located adjacent to Ahav’s palace. Ahav attempts to persuade Navot to give him the vineyard in exchange for a superior one; alternatively, he offers to pay him a handsome sum of money for it. Navot refuses on religious and traditional grounds, wishing to preserve the ancestral heritage of his family.

Ahav returns home depressed and forlorn, lying in bed and refusing to eat. When Izevel asks him what is troubling him, Ahav explains that he desires the vineyard of Navot but that Navot rejected his offer to purchase it. Izevel encourages Ahav to hold his head high and promises that she will make sure that he receives the vineyard.

In collaboration with the elders of Jezreel, Izevel orchestrates a plot to have Navot killed. Corresponding with them in the name of Ahav, she orders the elders to declare a fast day and to have two unscrupulous men stand up before the entire congregation and accuse Navot of cursing Hashem and the king. The plan is implemented and Navot is carried out of the city and stoned to death.

As soon as Izevel receives word that Navot has been executed, she informs Ahav that Navot is dead and urges him to arise and take possession of the vineyard for which he had been pining. Ahav arrives at the vineyard and is met there by Eliyahu, whom Hashem has sent to confront the king with the famous phrase “have you murdered and also inherited?”

Ahav is at first rudely dismissive of the rebuke delivered by Eliyahu, which includes a prediction that the king will die and dogs will lap up his blood. Eliyahu then pronounces a condemnation of the entire house of Ahav which, like the royal lines of Yarovam and Baasha, will utterly perish, leaving no survivors.

Ahav is genuinely moved and responds by tearing his garments, wrapping himself in sackcloth and fasting. Hashem informs Eliyahu that in the merit of Ahav’s humbling himself before God, the destruction of his household will be postponed until the next generation and will not occur during his lifetime.

The impression of Ahav that we gather from this story is quite complex. On one hand, Ahav himself seeks to obtain the vineyard of Navot through legal and amicable methods. Although he is devastated by the rejection of his offer of purchase, he accepts the rejection as final and respects it. The language used to describe Ahav’s reaction to the bad news is the same language used in the previous chapter to describe his acceptance of the prophetic message delivered in the wake of his release of Ben-Haddad; in other words, he acknowledged the right of Navot to tell him “no”.

(Interestingly, even Izevel seems to feel beholden to the rule of law, arranging for Navot to be executed “legally” rather than simply murdered; apparently, outward gestures of fealty to the law were expected of royalty in Israel.)

Ahav does not attempt to acquire the vineyard by force, nor does he conspire with Izevel in her plot against its owner. The text indicates that he had no knowledge of the process by which Izevel managed to arrange Navot’s demise.

At the same time, Ahav seems to have blinders on and to remain intentionally oblivious to the actions of his nefarious wife. Even if he could not have imagined the immoral lengths to which Izevel would go to secure ownership of the field for her husband, he seems a bit too blissfully ignorant of the plot unfolding around him. He never asks how Izevel could possibly promise him the vineyard, nor does inquire how Navot died or whether Izevel had a hand in his death. Certainly he must have realized that something not-so-kosher had transpired, yet he chose to stifle whatever lingering concerns may have tugged at his heart and to proceed with his acquisition of the vineyard. Ahav’s deliberate removal of himself from the situation enabled Izevel to commit treachery in his name and to take an innocent life.

I have not seen any commentaries remark upon the similarities between Eliyahu’s confrontation of Ahav here and Natan the Prophet’s confrontation of David after the sin of Batsheva; however, upon reflection, they seem clear. In both cases, a man was killed by presumably “legal” means in order to secure an “inheritance” desired by the king. In both cases, a leader who generally attempts to comport himself in accordance with the law and to serve his subjects loyally compromises his principles for personal gain. And in both cases, the consequences decreed upon the transgressor are severe.

