Where is Elijah During the Drought? – 2 – Elijah

Story # 1 – 17:2-7

The Biblical Text

Why is Elijah going to hide?

It might make good sense after declaring a drought on the land, but is that the reason given?

What kind of existence does Elijah experience in the Krit riverbed?

Not many people have their most basic needs supplied by God…  But more importantly, remember what is happening to the rest of the land in the mean time.  Lack of rain will create fear of a drought, of famine.  Prices of food go up, the poor become poorer, etc.  Where is Elijah during these socio-ecomonic upheavals?

This story seems to hint to earlier biblical stories.  What is/are they?

At least 2 stories come to mind: The Heavenly supply of food and meat seems to recall the miraculous existence of the Israelites in the desert, completely dependent on God. (See Exodus 16.) For the second story note the ravens.  This is a bit of a reverse of the story you know.  Here the raven is a success story, and there is no rain in the land (rather than a flood, in the days of Noah.)  But the bottom line is the same: Rain as a destructive or creative force is in the hands of God.  (More on that later in the Talmud.)  What message is the narrator trying to give us?

What image of Elijah emerges from this story?

Some Post Biblical Readings

The first section of Talmud here is needed in order to understand the next one.  But while we are studying it, let’s think of its implications for our narrative.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת תענית דף ב עמוד א-ב  Babylonian Talmud Tractate Ta’anit 2a-b  

אמר רבי יוחנן: שלשה מפתחות בידו של הקדוש ברוך הוא שלא נמסרו ביד שליח, ואלו הן: מפתח של גשמים, מפתח של חיה, ומפתח של תחיית המתים. מפתח של גשמים – דכתיב (דברים כ”ח) “יפתח ה’ לך את אוצרו הטוב את השמים לתת מטר ארצך בעתו”. מפתח של חיה מנין? – דכתיב (בראשית ל’) “ויזכר אלהים את רחל וישמע אליה אלהים ויפתח את רחמה”. מפתח של תחיית המתים מנין? – דכתיב (יחזקאל לז) “וידעתם כי אני ה’ בפתחי את קברותיכם”.

במערבא אמרי: אף מפתח של פרנסה, דכתיב (תהלים קמה) פותח את ידך וגו’. ורבי יוחנן מאי טעמא לא קא חשיב להא? אמר לך: גשמים היינו פרנסה.

R. Johanan said: Three keys the Holy One blessed be He has retained in His own hands and not entrusted to the hand of any messenger, namely, the Key of Rain, the Key of Childbirth, and the Key of the Revival of the Dead. The Key of Rain, for it is written, “The Lord will open for you His good treasure, the heaven, to give the rain of your land in its season.” (Deut.28.) The Key of Childbirth – for it is written: “And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.” (Gen 30.) The Key of the Revival of the Dead – for it is written: “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves.” (Ezk 37.)

In the Land of Israel they said: Also the Key of Sustenance, for it is said, “You open your hand” etc. (Ps.145)  Why does not R. Johanan include also this [key]? — Because in his view sustenance is [included in] Rain.

What is the linguistic connection that led R. Johanan to conclude that God holds the key to these 3 major issues of life?

(If you are reading the English, be aware that the word for ‘key’ in Hebrew is Mafte’ach –- from the root P.T.H –to open.)

Many Midrashim are a deep idea that is expressed by texts linked together by a linguistic connection.  What is the word here?  What is the idea expressed in this Midrash?

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף קיג עמוד א      Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 113a

(מלכים א’ י”ז) “ויאמר אליהו התשבי מתשבי גלעד חי ה’ אלהי ישראל… אם יהיה… טל ומטר” וגו’, בעי רחמי והבו ליה אקלידא דמטרא, וקם ואזל. (מלכים א’ י”ז) “ויהי דבר ה’ אליו לאמר לך מזה ופנית לך קדמה ונסתרת בנחל כרית …והערבים מביאים לו לחם ובשר בבקר” וגו’ מהיכא? אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: מבי טבחי דאחאב.

Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew or rain these years, but according to my word.” (I Kings 17.) He prayed, and the key of rain was given him, upon which he arose and departed. “And the word of the Lord came to him, saying, go, and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the riverbed Krit, that is before Jordan … And the ravens brought him food and flesh in the morning etc.”  From where [did they bring it]? — Rab Judah said in Rab’s name: From Ahab’s slaughterers.

According to this Midrash, who was it that decided to stop the rain and bring about a drought?

Think back to our learning last class.  Who does this Midrash support?  When does God’s word enter the picture?

Why does the Midrash want the meat for Elijah to come from the slaughter houses of Ahab?

There could be several answers.  It would take some of the magic out of the story.  It also adds an additional layer of irony to the story: Ahab, the official benefactor of the priests of the Baal, who caused Elijah to declare a drought, unwittingly is the supporter of the prophet of God during the famine that very prophet declared.

Some Modern Commentary

Adi Ness is a comtemporary Israeli artist.  Consider his artistic interpretation:

How does he use our Elijah story?

Does his portrayal of Elijah open up new ways of viewing the prophet?  Was this close to your image of Elijah?

What does he say about the place of the prophet in society?

