Vered Hollander-Goldfarb

About Vered Hollander-Goldfarb

Vered Hollander-Goldfarb received her M.A. in Judaic Studies and Tanach from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University and studied at Bar-Ilan University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Before making aliyah, she taught at Ramaz School and Stern College in New York. She teaches Tanach and Medieval Commentators.

Vered Hollander-Goldfarb

Elijah In Jewish Tradition – Elijah

Elijah in Jewish Tradition – 8 – Elijah

Elijah’s image in Jewish tradition as ‘the one who will return’ developed from several ideas and texts.

First there is the biblical material in the book of Kings:  Elijah did not die as normal human beings do.  Nor did he leave behind a physical body to confirm his death.  This gave rise to Midarshim about Elijah entering heavens physically.

Second, is the mention of Elijah in the closing of the book of Malachi, where God says that He will send Elijah before the Day of The Lord will come.

Finally, we have the post biblical period.  What might have helped push Elijah into the role he has today is the book of Enoch (Apocrypha, written in 3rd or 2nd centuries BCE)  The Rabbinic establishment might have been looking for a suitable counterpart to Enoch, who was ‘taken by God’ and found that Elijah fit the role.  (You can read more about that in Dov Noy’s forword to Tales of Elijah the Prophet by Peninnah Schram.  )

As we have already looked at Elijah’s departure from this world, let us go the verses in Malachi:

 Precursor to the Day of the Lord

מלאכי פרק ג

כב זִכְרוּ תּוֹרַת מֹשֶׁה עַבְדִּי, אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי אוֹתוֹ בְחֹרֵב עַל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, חֻקִּים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים.  כג הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם אֵת אֵלִיָּה הַנָּבִיא–לִפְנֵי בּוֹא יוֹם ה’ הַגָּדוֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא.  כד וְהֵשִׁיב לֵב-אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים וְלֵב בָּנִים עַל-אֲבוֹתָם פֶּן-אָבוֹא וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶת-הָאָרֶץ חֵרֶם.

Malachi 3

22 Remember the Law of Moses My servant, which I commanded to him in Horeb for all Israel, statutes and ordinances. 23 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awe-full day of the LORD. 24 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers; lest I come and smite the land with utter destruction. {P}

What is the role of Elijah in the great and awe-full Day of the Lord?

If you have ever investigated the concept of the Day of the Lord in the Tanakh, you have probably discovered that this is a terrifying time that one does not yearn for.  Elijah seems to have an active role in a change that has to take place in people before that day comes, lest the consequences be disastrous. This might be the basis for the Mishna that follows.

What is the connection between the Law of Moshe and the sending of Elijah?

Looking back at Elijah’s zealous behavior in the biblical stories about him, few seem more suited than him to demand the observance of the Law.  But how does this connect to the Day of the Lord?

So, what is Elijah’s role when he comes?

The following Mishna is taken from the Tractate of Eduyot, a tractate that is a collection of traditions that were passed down from teacher to student, as we can see from the opening line of this unit.

משנה מסכת עדויות פרק ח משנה ז

[ז] אמר רבי יהושע מקובל אני מרבן יוחנן בן זכאי, ששמע מרבו, ורבו מרבו, הלכה למשה מסיני שאין אליהו בא לטמא ולטהר …רבי שמעון אומר להשוות המחלוקת. וחכמים אומרים: לא לרחק ולא לקרב, אלא לעשות שלום בעולם, שנאמר (מלאכי ג’) “הנני שולח לכם את אליה הנביא” וגו’ “והשיב לב אבות על בנים ולב בנים על אבותם”:


R. Yehoshua said: I have a tradition from Rabban Yohanan b. Zakkai, who heard from his teacher, and his teacher from his teacher, halakhah of Moses from Sinai, that Elijah will not come to declare unclean or clean… R. Shimon says: [Elijah will come] To reconcile disputes. And the Sages say: Not to put away nor to draw near, but to make peace in the world, as it states (Mal. 3:23-24), “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet,” and it concludes “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.”

Mishna is based on the oral tradition that followed the written tradition all along.  The existential threats that the Jews faced in the first 2 centuries (the destruction of the Temple, the Bar Kochba revolt, exile) made the need to compile and write down this oral tradition a pressing issue. It was finally put together by the year 200 CE by Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi.

Several traditions are given here to answer our question.  What are the views that are told in the names of R. Shimon and the Sages?

Think about these traditions. To what extent are they similar?   Does either match your understanding of the verses from Malachi?

