Tag Archives: Ahab

New Year Thoughts

art by Laya Crust, inspired by Ben Shahn

Rosh HaShana is a day of deep prayer and meditation- as well as an opportunity to connect with family and friends. Put another way, the time of prayer allows us to connect with ourselves and then connect with others. The Shabbat between  Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuva- a Sabbath of return.

The Haftarah for Shabbat Shuva begins, “Return o Israel unto the Lord your God…”  Within the haftarah we are told to blow the shofar, and gather together.

I’ve been thinking about the act of personal prayer and our place in society and the world. Much of the New Year and Day of Atonement is spent  in personal prayer. What do we get out of personal prayer? What are the benefits?

On the first day of Rosh HaShana we read the story of Hanna, a childless woman who goes to the Temple and prays silently, moving her lips, but making no sound.

art by Laya Crust

Hanna was the first person in Jewish text who prayed silently. She expressed her thoughts to God, conversing with God and stating her needs and desires. Hanna must have been a person who knew herself well. She did something unconventional and clarified her personal path to allow herself to go forward.

We live during a time that is full of natural disasters, spiritual disasters, leadership disasters and international tragedy. It’s possible that the world has ever been thus, but with the existence of internet, twitter, skype, cell phones, and immediate news we are aware of the international calamities immediately. The fascism and racism exposed in Charlottesville and the genocide in Myanmar are but two of the horrific “human rights abuses” (understatement if there ever was one)currently taking place in the world. The global peace watchdog- the UN is a disaster. The forest fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, mudslides and droughts are all natural disasters that have destroyed lives and communities around the world- all disasters we have witnessed in the last couple of months.  It is very difficult for some of us to know what to do, how to respond to these world crises both man made and natural.

It makes me think of another narrative in the bible.

Elijah was a prophet who was being hunted down by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Although God told him to face his accusers Elijah decided to hide in a cave on Mount Horev in order to avoid his dangerous and overwhelming realities. God finally tells Elijah to step out of the cave. First a huge, violent wind comes by, breaking the mountains and rocks. Then after the wind there was an earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire. God was not in any of those forces. After the fire there was a still, small voice, and God was in that voice. At that point Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle , stood in the entrance of the cave , and “behold, there came a voice to him.” (Kings I 19: 13) The voice was the voice of God.

This story encompasses my thoughts about prayer and personal prayer.

Each of us is a compilation of experiences. Within our psyche we carry the lessons we have learned from parents, grandparents, teachers, wise individuals, illnesses and events we have experienced. We carry ethical truths based on what we have learned. Those ethical truths are God’s voice. It is the still small voice that speaks to us and can help us unravel difficulties that we face in a day or in our lives.

It is a thought I will take with me. As I enter synagogue to pray or meditate, like Hanna I will focus on my own prayers rather than pose for others. As the shofar is blown I will hear that pure, unusual call and know it is calling all Jews from every corner  of the world. When I am distressed by the earthquakes and fires and hurricanes I will listen to the still small voice and work out how I am able to best help and contribute to making the world a better place.

May you have a meaningful Rosh HaShana, May your year be one of health, peace, tranquility, and goodness throughout the world.

Shana Tova,  Laya



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Kings I  ch. 16: 46 – ch. 19 v. 21

Elijah (prophet)- 9th century BC

Elijah, or Eliahu (the Hebrew pronunciation) is probably the best known prophet of the Jewish people. He was a colourful personality, full of fire and action. As a matter of fact when he dies he leaves the earth in a fiery chariot that carries him to heaven. Even those who know little about the prophets remember Eliahu as the angel who visits each seder table at Pesach and has a sip of wine.

Eliahu lived during the reign of the evil King Ahab and  Queen Jezebel. Jezebel was a Pheonician princess who mandated the worship of Baal, forbade the worship of the Jewish God, and ordered the murder of all the Israelite prophets. Eliahu confronted the foreign and false prophets of Baal. We read that incident in the haftarah of parashat Balak.

Eliahu is a strong, larger than life character. He is supposed to be preaching to b’nei Yisrael but he knows that his life is at risk- Jezebel can’t wait to have him done away with.  In this haftarah we read how Eliahu has gone into hiding, is supplied food by an angel, and God’s communication with him.

God’s communication with Eliahu is profound. While the prophet is fearfully hiding from Jezebel in the cave God asks him “Why are you here, Eliahu?” Eliahu’s responds that he has acted with zeal on God’s behalf and is now hiding to save his own life. He is told to stand in the mouth of the cave. First there is a great and powerful wind splitting mountains and shattering rocks- but the Lord wasn’t in the wind. Then there was and earthquake, but the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake either. These were followed by a fire- the Lord was not in the fire. Finally there was a soft murmuring sound. When Eliahu heard the soft high sound he wrapped his face in his cloak and stood in the entrance of the cave.

The description of these powerful acts of nature followed by the soft murmur evoked a strong image in my mind. I thought of HaShem’s power over all the earth. I thought of Moshe having his meeting with God in the cleft of a mountain in Sefer Shemot (Exodus 33: 22-23). And I thought of the Kohanim wrapped in their tallises blessing their congregations, and parents covering themselves with their tallis as they pray to God for their families and their nation. The idea of communing with the Almighty who is the source of the power of nature as well as the fragility of life as represented by the small soft murmur resonates especially today.

We are like the small figure of Eliahu who is strong yet frightened. His brothers and sisters have been attacked but God tells him he has to continue to fight the evil that surrounds b’nei Yisrael. When God asks Eliahu again, “Why are you here?” God of course knows that Eliahu is frightened for his life and troubled about the future. HaShem is connecting and reminding that He is the Creator and the Comforter- the earthquake and the small, still voice.

May we see peace in Israel soon. May the fighting stop and the senseless death and destruction cease. As God reminded Eliahu may we also remember that we don’t understand the whole story but we must not lose our faith.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya


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