Haftarat Vayera: For or Against the King?


[Ashkenazim/Yemenite Jews: Melachim 2 4:1-37

Sefardim: Melachim 2 4:1-23]

 

It clear from one of the verses of our Haftarah that the prophet Elisha had an excellent relationship with Yehoram, King of Israel, even though the king was totally wicked.  It is told that the great woman of Shunam hurried to serve the prophet and to provide him with "a little upper room with a wall" in which she placed "a bed, table, chair and lamp" (Melachim 2 4:10).  Out of respect and gratitude, he asked her: "What is to be done for you?  Should I speak to the king or the commander of the army for you?" (13).  Here we see that the prophet had carte blanche to visit the Prime Minister and the Chief of the General Staff, since he suggested that he could act on the woman’s behalf before them.

 

At face value, this fact is extremely surprising because we know, to our distress, that King Yehoram was a cruel and corrupt man.  "And he (Yehoram) did evil in the eyes of Hashem…he held fast to the sins of Yerovam ben Nevat who caused Israel to sin.  He did not depart from them" (Melachim 2 3:2-3).  It is impossible to find a more damning comparison than to Yerovam.

 

We would expect that the great prophet, who was responsible for the spiritual purity of the Nation of Israel, would diametrically oppose the King, and not have positive relationship with him - even for the purpose of helping others.  We would expect Elisha to sever all contact with him and devote himself to the pure needs of the entire Nation.

 

But this is not so, and we should pay close attention to the prophet Elisha, a man  obedient to the national government, even though he was a great zealot following the example of his teacher, the prophet Eliyahu.  When Yehoram, King of Israel, went to war together with Yehoshafat, King of Yehudah, against a shared enemy, he turned to Elisha in a moment of despair.  Elisha showed no mercy or love toward the king, admonishing him instead: "What do I have to do with you?  Go to the prophets of your father and the prophet of your mother…If it were not for the presence of Yehoshafat, King of Yehudah, I would not look towards you nor see you" (ibid. 3 13:14), since Yehoshafat was a righteous king.  The prophet Elisha did not fear rebuking the king of Israel with great forcefulness.

 

Furthermore, the prophet knew that the king saw him as a dangerous enemy who should be killed – he had already sent an assassin from the secret police to eliminate him: "But Elisha sat in his house and the elders sat with him, and the king sent a man from before him; but before the messenger came to Elisha, he said to the elders: 'Do you see how this son of a murderer has sent someone to remove my head.  Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and push him at the door.  Is not the sound of his master's feet behind him?'" (ibid. 6:32).  Yehoram learned this tactic from his father, the corrupt King Achav, who sent special agents throughout all of Israel and the surrounding states in order to find the prophet Eliyahu and kill him.

 

Knowing all of this, how can we understand what united Elisha and Yehoram, who were so vastly different from one another?  The answer is simple: shared, infinite love for the Nation of Israel.  Even if the king of Israel was an evil man, he still remained the king of Israel, and carried the incredible responsibility of saving the Nation.  And while it is not the ideal situation, it is certainly preferable for the Nation to be ruled by the sinful government of Yehoram than to fall into the hand of the enemy and to suffer the decree of exile.

 

The prophet was therefore always ready to help the king for the benefit of the Nation of Israel, and the king, despite his ambivalence, could not refrain from expressing his gratitude to some extent.

 

When Yehoram was about to make a severe strategic error, the prophet Elisha warned him: "Beware that you not pass such a place, for Aram is hidden there" (ibid. verse 9). With this piece of advice Elisha saved the army of Israel, who went on to be victorious.  Elisha followed precisely the path of his teacher, Eliyahu, who did not hold back even the harshest rebuke when it was justified (Melachim 1 18:17-18), but also honored this same king of Israel when he displayed self-sacrifice to protect his Nation and the Land.  "And the hand of Hashem was upon Eliyahu, so he girded his loins and ran before Achav until the approach of Yizre’el" (ibid. verse 46).  Running from Mt. Carmel to Yizre'el valley!  Is it possible to display greater honor for the king?

 

Achav was internally conflicted.  On the one hand, he was influenced by his evil, non-Jewish wife, Izevel, daughter of the King of Sidon.  On the other hand, he was influenced by the prophet Eliyahu.  If the prophet were to abandon him, he would have fallen completely under the dominion of his wife - to the great detriment of the Nation of Israel.  The influence of the prophet indeed secretly bore fruit.  At the moment of truth, the king turned to him for advice and called him "my father" (Melachim 2 6:21).  Furthermore, during the national tragedy, Ahav was truly torn apart because of his pain; he ripped his garment, and while he was walking on the wall, "and the people looked, and he had sackcloth within on his flesh" (ibid. verse 30).

 

The heretic, the sinner, the anti-religious one was, somewhere within, a secretly repentant man, who wore sackcloth of mourning on his flesh.