Kehati, a modern day commentator on the Mishna, has taken the disputes that Elijah is supposed to reconcile to be disputes among sages.  What does that mean?

As traditions are discussed among the sages, disputes come up as to the correct tradition regarding the issue at hand.  Often they are resolved, sometimes they are not.  One such dispute is well known, albeit not the dispute part of it, only the temporary solution.  Let’s take a look at it:

Elijah’s Cup at the Seder Night (Passover)

One example of this kind of rabbinic dispute has to do with Elijah’s cup at the Seder night on Passover.

Each person at the Seder is supposed to drink 4 cups of wine (or grape juiceJ), one for each of the 4 verbs of redemption that are found in Exodus 6:2-8:

I [Hashem, the Lord]

will take you out,

will save you,

will redeem you,

will take you [to be My nation.]

But there are 5 verbs that are associated with the redemption, the last one being ‘I will bring you to the land.’ So, perhaps we should be drinking a fifth cup of wine?!

The solution?  When Elijah comes he will resolve the dispute.  Should he tell us to drink a fifth cup, the cup is ready to be drunk.

(Some associate the opening of the door for Elijah at the rather vengeful text of “Shefoch Chamatcha” with Elijah’s rigid stand and demand for revenge.)

Announcing the Redemption

The idea of redemption has been associated with Elijah:

שמות רבה (וילנא) פרשה ג  Exodus Rabba section 3

ד ויאמר משה אל האלהים מי אנכי:  מהו שאמר לו “כי אנכי שלחתיך”? אמרו רבותינו ז”ל: סימן לגאולה הראשונה, שב”אנכי” ירדו ישראל למצרים, שנאמר (בראשית מו): “אנכי ארד עמך מצרימה” וב”אנכי” אני מעלה אתכם. וסימן לגאולה האחרונה, שב”אנכי” הם מתרפאין והן עתידים להגאל, שנאמר (מלאכי ג): “הנה אנכי שולח לכם את אליה הנביא.”

And Moshe said to God who am I…:  Why did He tell him “for I Myself sent you?”  Our Sages of blessed memory said:  It is a sign for the first redemption, since with “I Myself” the Children of Israel went down to Egypt, as it says (Gen. 46:4) “I Myself will go down with you to Egypt” and by “I Myself” I will bring you up.  And it is a sign for the final redemption, that with “I Myself” they will be healed and be redeemed, as it says (Malachi 3): “Behold, I Myself will send you Elijah the prophet.”

This is not the only comparison made between the lives of Moshe and Elijah.  Do you remember any others?

They are both the bearers of the message of redemption, giving hope.  Notice how Elijah is changing from the manner that caused him to be criticized in the book of Kings.  He is the one who will come to save people.  What is his focus this time, and does it differ from his previous image?  Might this be relevant for his message of redemption?

Motza’ei Shabbat (The Departing of Shabbat)

It is at the closing of Shabbat that we mention Elijah.  Many people sing about him at the time of Havdala – the ceremony indicating the end of Shabbat. Here is some from one such poem:

אֵלִיָּהוּ הַנָּבִיא אֵלִיָּהוּ הַתִּשְׁבִּי אֵלִיָּהוּ הַגִּלְעָדִי בִּמְהֵרָה יָבֹא אֵלֵינוּ עִם מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן דָּוִד אִישׁ תִּשְׁבִּי תַּצִּלֵנוּ מִפִּי אֲרָיוֹת יְבַשְׂרֵנוּ בְּשׂוֹרוֹת טוֹבוֹתיְשַׂמְחֵנוּ בָּנִים עַל אָבוֹת בְּמוֹצָאֵי שַׁבָּתוֹת

Elijah the prophet, Elijah the Tishbite, Elijah the Giladite. May he speedily come to us with the Anointed one (Messiah) son of David. A Tishbite man, you will save us from the mouth of lions. He will bring us good tidings, He will make us joyous, children about parents and the departures of Shabbats.

The poem (piyut) is found in including melodies.  Enjoy!

This is only a small section of the poem.  The many verses are mainly a poetic recapturing of the stories of Elijah.  But it is the line in Malachi that closes the poem:  In the future it is Elijah that comes with the good tidings, the message of redemption.

Why in your opinion is the focus on Elijah placed specifically at this time of the week?

Brit Milah – The Covenant of Circumcision

It is customary to have a seat for Elijah at every brit milah – circumcision.  What is the source of this tradition?

