Kings II, ch. 4: 1-37
Elisha- (prophet) c. 720 BCE
In this Haftarah Elisha the prophet saves a woman from the ruin of debt by miraculously providing her with enough oil to pay her creditors. A second story in the parsha concerns a woman from Shunem who builds and furnishes a room for Elisha to stay in when he travels through the town. In gratitude Elisha blesses the woman and her husband with a child who will be born in the coming year. A few years later the son dies. The Shunammite woman confronts Elisha asking him why he had given them a child only to have him taken away so cruelly. Elisha brings the boy back to life. (This is possibly the first description of mouth to mouth resuscitation in history).
In the parsha illustration we see the room on the roof with the furnishings described in verse 10. There are also 3 pots of oil, alluding to Elisha’s aid to the widow in the previous story.
The over arching theme of this week’s readings is one of faith. For instance, Sarah is expected to believe- have faith- in three strangers. They tell her that she will become pregnant and raise a child. Sarah is a 90 year old childless woman! Can you imagine running around after a toddler in his terrible twos when you are 92 years old? Changing his diapers? I can’t- but I digress. The point is that she and her husband Abraham are expected to believe what Gd communicates to them.
Faith is indeed a theme in these stories but there’s another strong idea. That is one of motherhood and the relationship of a loving mother to her children. Each of the women we read about- Sarah, Hagar, Lot’s wife , Lot’s daughters, the widow and the Shunemite woman are, or become, mothers. They are faced with difficult situations and their over riding thought is how best to protect their children. Even in the case of Lot’s daughters they want to be sure to create a new generation of children.
As often happens in TaNach (the Jewish Bible) women are major figures in a narrative but they aren’t given names. They are the unidentified thinkers and planners. At times angels or messengers communicate with the wives, not with their husbands. Gd told Avraham to listen to Sarah’s counsel. The widow whom Elisha helped had to make sure her sons weren’t sold into servitude. The Shunemite woman – not her husband- created a place for Elisha the itinerant prophet to stay.
So- when you read text, read carefully. There are many incidents that are glossed over. Some are about nameless women, but those women were leaders in their own right.
Research Alert: I am gathering information about exceptional Jewish women throughout history. If you have ideas or insights about outstanding female Jewish leaders please send them on to me. I’m especially looking for the names of women who lived in North Africa (Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Ethiopia etc.) the Far East, and South America. I’m also interested in women from before the common era through to the 13th and 14th Centuries.
Have a wonderful Shabbat. May we hear news of peace and tranquility throughout the world.
3 responses to “VaYeira- Women and Mothers”
Wonderful column this week.
Thanks, Debra. It was fascinating to note how key the relationship was between these mothers and their sons. I’m still processing what to atke away from the collective narrative.