Elijah and Elisha were Israel’s miracle working prophets. They saved poor widows miraculously from the clutches of poverty and when needed even resurrected the dead. The second episode in this week’s haftarah is an example of the latter. A wealthy woman who is childless, generously hosted Elisha whenever he comes to the town of Shunem, offering him bread to eat and a place to stay. He, in turn, prophesied that she would give birth to a child, an event which ultimately comes to pass. The child grew up and, one day while in the field, he clutched his head and died. The dead child was brought to his home and placed on his bed while the Shunamite woman summoned Elisha the prophet. Elisha came and miraculously restored the child to life. Fantastic stories like this one put both Elijah and Elisha into a category all their own.
In the following rabbinic discussion, a father and son debate the moral significance of this story: “Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai came forward and took as his text: ‘One day, Elisha visited Shunem. A wealthy woman lived there and urged him to have a meal’ (2 Kings 4:8) Rabbi Yehudah the son of Rabbi Shimon asked him: ‘Is it really true that because “she urged him to have a meal”, she merited that her son be brought back to life?’ Rabbi Yudan said in the name of Rabbi Zeira and Rabbi Yohanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai: ‘Great is the merit of those who maintain the needy, for their acts cause the resurrection of the dead to occur before its appointed time. (adapted from Shir Hashirim Rabbah 2:5:3)
Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai seemingly believed that in life there is a theological quid pro quo. In other words, you do not get something for nothing. The miraculous healing of the Shunamite woman’s son was brought about because she also performed her own little “miracle”, namely, she fed those who were needy, which in a poetic sense might also be considered a kind of tehiyat hametim – the resurrection of the dead.
We obviously do not view the events in our lives in a mechanical way. Doing A will not always produce B as a result. However, this does not preclude taking seriously the idea that even human actions do have consequences both positive and negative. This idea often gets lost in the rush of human life when we act without appreciating what our actions might cause. If we were really to take this idea into account, though, our lives and the lives of those around us would be much better and we, too, might be capable of making miracles happen as well.