Haftorah: Chesed and Its Reward in the Miracles of Elisha
הרב אברהם ריבלין, המשגיח הרוחני לשעבר
The obvious connection between this week's Parsha and its Haftorah is the image of the barren women who miraculously bore sons. The connection is not only through the fact that the women were remembered by G-d and conceived, but in other details, as well:
Both were promised in a similar language. The angel tells Avraham, "I will surely return to you at this time next year, and behold Sarah your wife will have a son" (Bereishit 18:10), and prophet Elisha tells the Shunamite woman, "At this time next year you will be embracing a son" (Melachim II 4:16). The Zohar, though, notes that the first promise was made to the father -- Avraham, whereas the second was made to the mother -- the Shunamite, "Let us give to her and not to her husband." (Zohar vol. II 44b)
The two women did not believe that the miracle would occur. It says about Sarah, "Sarah laughed at herself, saying, 'After I have withered shall I have again delicate skin?'" (18:12), and the Shunamite says to Elisha, "Do not disappoint your maidservant." (4:16)
Both women almost lost their sons. Sarah almost lost Yitzchak in the Akeidah, and the Shunamite's son died and was revived by Elisha.
Both were great and wealthy women married to great men. (The Shunamite was the wife of the prophet, Ido. Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer 33) However, there is an additional, subtle, connection between the parsha and the Haftorah -- the idea of chesed. Our parsha is that of the great chesed of Avraham, the man of chesed ("Give chesed to Avraham"). This is expressed in the beginning of the parsha, in the story of Avraham's supreme hospitality with the angels, and in the continuation of the parsha, in Avraham's prayer on behalf of Sodom. But whereas the parsha is explicit about the chesed in the simple meaning of the psukim, in the Haftorah the acts of chesed and their reward are found the Midrashim of Chazal. In each of the two parts of the Haftorah, the miracle of the jar of oil and the resuscitation of the boy, we will note both the reward of doing chesed and the punishment of withholding it, as found in the Midrashim.
1) The miracle of the oil was done to "One woman from among the wives of the prophets' disciples" (4:1) whose husband died, and she was left with no source of sustenance. The dead husband was the prophet Ovadia (cf. Targum, Rashi and Radak), who sustained one hundred prophets with bread and water during the years of drought in the time of Achav. This supreme act of chesed was done against the command of the king. By highlighting the fact that the husband of the woman was among the "prophets' disciples," the Tanach seems to hint that the miracle of the oil was done in the merit of Ovadia's fear of G-d, and in the merit of the extraordinary act of chesed that he did.
2) In contrast to Ovadia, the creditor symbolizes people who act in the opposite manner. His cruelty is expressed in the words of the woman, "The creditor has come to take my two sons to be his slaves." (4:2) Chazal identify the creditor as Yehoram, son of Achav. It says about his death, "Yehu ... hit Yehoram between his arms; the arrow protruded from his heart." (9:24) Chazal comment: When the famine came, [Ovadia] borrowed on interest from Yehoram, son of Achav. Why "between his arms; the arrow protruded from his heart?" Since he hardened his heart and stretched out his arms to take interest. (Shemot Rabbah 31:4, Rashi and Radak)
3) Regarding the Shunamite woman we can see, as well, the clear connection between the chesed that she did with the prophet Elisha and the double chesed that was done with her through the birth of her son and his resuscitation. Chazal comment: "Anyone who opens his door to his friend -- he is obligated to honor him more that his father and mother ... Elisha should have gone to his father and mother and revived them just as he revived the son of his host! Rather, he showed complete dedication to his host." (Shemot Rabbah 4:2) So great is the reward of chesed and the obligation of gratitude that flows from it!
4) It says about Elisha in the Haftorah, "He is a holy man of G-d," and Chazal comment, "He is holy and his servant (Gehazi) is not holy." (Brachot 10b) Among the negative traits of Gehazi was that of stinginess, which is a result of lack of chesed. "Gehazi was a bold man of Torah, but he had three bad traits: He was stingy, immodest, and he didn't suscribe to the resurrection of the dead." (Yerushalmi Sanhedrim 10:2) His punishment, as known, is that the leprosy of Na'aman stuck to him and his descendents.
Thus, for good and for bad, the trait of chesed and withholding it, ties together the Haftorah from beginning to end and teaches us that "The world will be built through kindness." (Tehillim 89:3)
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