פרקי דרבי אליעזר (היגר) – “חורב”  פרק כח Pirkei R. Eliezer chapter 28

היו ישראל נהוגים למול עד שנחלקו לשני ממלכות, ומלכות אפרים נמנעה מהם ברית מילה. ועמד אליהו, זכור לטוב, וקנא קנאה גדולה, ונשבע לשמים שלא להוריד טל ומטר על הארץ. ושמעה איזבל ובקשה להרוג אותו.…ועמד אליהו, זכור לטוב, וברח לו להר חורב. שנאמר: “ויקם ויאכל ויש
תה”. ושם נגלה לו הקדוש ברוך הוא.
–  אמר לו: מה לך פה אליהו?
–  קנא קנאתי,
–  אמר לו: לעולם אתה מקנא. קנאת בשטים על גלוי עריות, שנאמר “פנחס בן אלעזר בן אהרן הכהן”, וכאן קנאת! חייך, שאין עושין ברית מילה עד שאתה רואה בעיניך.
מכאן התקינו חכמים לעשות כסא אחד מכובד למלאך הברית, שנקרא אליהו זכור לטוב “מלאך הברית”, שנאמר: “ומלאך הברית אשר אתם חפצים”.  (מלאכי ג א)
Israel was accustomed to perform circumcision until they split into 2 kingdoms, and the kingdom of Ephraim (=the northern kingdom) prevented them from doing Brit Milah (the Covenant of the Circumcision.)…And Elijah stood up and acted with great zeal, and swore to the heavens not to bring down dew and rain on the land.  And Jezebel heard and wanted to kill him. And Elijah  stood up and escape to Mount Horeb, as it says: “And he rose, and he ate and he drank.”  And there the Holy One Blessed be He was revealed to him.
–  He said: What are you doing here, Elijah?
–  I zealously acted zealously.
–  He said to him: You are forever acting zealously.  You were a zealot at Shitim over forbidden sexual relations, as it says “Pinhas son of Elazar son of Aharon the Priest.”  And here you are acting zealously!  I swear, they will not be doing Brit Milah (the Covenant of the Circumcision) except when you see it with your own eyes.
From here the sages established that there should be one respectable chair for the Messanger of the Covenant, who is known as Elijah remembered for good, the Messanger of the Covenant. As it says: “And the Messanger of the Covenant whom you long for.” (Malachi 3:1)

The Midrash claims that it is not the first time that Elijah acted zealously.  Who is he said to be?

Some traditions claim that Elijah was from the tribe of Levi.  Think about the people he has been compared with:  Moshe and Pinchas.  How is this related to this tradition?  And something to think about:  Deut. 33:8-11 might also have helped fuel this tradition.

God swears that Elijah will see every covenant circumcision.  Why?

Is it to comfort him or prove him wrong?  That depends on how you understand Elijah.  Is he in favor of the people and believing in repentance, or does he feel that they cannot live up to the standards that he (correctly) demands?

And something to take note of:

The verse quoted at the end of the Midrash as referring to Elijah being the Messenger of the Covenant is the opening of the chapter 3 of Malachi.  Remember the end of that chapter?

Elijah, the figure that is always helping those in dire straights, is a beloved character in Jewish folklore.  Jewish tradition sees him as the announcer of the arrival of the redeemer.  But the biblical Elijah, who we met and studied for so many weeks, hardly seems to fit this traditional character.  What is the message of this deep change?  Will Elijah gain the experience that will make it possible for him to approach his task with empathy, not only with zeal?


End of Course, Go Back To Descriptions

A Drought By Whose Saying? – Elijah

A Drought! By Whose Saying?

The Biblical Text

Before we can get to our main text, I Kings 17, we have to do some background work.  Please read the end of chap 16.

I Kings 16:30-34

Who is the Baal? 

Simply put, the Baal is the Canaanite god of rain and storm. But while in our chapters we will be concerned with real Baal worship, the name Baal is featured in names of people and places, probably without anyone paying much attention to it.  It would be the equivalent of the use of –el in many Hebrew names.

Something to think about:  The Baal is represented by a bull.  Next time that you read god-descriptions that include flaring nostrils, bulls or calves, consider where the Israelites got those images from.  We should remember that religion was also the culture of a region, and therefore could affect neighboring nations culturally, even if rejected theologically.

How is the marriage to Jezebel connected to the religious infractions of Ahab?

