Background

This week?s Haftorah is from the Book of Kings 2, Chapter 4, verses 1-37.



Summary:

The widow of a prophet (whom the Sages identify as the prophet Obadiah) approaches the prophet Elisha pleading for assistance to pay her debt, lest the debtor take away her children. Elisha performs a miracle and causes the small amount of oil in the widow?s possession to fill many pitchers, thereby enabling her to sell the oil, pay off her debt and still have plenty of funds left over from which to support herself and her family.



Elisha then travels to a place called Shunam, where he lodges in the home of a woman known for being hospitable to strangers. Sensing that Elisha was a holy man, the woman and her husband build a loft in their home that they put at Elisha?s disposal whenever he finds himself traveling in the area. Wishing to repay the woman?s kindness, Elisha promises the woman that she and her husband will have a child in a year?s time. The woman does give birth as Elisha promised, but the child dies at a very young age. The Shunamite woman travels to tell Elisha what has happened. After Elisha?s assistant Gehazi tries but fails to revive the boy, Elisha goes and succeeds in bringing him back to life (the Sages say the child was Habakuk, who grew up to become a prophet).



Connection Between the Haftorah and the Parsha:

In the Parsha, Abraham and Sarah are both old and without children, just as the Shunamite woman and her husband are in the Haftorah. In both instances, G-d performed a miracle and granted them a son.



The Basis for a Miracle



When the widow of the prophet approaches Elisha for help in paying her debts, Elisha asks her what she has in her possession. The Haftorah says, ?And Elisha said to her, ?What can I do for you? Tell me what you have in the house?? (Chap. 4, verse 2).? The widow replied that all she had was a small jug of oil.



The Question:

If Elisha was going to perform the miracle anyway, why was it necessary for him to ask the widow what she had in the house? What did it matter?



The Answer:

The Metsudat David says that Elisha asked the widow what she had in the house because he wanted to know what the blessing he was about to give would rest upon. For a blessing to be effective, it must apply to something that already exists. According to the Zohar, the widow had a tiny amount of oil that was just enough to anoint a little finger. Despite the miniscule quantity, it was nevertheless sufficient for the miracle to take effect.



The Lesson:

Miracles don?t occur in a vacuum. As human beings, it is our task to supply the basis, as it were, for G-d to perform miracles on our behalf. Israel?s victories on the battlefield, whether in the 1948 War of Independence, when the nascent Jewish state fended off 5 invading Arab armies, or the stunning triumph of the 1967 Six-Day War, exemplify this theological theorem. Israel went into battle outmanned and outgunned, but it did so with faith and conviction that G-d would enable us to overcome our enemies. For the miracles to happen, it was still necessary for Israel to go out and fight. They could not sit back and hope that the miracle would do their work for them. Rather, by investing effort, they provided G-d with the basis upon which to confer His blessing, just as in the Haftorah, it was necessary for the widow to provide the oil that served as the starting point for the miracle. The same applies to Israel?s situation today. We can not passively expect G-d to do our fighting for us. Israel must actively defend itself and crush Palestinian terror, at the same time praying for G-d to bless us with success. We need to provide the foundation and, if we do, He will surely crown our efforts with victory.



The Key to Reviving the Dead



When the Shunamite woman tells Elisha that her son is dead, Elisha gives his staff to his aide Gehazi and sends him to attempt to revive the child, but Gehazi fails in his efforts. Elisha then went to the room where the child lay, closed the door and prayed to G-d. The Haftorah then says, ?And he went up and lay on the child, and placed his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his palms on his palms, and he prostrated himself upon him, and the child?s flesh became warm (Chap. 4, verse 34).?



The Question:

Why did Elisha lie down on the child and put his mouth on the child?s mouth to revive him?



The Answer:

The Metzudat David says that by doing so, it was as if Elisha was imparting the life force in his limbs into those of the child. Rabbi Yisrael Dov Lerner (in his book Haftorah and Gemara), offers a beautiful interpretation, saying that the entire incident is meant to teach us that to infuse the younger generation with life and vitality, it is not enough to use the staff (representing materialism), but rather it is also necessary to do as Elisha did ? namely, to ignite their spirit, with Elisha?s use of the mouth representing the oral transmission of Torah knowledge from teacher to student. Elisha?s placing of his eyes on those of the child, says Rabbi Lerner, symbolizes showing the young the illuminating light of the Torah, while the prophet?s placement of his palms on those of the child signifies that we must inspire our children to lend a hand in strengthening the State of Israel.



The Lesson:

After the Nazi Holocaust, the Jewish people arose from the dead like the child of the Shunamite woman, infused with a new spirit and a new determination to survive. What brought them back to life was both the physical establishment of the State of Israel and the spiritual rebuilding of Jewish life, much of which had been decimated by the Nazis. These two pillars of Jewish existence are what have enabled our people to endure. Unfortunately, many of Israel?s youth have grown increasingly alienated from their religious and cultural heritage, while some are tempted to seek greener pastures abroad.



Just as the Shunamite mother in the Haftorah did not give up on her child, so too we as a people dare not write off an entire generation of young Israelis. Rather, we must do everything we can to reinvigorate them and instill them with a spirit of patriotism, pride and piety. A higher standard of living and greater material goods ? like the staff of Elisha ? will not be enough to revive the nation, especially during these difficult times, when Israel is under attack. The only way to ensure victory is to restore the nation?s spirit and to inculcate the values that have kept us alive throughout the centuries. By renewing our commitment to Jewish history and Jewish destiny, we can guarantee that our people will rise up from the deathbed, like the Shunamite woman?s son, and take our rightful place on the world stage.