Haftarah Parshat Vayera (2 Kings 4:1-37)
October 31, 2015 / 18 Heshvan 5776
This week’s haftarah opens with the miraculous story of the prophet, miracle worker Elisha and a poor woman, the widow of a prophet who on account of a debt was threatened with losing her children to slavery. This injustice called for a miracle and Elisha obliged. He asked the woman what she had in the house. She responded that she has a flask of oil. He told her to collect empty vessels and then made the following command: “Then go in and shut the door behind you and your children, and pour [oil] into all those vessels, removing each one as it is filled.” (4:4)
Rashi seems surprised by a certain detail of this story. He is taken by the request that the miracle be performed behind closed doors, explaining that “the honor of miracles is that they be performed privately”. This explanation seems counter intuitive to our normative understanding of the purpose of a miracle since we normally think of a miracle as a public proclamation of God’s special powers. This particular problem probably led a later commentator, Rabbi Meir Malbim (Poland 19th century), to modify this explanation: “lest the evil eye come upon it, namely, that an unfit person approach and on account of his evil deeds, the flow of plenty will cease.”
Malbim asserts that miracles work best when unencumbered by sinful behavior. God works miracles for the worthy. When someone unworthy is involved, it curbs the reason for the miracle. Perhaps, though, Rashi’s message is didactic. He may want God to serve as a model for our behavior. Good deeds and acts of Tzedaka (righteousness, sometimes understood as “charity”) are best performed without fanfare and self-aggrandizement. If God is willing to forgo the glory, we, too, should also be willing to do good without the need to proclaim our self-import. The bottom line is that sometimes the greatest of miracles happen when there does not seem to be a miracle at all.