What does he have to say about our society?

Stories 2 and 3

Until now we have seen only one brief interaction between Elijah and another person:  the king Ahab.  The next 2 stories seem as far removed from that episode as could be.

In this part we will see the development in the narrative and in the character of Elijah.

Story 2 – 17:8-16

Out of all places, Elijah is sent to Tzarfat (Sarafand) by Sidon, in Phoenicia (Lebanon.)  What is the irony in this?

Remember why Elijah declared to Ahab that there would be a drought?  (At least according to the Midrash.)  In the previous class we briefly encountered a character that hails from Sidon (and whom we will get to know much better over time.)  You might want to look at I Kings 16:31-32. So why does God choose to hide Elijah in Sidon?

Let’s pay attention to language:  Some expressions and roots repeat throughout this section (and even spill into the next one.) The help form a unity in the section and point us in the direction of major themes of the narrative.  Look for the following expressions/roots in Hebrew (or the equivalent which will hopefully appear in your translation.)

לכלכלך (2) תכלה, כלתה



דבר ה’

דבר אליהו – דבר ה ביד אליהו

Elijah’s meeting with the poor woman reminds us of another biblical encounter.  What is it, what are the similarities, and where do they differ?

In Gen 24 Abraham’s servant is sent to find a bride for Isaac.  His test for Rebecca is her willingness to draw water for him and for his camels as well.  (Not a small feat for 10 thirsty camels.  And how many of us will share our water bottle with a complete stranger?) Now consider the behavior of the woman in 17:10-11.  The atmosphere is strikingly different. There is no promise of riches.  Nor is there food to promise the traveler.  Death, not marriage, is hanging in the air.  Can you continue the comparisons/differences?

What happens when Elijah requests something to eat?  What is the significance of this confrontation?

Is the woman correct in refusing his request under the circumstances?  Note her recognition of his God (v.12.)  Elijah’s standing as a messenger of the word of the Lord is put to the test here.  Who has believed Elijah so far in this chapter?  Who might not have taken him seriously?

In vv.15-16 we see a development in the woman’s faith in Elijah.  Notice whose sayings are mentioned in each verse.

Story 3 – 17:17-24

What does the widow mean by the harsh words that she speaks to Elijah in v.18?

There are many possible answers.  What do you think?  Pay attention to the title she gives Elijah.  Also, is she speaking about a specific iniquity that she has committed?

Elijah addresses God twice (v.20 and v.21.)  What is the difference between the 2 prayers?

Pay attention to the content of the prayer as well as the place of Elijah in it.  Why does God respond to the second prayer but not to the first?  How do we know that God responded specifically to the second prayer?  Pay attention to the language.

What is the conclusion that the woman draws from this episode?  What significance does it have for Elijah? (V.24)

She uses the term “man of God” both here and in v.18, but the meaning to her seems to be different.  Here she expands and describes what it means.  Has anyone shown this faith in Elijah’s position before?  What does it do to his confidence in himself as messenger of the Lord?

Some Post Biblical Readings

Here is the continuation of the Midrash from section I.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף קיג עמוד א      Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 113a

(מלכים א’ י”ז) “ויהי מקץ ימים וייבש הנחל כי לא היה גשם בארץ” – כיון דחזא דאיכא צערא בעלמא כתיב (מלכים א’ י”ז) “ויהי דבר ה’ אליו לאמר קום לך צרפתה”, וכתיב (שם): “ויהי אחר הדברים האלה חלה בן האשה בעלת הבית”. בעא רחמי למיתן ליה אקלידא דתחיית המתים. אמרי ליה: שלש מפתחות לא נמסרו לשליח: של חיה, ושל גשמים, ושל תחיית המתים. יאמרו: שתים ביד תלמיד ואחת ביד הרב! אייתי הא ושקיל האי, דכתיב (מלכים א’ י”ח) “לך הראה אל אחאב [ואתנה] מטר”.

And it came to pass after a while, that the riverbed dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.”  Now, when [God] saw that the world was distressed [because of the drought], it is written: “And the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Arise, go to Zarephath.”  And it is further written: “And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick.”  Elijah prayed that the keys of resurrection might be given him, but was answered, ‘Three keys have not been entrusted to an agent:  of birth, of rain, and of resurrection. Shall it be said, two are in the hands of the disciple and [only] one in the hand of the Master?! Bring [Me] the other and take this one!’ As it is written, “Go, show y
ourself to Ahab; and I will send rain”. (I Kings 18.)

According to this Midrash, why did the son of the widow become ill?

How does the Midrash understand Elijah?

Some things are not in human hands, the 3 major categories over which man does not excise control are rain (hence we pray for sustenance), birth and resurrection.  According to the Midrash, Elijah had taken the “key” of rain!  (Go back to the commentators we discussed in class 1 last class.)  Now he wants the “key” to resurrection!  What would that make him?  How does God respond?

As we move on to chapter 18, what has the Midrash created?

Midrash creates when there is a window of opportunity.  They sometimes add, sometimes rewrite a story.  Here Midrash gives an alternative reading to the events.  They fill the gap between the closing of chapter 17 and the opening of 18.  Have we seen something similar previously?

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