Tag Archives: Elisha

Miracles and Humility

art by Laya Crust

This year, 2017 or 5777, we read the Torah portions for Tazria and Metzora on the same Shabbat. Both of the protions deal with the laws pertaining to an affliction called “tza’arat” which is commonly translated into the English word “leprosy”. It isn’t the same as leprosy however. It was a condition that affected people’s skin. But it could also affect their homes and their walls. It was a punishment for certain sins,particularly speaking negatively about another person.

The haftarahs take place during the time of Elisha the prophet. Jerusalem was under seige and the Jews were starving due to fammine. In the haftarah  Tazria, a young Jewish slave recommends that her Aramean master go to Elisha to be cured. Her master, Naaman.  follows her advice and is indeed cured.

art by Laya Crust

The second haftarah tells the story of four lepers who are sent outside the gates of Jerusalem- they are essentially in quarantine. They are starving as are the Jews in the city. They come across an abandoned Aramean camp filled with food, clothing and precious goods. After having their fill of food they tell the city about the camp and this alleviates the starvation.

One element the two stories have in common is that the lowest, most overlooked members of the population are key to saving the protagonists. In Tazria a young slave girl helps an Aramean army captain become cured of tza’arat. In Metzorah four banished men save the people of Jerusalem.

art by Laya Crust

Yom Ha’Atzmaut- Israel’s Independence Day- is a reminder that the smallest can overcome greater forces. Tiny, unprepared Israel overcame huge enemy forces in 1948. In 1967 once again Israel conquered the attacking surrounding countries. It happened again in 1973. These victories were miraculous, and are evidence of God’s invisible help. To recognize that we say the “Hallel” prayers on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. 

The victories, although miraculous, did not come easily or without a steep and painful price. Many lives were lost defending Israel- most of them the lives of young soldiers cut down at the beginning of their paths. The day before Yom Ha’Atzmaut we observe Yom haZikaron and recognize the sacrifices of those who died defending  Israel’s sovereignity and right to exist; and defending the lives of Israeli citizens. Following is an 11 minute film dedicated to those fallen heroes, posted by United With Israel.

https://unitedwithisrael.org/watch-a-moving-tribute-to-fallen-idf-soldiers/

Throughout Israel on Yom Ha’Atzmaut there will be barbecues, music, parties and celebration. Light up YOUR barbecue- and celebrate too!

With blessings for peace, Laya

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Sarah – שרה

VaYeira Sigart by Laya Crust

Vayeira- Genesis 18 – 22

Haftarah- Kings II, ch. 4: 1-37

This week’s parsha is an incredible series of stories and events. There are at least five incredible narratives, each worthy of detailed study. Sarah, Avraham’s wife, figures throughout the parsha, and I’d like to look at her personality this week.

Avraham is the major character in these stories of Bereshit.  Gd told Avraham to leave his homeland and that he would become the father of a great people. Avraham left, taking his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot with him. As I read about Sarai- whose name was changed to Sarah- I am struck by her strength, her wisdom, and her relationship with Avraham. She was 75 years old when she and her husband left their home for unknown reaches. She was described as beautiful- so beautiful that King Avimelech took her to his harem. We may wonder how a woman of 75 can be that appealing, but some have an ageless beauty that is enhanced by grace and wisdom.

P1140345drawing by Laya Crust

I think Sarah also had a spark of humour and joy of life that contributed to being timelessly attractive. Her sense of humour?- she heard the angels speak and laughed within herself- laughing at herself and the thought of becoming a mother in her nineties. Her joie de vivre? She enjoyed her relationship with Avraham, “sporting” with him (AKA fooling around) in a field!

The readings suggest that Sarah and Avraham had a strong  partnership. They traveled together and discussed the strategy for entering Avimelech’s kingdom. Recognizing her infertility she offered her handmaid Hagar to her husband, hoping that way he would become a father. Recognizing Hagar’s behaviour Sarah handled the situation as she thought she had to. When the three angels appeared at their tent in the desert Avraham and Sarah worked as a team to create a feast for them. It appears that Sarah ran her community with wisdom and level headedness.

The situation surrounding “akeidat Yitzhak”, the binding of Isaac, doesn’t fit the picture of a strong relationship. It doesn’t seem that Avraham told Sarah that he had been commanded to sacrifice their beloved son.  A midrash (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midrash) says that Sarah heard a rumour that Isaac had been sacrificed by Avraham. According to that midrash Sarah died, never knowing that her son was alive. We don’t know what really happened, or why Avraham didn’t tell Sarah what he had been commanded to do. Maybe Avraham was trying to protect her. Maybe Avraham trusted that Gd would make things “right” and there would be no sense in alarming her. We just don’t know.

The illustration at the top of the page is from the haftarah of VaYeira. It shows the prophet Elisha with the Shunammite woman who had a room built for him for when he visited Shunem. This woman, like Sarah, was childless for many years. Her son, like Isaac, almost died. Unlike Sarah, she was able to watch her son grow to adulthood.

It is tragic that Sarah seemed to have died not knowing her son was alive, not knowing that she would be venerated as the mother of the Jewish nation.

She is a wonderful model for all women, and her strengths should never be overlooked.

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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VaYeira- Women and Mothers


VaYeira Sig

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.

-Laya

 

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Tazria

Tazria sig

II Kings 4:42 – 5: 19

Elisha – (prophet) c.  720 BCE

The haftarah for “Tazria” tells two great stories about the prophet Elisha.

In the first story (Kings II 4: 42, 43) a man brings Elisha fruit, barley and corn. Elisha tells him to feed the community with the food but the man protests that there is too little. Elisha responds that there will be enough, and  miraculously there is enough to feed the all the people.

The second story is more involved. A commander of the Aramean army had “tza’arat” (leprosy). When he returned from war he brought back a young Jewish maiden to be his wife’s slave. The girl told her mistress that Naaman should go to Elisha to be cured of the leprosy.

Elisha told him to go to the Jordan River, wash 7 times, and then he would be cured. Naaman was angry and  insulted because the advice was so simple. He expected spells or special medicines- just to go to a small river in Israel was an affront. His servants told him to stop being so proud. Naaman was cured after following Elisha’s instructions. He then proclaimed, “Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel”.

The story points out a number of interesting things. It reminds us of the continuing wars and famine in the times of the prophets. We read how Jewish men, women, and children were taken for slaves. It gives a young Jewish girl a key role in a story of the prophet. The narrative also shows how non-Jews believed in the abilities of Jewish prophets and the Jewish God. It also indicates the desire for Elisha to help and cure anyone who came to him.

I decided to paint the two stories one beside the other. It looks like two frames from a comic book strip but actually the format is far older than the comic book world. You can see this same layout in manuscripts dating back to the 13 th century.

Elisha lived in Samaria (Shomron) and succeeded Elijah, a solitary and forceful leader.  Before Elijah was taken to the heavens in a whirlwind he asked Elisha what Elisha would like to have. Elisha asked to inherit a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit.

Indeed, in his life, Elisha performed 16 miracles and brought two people back to life, whereas Elijah performed 8 miracles and brought one person back to life. Elisha lived and prophesied in difficult times. There was drought, famine, attacks from surrounding armies; and corruption and warring in the Israelite monarchy. Elisha wasn’t as forceful a personality as his teacher. Rather he was known for his desire to help others in need.

Enjoy your week, enjoy the stories (Kings II,  4:42 to 5: 19).

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