God teaches Eliyahu HaNavi a lesson

This Shabbat in Israel we will read the Haftara about Eliyahu HaNavi from Melachim Alef (Kings I) 18:46-19:21. This Haftara will not be read outside of Israel this year, as next Shabbat when Parshat Pinchas will be read outside of Israel, we will be observing the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av and the prophecies of destruction will be read.

In our Haftara, God shows Eliyahu a vision which according to Ralbag is meant to rebuke Eliyahu for having criticized Israel in harsh terms saying that they deserved to be punished. God’s vision will show Eliyahu that instead of wishing to punish the people, He is showing them patience and compassion, giving them time to repent. From this vision, Eliyahu should learn that his role should be to pray for them, not attack them.

The vision is found in Melachim Alef 19:11-12 “The word of God said, ‘Go out of the cave and stand on the mountain before God.’ And behold, God was passing and a great and powerful wind, smashing mountains and breaking rocks went before God. ‘God is not in the wind!’ Eliyahu was told. After the wind came an earthquake. ‘God is not in the earthquake’. After the earthquake came a fire. ‘God is not in the fire’. After the fire came a still, thin voice.”

The lesson that Eliyahu learns is found in sentences 13-14 “It happened when Eliyahu heard this, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood by the cave’s entrance; and behold, a voice spoke unto him and said ‘Why are you here Eliyahu?’ He said ‘I have acted with great zeal for God, the God of Legions, for the Children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant; they have razed Your alters and have killed your prophets by the sword so that I alone have remained and they now seek to take my life.”

According to Ralbag, God showed Eliyahu three destructive forces through which he could have punished Israel, as the prophet thought he should. But each time, God told him that his desire was neither in the wind, the earthquake nor the fire for he did not wish to destroy Israel despite the severity of their misdeeds.

According to Malbim, God meant to teach Eliyahu and other prophets and leaders that the preferable way to teach people is calmly and lovingly, not through anger and force as Eliyahu had done by bringing the drought and killing the prophets of Baal.

At this point a new prophet is chosen to replace Eliyahu. According to Rashi, since Eliyahu still wanted to punish Israel, even after this vision, God did not want him to continue as a prophet.

We can learn from this story that our leaders and rabbis should not give fire and brimstone speeches to try to convince the nation to follow the Torah. Rather, they should teach with loving kindness and serve as role models that the nation will want to emulate. If they are unable to lead in the manner prescribed by God, then they would be better off leaving their positions of leadership.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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