Tomorrow’s haftarah is a rare treat. The intricacies of the Jewish calendar dictate that by now, we’re reading from Jeremiah. The reading cycle often skips the story of Elijah and his revelation of God.
Now, a question: did you ever wonder why at every brit milah we set aside a chair for Elijah? Are we waiting for an honored guest? That’s certainly a fair description of the great prophet…
But there’s another, darker reason. We’ll see from the following Scripture that Elijah actually makes God angry.
From I Kings 19:
9. And he came there to a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, What are you doing here, Elijah?
10. And he said, I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword; and I am the only one left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
11. And he said, Go out, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake;
12. And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
13. And it was so, when Elijah heard it that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice to him, and said, What are you doing here, Elijah?
14. And he said, I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword; and I am the only one left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
From these verses, what statements aroused God’s ire?
Here’s the good news – Elijah was passionate for Hashem.
The bad news – Elijah was passionate for Hashem.
Elijah’s zeal … for what HE saw as right … blinded him to Israel’s strengths. He could only see what was wrong.
God’s revelation was not a reward!
Yes, of course prophets reprimand the people when they see wrongdoing. They want the people to turn back toward God!
The prophets act out of both love for God – and love for the people.
Elijah acted out of love for God only – not out of love for the people, as we look again at verse 14:
And he said, I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword; and I am the only one left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
This is a warning for all of us – for none of us have attained Elijah’s greatness.
If even a prophet could be blinded to the goodness of the people, so can we!
How many times do we hear a rumor and assume that we’re hearing the TRUTH?
Elijah fell into the trap of believing his own preconceived ideas. He decided the people were unworthy. Elijah let his anger blind him.
Unfortunately, that’s how most of us see. We don’t see issues in their entirety. We see what we expect to see. If we’re already angry at someone or something – everything we “see” will reinforce that anger.
That’s what happened to the prophet Elijah. In his case, he could at least claim that love and passion for Hashem blinded him.
Most of us, can’t make that excuse. Our anger is RARELY born of love of God.
Because of his anger and condemnation of the people, Elijah ended his prophetic career. He literally passed the mantle to Elisha.
But I don’t want to leave you thinking that Elijah was always angry and condemning. When we first see him, it is in the context of two miracles born of love.
He meets a destitute widow and her son during a famine. His first miracle is to provide an unending supply of food.
Despite their newfound plenty, the son became ill and died. Elijah stretched himself out over the boy three times and prayed: “Oh Hashem, my God, let this child’s life return to his body.”
The child came back to life.
Where others saw death and despair, Elijah saw life and hope. And through God, he brought that hope to life – literally…
Later, Elijah became disillusioned and forgot that he needed to love the people as much as he loved Hashem.
He lost the gift of prophecy.
WE must learn from this – we must remember – always – even when we see problems – sin – or evil – we must not lose sight of goodness.
We may even find out that our first conclusions are wrong!
That’s what happened to Elijah.
As you probably know, he never really died. God took him to heaven in a chariot of fire.
Legends abound. He roams the earth in disguise and helps those in need.
And he attends every single brit milah. However, the reason has to do with his anger. Have you guessed?
Elijah the Prophet angered – seriously angered -- Hashem by saying that the people stopped keeping the covenant.
Therefore, Elijah eternally bears witness to the fact that yes, we DO keep the covenant. That’s why he attends every bris. It’s God’s way of saying: Elijah, you were wrong then, and I hope you see that the Jews have always – will always – keep My covenant.
I like to think that Elijah derives a great deal of pleasure from knowing he was wrong to be angry – wrong to think the worst of his own people.
Our tradition is clear, Elijah’s condemnation was just plain wrong. Let us be careful to avoid the same trap … We won’t have the same opportunity to roam the earth after we die and visit and help Jews.
We must remember to see the good in each other – and IN OURSELVES – during our lifetimes…
If we do that, we are truly and clearly hearing the word of God.