Fascinatingly, this may be why the Midrash comments on a certain connection between King David and King Ahav – both were great leaders who were sincerely devoted to their citizens and who strove to make decisions and enact policies that were in the best interests of their people. Of course, the schemes of Ahav were based upon flawed ideas and distorted values, but his heart was genuinely set on the good of his kingdom even when his methods were misguided. In the words of the Rabbis, Ahav was an “Ohev Yisrael”, he loved Judaism and the Jewish people, and he cared deeply about the land of Israel and the future of the nation of Israel.

Nonetheless, Ahav sinned in the matter of Navot, putting his personal, petty concerns ahead of the sanctity of life and the principles of justice. Ahav stuck his head in the sand during the entire episode so that he could position himself to get what he wanted without having to carry a burden of guilt. But in recusing himself from the situation – just like David’s command to Yoav to send Uriah to the front lines and pull back a bit, allowing Uriah to be killed – Ahav seals the fate of Navot, ensuring that his death is all but inevitable. As HaRambam tells us, it was this act of bloodshed caused by Ahav that sealed his own fate – it was the sin that eclipsed all of his previous transgressions and brought the Divine wrath upon him once and for all.

Ahav’s bitter response to Eliyahu’s initial appearance gives way to contrite repentance. What happened here? Apparently, Ahav was unwilling to acknowledge his culpability for the death of Navot, and wished to assert his right to his newly acquired vineyard. When Eliyahu accused him of murder, he denied or brushed aside the charge. However, when Eliyahu places this act of evil in the context of Ahav’s whole history of deviation from the Torah, abandonment of Hashem and endorsement of idolatry, and then predicts the disintegration of the House of Ahav altogether, this is more than Ahav can handle.

The thought that his entire career was a waste, that all he had worked for and built up would go up in smoke, was devastating for Ahav. He thought of himself as a servant of the people who had restored political stability and economic growth to Israel. He had dedicated himself to the welfare of his citizens to the extent that he understood how. Being informed that his glorious dynasty was destined to become obsolete was not just a criticism of a particular sin or instance of immoral behavior – it meant that his whole existence and his life’s work had been for naught.

This instilled humility in Ahav and inspired him to fast and repent before the Almighty, at least temporarily. And because it was the total destruction of his royal line that was most fearsome to him, Hashem decided to spare Ahav the pain of having to witness it during his lifetime.

Placing this story in the chronology of Ahav’s life and career is difficult. Assuming that the text follows a linear progression would entail that this episode occurred toward the end of Ahav’s life. However, this is problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, what is Eliyahu doing in the story, and why would Hashem have sent him rather than another available prophet? Eliyahu, after all, has already retired from public life and begun training his disciple, Elisha, to assume his prophetic role. Plus, in the kingdom of Israel, Eliyahu has been declared by Izevel a “wanted man”.

Second, in the previous chapter, Ahav seemed to have been on a positive trajectory from a religious standpoint, liberated from the influences of Izevel; here, in our chapter, she is once again at the forefront of his political and personal life.

Of course, we can still accept the timeline of the text and simply explain that Eliyahu returned to the scene for some reason or other, and that Ahav had a setback or two in the meantime. However, it is also possible to suggest that this narrative took place earlier in the reign of Ahav, perhaps even prior to the drought declared by Eliyahu. It may have been included here for one of two, or both of the following reasons.

One is in order to juxtapose the prophecy of Ahav’s downfall with the fulfillment of that prophecy in the following chapter. The other is to juxtapose Ahav’s failure as a king in his handling of the situation with Navot with the description in the previous chapter of his mishandling of the situation with Ben-Haddad. In that story, Ahav begins at a relatively high point, seeking Hashem’s wisdom and attempting to follow his will, and only falters at the end when selfish concerns interfere with his better judgment. Here too, Ahav starts out a fair, just and principled king who is unwilling to encroach upon the legitimate rights of Navot, but he winds up succumbing to his greed and allowing Izevel to commit terrible crimes in his name for the sake of satisfying his avarice.