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Vayera 5767

By: Shprintzee Rappaport

The Haftorah for Parshat Vayeira is from Sefer M'Lachim (Kings II,

chap. 4). The Haftorah relays two miracles performed by the navee Elisha,

(the successor of Eliyahu). The first miracle involves a woman about whom

we are told (4:1): "One woman,

among the wives of the prophets came crying to Elisha saying 'My husband

died and you know that he feared G-d and the creditor has come to take my

two children as slaves'". The Rabbis say that this woman's late-husband was

the navee Ovadiah who saved one hundred prophets from Queen Eezevel

when she was on a rampage to kill all Jewish prophets. Ovadiah

hid these prophets in caves and supported them with food, water and oil for

light. Due to the many loans Ovadiah had to take in order to support the

prophets, his wife and two children were left in dire poverty after he died.

Now, the creditor had come and since there was no money to repay the debt,

the creditor was about to take her two children as payment. When Elisha

hears this he asks the woman what she has in her house and she says that she

has nothing except a small jar of oil. Elisha tells her (4:3-4): "Go borrow

empty vessels from your neighbors, do not hold back in number. Then go

inside your house, close the door with you and your children inside, and

pour the oil into the vessels and fill them." The woman does this and

miraculously the little jar of oil fills all the

vessels that she borrowed. Elisha then instructs her to sell the oil for

money so that she can pay back her debts. The woman does so and with that,

the story ends.

The second miracle relayed in the Haftorah involves a woman who lives in the

city of Shunam. One day when Elisha is passing through, the woman invites

him in for a meal and tells him that from then on she will extend

hospitality to him whenever he passes through her city. She even makes a

room for him in her home because she tells her husband (4:9): "Behold I

perceive that this is a holy man of G-d who passes through constantly."

This goes on for some time until one day, Elisha calls the woman to him and

asks her what she would like in return for the hospitality she extended to

him. The woman insists that she wants nothing but Elisha's servant, Gehazi,

informs Elisha that the woman has no children. Elisha tells the woman

(4:16): "This time next year you will embrace a son". Surprisingly, the

woman's response to this good news is (ibid.): "No sir, man of G-d, please

do not deceive your maidservant". Exactly a year later, the woman gives

birth to a son. Time goes by and one

day, the son is working with his father in the field and suddenly, falls

ill. His father tells him to go home to his mother who takes him into her

arms. While being cradled in her arms, the boy dies. The woman places the

boy's body on Elisha's bed and leaves her house. She travels to Elisha's

home, falls at his feet, and exclaims (4:28):"Did I ask my master for a

son?! Didn't I say 'Do not deceive me'?!" Elisha gives his stick to Gehazi

and tells him to go to the house and resuscitate the boy. Gehazi goes but

the woman tells Elisha that she will not go back home unless he comes as

well. So Elisha follows the woman to her home. When they arrive, Gehazi

informs Elisha that he was unable to resuscitate the boy. We are then told

(4:32-35): "Elisha went into the house and behold, the boy was lying on his

bed, dead. Elisha shut himself up in the room with the boy and prayed to

Hashem. Elisha went up onto the bed and lay on the boy and put his mouth on

the boy's mouth, his eyes on his eyes, his hands on his hands and the boy's

skin began to warm. Elisha returned, stretched himself on the boy again and

the boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes." Afterwards, Elisha has

Gehazi call the woman into the room so that she can retrieve her son. When

the woman comes in and sees that her son is alive her response is (4:37):

"She fell at his feet and bowed to the ground and she took her son and went

out".

There is a debate among the Rabbis as to who this boy grew up to be. Most

say that he was the prophet Chavakuk (oneof the Tray Asar--twelve last

prophets) but there is one opinion that says he was the prophet Yonah (whose

story we read on Yom Kippur). But the bigger question is: How do these two

episodes connect to Parshat Vayeira?

This question seems easily answered with regard to the second episode of the

Haftorah, involving the woman who finally gives birth to a son, who then has

a close encounter with death. That perfectly mirrors the episode in Parshat

Vayeira where Sarah, after many years of being barren, has a son (Yitzchak)

who also nearly dies as a result of the "Akeidah". But then what

about the first episode in the Haftorah? How does that one connect to the

parsha? And if the first miracle has its own connection to the parsha, why

is it read together with the second miracle in the Haftorah?

There is one theme that can connect all three episodes. That theme is

"Hachnasat Orchim--extending hospitality". At first glance, the connection

seems a bit problematic because in Parshat Vayeira, the man of the house

(Avraham) extends hospitality, while in the second episode of the Haftorah

it is the woman of the house who performs this Mitzvah. But even more

problematic is the fact that the first episode of the Haftorah seems to have

no connection to Hachnasat Orchim at all.