A shift took place in the Kingdom of Israel:  Alliances were forged with other countries.  The marriage to Jezebel was almost certainly due to her position as the daughter of Etbaal, king of Sidon.  If it was not for her incredibly powerful personality, the story might have ended there.  But together with the alliance and the marriage, Baal worship enters the country.  While idol worship had taken place before among the Israelites, for the first time Baal worship became the state religion. Jezebel was the patron.

What story is 16:34 alluding to?

The miraculous conquest of Jericho in the days of Joshua (Josh 6:12-26) was conditioned on that the city be left as Herem – consecrated to God.  At the end of the conquest Joshua invokes an oath that anyone that rebuilds the city should do so at the cost of the lives of his children. (Josh 6:26.)  If this oath had been broken at some earlier point, there is no mention of it, but now the Tanakh takes pains to tell us about it.  What does it tell us about the mood of the period?

How is all this related to Elijah?

I Kings 17:1

The story of Elijah begins in I Kings 17, or so it would seem.  Let’s read I Kings 17:1

What seems to be missing from the beginning of the chapter?

Think of what you might have put at the beginning of a new narrative.

Who decides that there will be a drought?

This is not a simple question.  Each one of us probably has an answer that seems obvious us, but stop to consider other possibilities as well.  In the next section we will deal with this issue at great length.

Why will there be a drought?

Whatever you answered, it is probably a good answer.  But what in the text did you base yourself on?

The Rabbinical Reaction

From the Talmud until modern scholars, many have tried to deal with the missing introduction.  We will see the questions and potential answers by some of the classic Medieval commentators on Tanakh:

רש”י מלכים א פרק יז

(א) חי ה’ – (סנה’ קיג,א) למה סמכו כאן? אלא שהלכו אליהו ואחאב לנחם את חיאל באבלו. אמר אחאב לאליהו: אפשר שקללת התלמיד נתקיימה וקללת משה רבך לא נתקיימה, שאמר (דברים י”א ט”ז) “וסרתם ועבדתם אלהים אחרים והשתחויתם להם וחרה אף ה’ בכם ועצר את השמים,” והרי כל ישראל עובדי עבודה זרה ואין הגשמים נעצרין?! מיד ויאמר אליהו וגו’:

Rashi I Kings 17:1

As the Lord lives – (Talmud Sanhedrin 113a) Why was this adjoined here?  Since Elijah and Ahab went to comfort Hiel during his mourning.  Ahab said to Elijah:  Is it possible that the curse of the disciple was fulfilled (see Joshua 6:26) but the curse of your master Moshe was not fulfilled, as he said “and you will be lured away and serve other gods and bow to them, and the Lord’s anger will flare up against you and He will shut up the skies…” (Deut. 11:16-17), and all of Israel are serving foreign gods and the rain is not stopped?!  Immediately “And Elijah said…”

What mood is described in country according to this reading?  How does it match your reading of the mood in the country in light of the end of chapter 16?

Rashi is raising 2 questions regarding the opening verse of chapter 17.  What are they?

Try to read slowly by yourself.  Only afterwards, continue reading here for the questions:  The first issue is the lack of introduction into the story.  The reader gets the sense that we are missing a few lines that might explain the declaration that we face in 17:1.  How did Rashi solve this issue?

The second question is theological:  Who declares the drought?!  Is Elijah a messenger for a word received from God, or did he declare it out of his own volition?  How does Rashi answer this?  Rashi links the 2 questions in the story that bridges the 2 chapters:  Why a drought?

What has Rashi created in his commentary (which is taken from the Talmud)?

Rashi regularly assumes that there is a connection between 2 adjacent stories, even if it does not meet the eye on the first reading.  It is known as סמיכות פרשיות (adjacent units).  Here we are missing the trigger to Elijah’s behavior.  What might have caused Elijah to proclaim a punishment on his people, and why a drought?

Note:  At this early stage, Rashi already brings in the Talmud that will point us in the direction of Moshe and his disciple Joshua.  Keep this in mind for when we get to chapter 19.

רד”ק מלכים א פרק יז

(א) …והנה גזר אליהו על המטר בקנאתו לה’ על עובדם עבודה זרה ככתוב בתורת משה “וסרתם ועבדתם אלהים אחרים והשתחויתם להם וחרה אף ה’ בכם ועצר את השמים ולא יהיה מטר”. ובטח באל שיקיים את דברו.

