Vayera – Modesty and Humility

In this week’s Haftorah for parshas Vayera we read from Melachim Beis, in which Elisha, the student of Eliyahu HaNavi, acts with faithful kindness towards a desolate widow and a barren but wealthy wife. At this time in history there was an enormously  evil King Achav of Yisrael who, with his queen, Izevel killed almost all of Hashem’s prophets because they only wanted false prophets to be left. The prophet Ovadia hid 100 prophets, Fifty in one cave and fifty in another, and he borrowed money from Yehoram, Achav’s son, to feed these prophets. Ovadia was eventually caught and killed. In the opening of the haftorah we find Ovadia’s widow screaming at Elisha the Prophet because Yehoram is coming after her to collect his debt and she has no way to pay him. Elisha gives her a blessing that if she sells oil in a jug of hers it will pay off the debt. The blessing came true and she did not have to wait for oil prices to rise. When Ovadia’s wife originally came to Elisha, she told him: “Your servant, my husband, passed away, and you know that your servant was a G-D fearing Jew…” (Melachim Beis 4:1). The Ralbag says the reason why she had to say this was because she was saying that Ovadia feared Hashem and did not engage in idolatry, for at the time most Jews were involved with idolatry. The Yalkut Shimone says that if not for Ovadia’s wife’s merit the Jews would have already been lost, G-D forbid.

Afterwards the Haftorah tells of Elisha’s travels and how he was put up by a couple in Shunam who were very well-to-do, and they built an attic for him to stay the night and gave him food to eat whenever he passed through. The couple never had children and were growing old, so Elisha blessed them with the promise of having a child the following season, out of gratitude for all they have done for him. The blessing came true and they had a son; but one day he went out to the field to meet his father and complained of major headaches. He was taken home and passed away in his mother’s lap. She ran to Elisha and told him what had happened, and said that he had promised her offspring to continue their line. So Elisha  went back to the house to see if he could revive the child from the dead.

The Navi depicts what happened next: “And Elisha came into the house, and behold the lad was dead, laid out on his bed. And he came and closed the door about both of them; and he prayed to Hashem. 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 prostrate himself upon him: and the child’s flesh became warm. And he returned and walked in the house once here and once there, and he went up and prostrated himself upon him: and the lad sneezed, up to seven times, and the lad opened his eyes” (Melachim Beis 4: 32-35).

The Ralbag depicts the scene: “He closed the door behind both of them. There was no one in the house except for the two of them (Elisha and the child). This is because Elisha did not want anyone around so that his prayers will be more complete and so that no person will see what he will be doing. When he placed his mouth on his mouth it was as if he wanted to flow life into the lad from Elisha’s limbs. Behold, he did this after he davened. He got up to continue to daven after this. He was pacing the house with all his heart and intent (kavana) in prayer. The movements of his legs were driven by the song of music which moved in dances which all flowed from his senses, just like one engrossed in thought whose soul is stirred by them one time driven one way another time driven another way, quick movement while meditating. He remembered after the prayer to go and prostrate onto the child. The child then sneezed. Elisha did this order of praying and to prostrate and stretch himself on top of the lad 7 times and then the child opened his eyes and the resurrection was complete.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

The Radak, along the same lines as the Ralbag, adds that Elisha lay across the lad in order to heat him up, with the natural heat that comes out of his mouth, eyes, and body, because most miracles are done  through little tricks from the ways of the world. It is clear that the child was brought back to life through Hashem answering Elisha’s prayers, but the miracle was masked in a bit of worldly power, by him lying on the lad each time after he davened. If this is the case why did Elisha want to hide this from the public?

Previously the Ralbag had mentioned two reasons why Elisha kept himself alone with the boy. One was so that his prayers would be more complete, and the second was that no one would know what he was doing. We depicted before, the gravity of the times: Hashem’s prophets were being slain, most of the Jews worshiped idols, and if not for Ovadia’s widow the Jewish people would have deserved destruction at that time. So wouldn’t it have been a tremendous Kiddush Hashem if Elisha had brought the lad back to life through Hashem answering his prayers even if it was done in public for all to see, with ‘cameras rolling?’ If he was worried about his prayers not being as complete in public, then in the merit of the impact this would have on the crowd, to stir them towards repentance, Hashem would have  answered Elisha’s prayers. How could they have not been inspired after seeing Hashem bringing a poor defenseless child back to life?! The open miracle would be so touching and inspiring; how could anyone have denied it! They would see Elisha deep in prayer towards Hashem, and  his prostration on the limp body would obviously be a very minor element towards bringing him back to life, as everyone knows blowing into the mouth of a dead person and warming him up won’t bring him back to life. It is an undeniably obvious miracle from Hashem. So why didn’t Elisha use this moment to sanctify Hashem’s Holy Name?

We see from here how important it is to act with modesty even at the expense of the potential impact  that not doing so might have. This was a private miracle, done for the child and his family. It did not impact anyone else and therefore no one has to know miracles were performed through Elisha. That is what modesty and humility are all about. One can’t feel because he can potentially change the world that he has the right to flaunt the abilities or influence he has. If it is not the right time and place to teach everyone a lesson, then the individual’s responsibility is to work on his or herself, or on the task at hand, and not to worry about others; that is Hashem’s job.