The Rabbis note that the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim is very important. As

proof, they cite examples in the Torah where Hachnasat Orchim led to a woman

having a child. For example, we are told that the reason why Avraham and

Sarah merited to have a child was because they extended hospitality to their

guests in Parshat Vayeira (chap. 18). Another example given by the Rabbis

is the Shunamite woman from our Haftorah, who extended hospitality to Elisha

and then had a child. The Rabbis say that Hachnasat Orchim can even result

in meriting "T'chiyat HaMaytim--resurrection of the dead", because giving

food, drink, and a place to rest to a weary traveler can restore his

strength, thus "resurrecting" him. As a result of "resurrecting" his guest,

the host is rewarded "Midah K'negged Midah--measure for measure" by being

resurrected at the end of days. Sarah is once again an example of this.

According to R. Ovadiah Seforno, the reason why Sarah laughs in Parshat

Vayeira when she hears the news that she will have a child, is because in

addition to being barren, Sarah did not even have a womb. Therefore, Sarah

thought that her having a child would require a miracle comparable to

T'chiyat HaMaytim, because she would have to be "resurrected" as a woman by

receiving a womb. Essentially, Sarah experienced a form of T'chiyat

HaMaytim in order to have Yitzchak. Other examples of this include the

Shunamite woman in the Haftorah whose son was brought back to life, as well

as an episode in the Book of Kings I (chap 17) where a woman who extended

hospitality to Eliyahu, also had a son who was brought back to life. In

fact, according to the Midrash Tanchumah, Hashem was about to destroy

Ovadiah's generation because the people were extremely corrupt. But the

Midrash says that in the merit of the hospitality that was extended to the

prophets hidden by Ovadiah, the generation was "resurrected" by not being

destroyed.

The Gemarra (Tractate Yoma 86) says "A person's Bayit (house) is one's

wife". As a result, we see that the woman is often referred to as the

"house". For example, the Torah refers to the women of the population as

"Beit Yaakov--the House of Jacob". This reason for this is because the

woman is ultimately in charge of maintaining the house and is responsible

for the activities that go on in it. This is especially true with regard to

Hachnasat Orchim, as the woman is often the one who determines whether or

not the home will be open for visitors. Even today, most husbands will

"confirm" with their wives that it is okay to invite guests into their home.

Thus, Avraham's ability to extend hospitality to his guests was really a

result of the fact that his wife Sarah helped him. This is obvious from the

episode itself, as when the guests agree to accept Avraham's hospitality,

his first reaction is to run to Sarah and say (18:6): "Quickly, get three

measures of flour and knead it for cakes."

The woman in the first episode of the Haftarah is referred to as "One

woman." As to why she is given that designation, R. Yitzchak Abarbenel

quotes the Midrash which says that when Hashem was deciding

to create Chava (Eve) He hesitated because He saw that from her would come

the women of the generation of the Flood, who were very corrupt. Then

Hashem looked further into the future and saw that the righteous Matriarchs

would come from her. But then Hashem took another look and saw that from

Chava would come Queen Eezevel (Jezebel) who worshipped idols and killed

many Jewish prophets. Hashem looked once more and saw that from Chava would

come the wife of Ovadiah, who would support those prophets with food and

water. As a result, Hashem said "I am creating Chava who is designated as

'one woman' only in the merit of the wife of Ovadiah, who will also be known

as 'one woman'". Thus, despite the fact that it seems as if only Ovadiah

performed Hachnasat Orchim to save those prophets, it is now clear that his

wife was very involved in the Mitzvah as well.

When introducing the woman in the second story, the Haftarah says (4:8):

"There (in Shunam) was a great woman". According to the Zohar, this woman

was described as a "great woman" because

she was happy to take guests into her home. As can be clearly seen from the

story, it was she, more than her husband, who initiated extending

hospitality to Elisha.

The Hebrew word "Bayit" begins with the letter "Bet", which is open on one

side. The Rabbis say that this teaches us that our home should always be

open to guests. In the Torah, "Bayit" usually refers to the ultimate Jewish

home--i.e. the Temple. A home is a place where a person feels he belongs

and where he defines himself emotionally and spiritually. The place that

every Jewish soul calls "home" is the Temple.

Hashem should grant that in the merit of our opening our homes to guests, He

will, Midah K'negged Midah, open His home (the Temple) to us, as His guests,

very soon.

Shabbat Shalom,

Shprintzee

 

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