Radaq I Kings 17:1

…Elijah decreed about the rain as he was acting zealously for the Lord since they were worshipping foreign gods, as it is said in the Torah of Moshe “and you will be lured away and serve other gods and bow to them, and the Lord’s anger will flare up against you and He will stop the skies…” (Deut. 11:16-17).  And he trusted in God that he will fulfill his saying.

Is Radaq aware of the Talmudic source that Rashi bases his comments on?

Read the language carefully.  He is briefer than Rashi, but some important points of the Talmud are imbedded in Radaq’s comments here.  Note also his choice of verse to base himself on.

Does Radaq link 17:1 to what came before it?

Pay attention to what is reason for Elijah’s declaration.  Where did he get this information?

According to Radaq, who declared a drought?  And why will the punishment be a drought?  How does this compare to Rashi?

How does Radaq differ from Rashi?

ר’ יוסף כספי מלכים א פרק יז

(א) כי אם לפי דברי – הכנוי לאליהו, ואין ספק שדבריו יהיו מאת ה’.

Joseph Kaspi I Kings 17:1

“Except at my bidding” – the pronoun is [referring] to Elijah, and there is no doubt that his words would be from the Lord.


What role does the Talmudic source (Sanhedrin 113) play in Joseph Kaspi’s comment?

Which of the questions that Rashi and Radaq deal with does Kaspi attempt to answer?

How does his answer compare with Rashi and Radaq?

Rashi and Radaq both had a Torah verse as the foundation of their commentary here.  It did seem to give Elijah more “maneuvering space” since he had solid ground to stand on.

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High Holidays: Slichot – The 13 Attributes (Midot) – God Teaches Us how to Ask for Divine Forgiveness

Written with Rabbi Gail Diamond, Associate Director

Slichot 13 Midot Sourcesheet (pdf)
Slichot 13 Midot E-shiur (pdf)

The section known as “God’s 13 Attributes (midot)”, from Exodus 34:6-7, forms the heart of the Slichot (Forgiveness) prayers of the High Holiday season. Along with Birkhat Kohanim and Kriat Shma, it, as Torah verse, is amongst the oldest texts in Jewish liturgy, but unlike the priestly blessing, it was not originally meant as prayer. Its development into this role is fascinating historically and spiritually.

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Shavuot: Extraordinary People In An Ordinary World – The Story of Ruth

Extraordinary People in an Ordinary World Sourcesheet (pdf)
Extraordinary People in an Ordinary World E-shiur (printer-friendly pdf of this page)

The story of Ruth is set in the time in which judges led the people of Israel, a period known for lack of order, government, and cohesiveness among the tribes ofIsrael. The story is set in the midst of the additional crisis of a famine. Against this backdrop we meet Elimelekh and his sons, Makhlon and Kilyon, a well-to-do family from Bethlehem in Judah, who moved to Moab in trans-Jordan. There they settle, the sons marry Moabite women, and subsequently all three men die. They leave behind three women, all of whom seem to be minor characters in the story of these men.

Reading carefully between the lines and utilizing understanding of human nature, we see great complexities in this story; a story of petty and ordinary folks interwoven with the lives of a few extraordinary, kind individuals. So extraordinary were they that the kingship, and ultimately the Messiah, would come from their offspring.

Famine caused the family to leave their community in Bethlehem(translated literally the name of the city means ‘the house of bread/food…’). Reading about their comfortable resettlement in Moab, we become suspicious. Throughout human history people have been forced from their homes due to lack of sustenance. Mass migrations due to famine and war have pushed entire populations into refugee camps, where human beings subsist as shadows at the edges of society. But the story of Elimelekh and his family does not fit into this paradigm. Upon her return to Canaan, Naomi declares, “I left full” (Ruth 1:21), hardly a depiction of a person fleeing in a state of starvation. Indeed, upon their arrival in Moab, the sons marry local women. At a time when marriages were arranged to form ties between families, one has to ask what a supposedly poor refugee could offer to entice a local family to allow him to marry their daughter; unless of course, the family of Elimelekh were not poor refugees but a well-off family that had simply relocated.

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Purim: Esther and Joseph – Two Models of Exilic Jews

Esther and Joseph E-Shiur Sourcesheet (pdf)
Esther and Joseph E-Shiur (pdf)

The story of Esther presents a situation previously unknown in the biblical period. Never before had an independent community of Jews existed, willingly, outside the Land of Israel, at the time that there was a formal Jewish community there. What sources could such a community draw on to give its existence a positive and legitimate image? Not surprisingly, the Megilah story shows many similarities to the story of Joseph, the catalyst of the events that led to the first exile, in Egypt.

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