Parshat Ki Tissa
(1 Kings 18:1-39)
February 26, 2005
King Ahab and his subjects were not renowned for their great piety. Rather, the entire generation was infamous for its syncretism and its blatant idolatry under the influence of Ahab\’s wicked wife, Jezebel: \”And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him: \’Is that you, you troubler of Israel?\’ And Elijah answered: \’I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father\’s house, since you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and you have followed the Baalim.\’ (1 Kings 18:18)
It is interesting, with this in mind, that Ahab\’s generation should become an exemplar of a behavior worthy of emulation, as is found in the following midrash: \”Rabbi Yossi from Malachia and Rabbi Yehoshua from Sichnin said in the name of Rabbi Levi: Children from the days of David, until they have tasted sin [reached puberty] can explain the Torah 49 pure ways and 49 impure ways… After all this praise [about how exceptional the people were in David\’s generation], still, when they went out to war, they fell in battle. Why? In David\’s generation, there were many who spoke slander… But in the generation of Ahab, even though everyone worshipped idols, still, when they went out to do battle, they were victorious. Why? There were no slanderers [informants] in Ahab\’s generation. This can be learned from what Ovadiah [Ahab\’s servant] said to Elijah [the prophet]: \’Was it not told my lord [Elijah] what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred men of the Lord\’s prophets fifty to a cave, and fed them with bread and water? (1 Kings 18:13)… and all of the people knew of this and no one informed the queen.\” (Adapted from Leviticus Rabba 26:2)
Ahab\’s generation certainly had none of the virtues of David\’s generation. They were not loyal to God. They did not study Torah. Their children were not Torah virtuosos. Still, according to this midrashic tradition, David\’s generation was punished because they did not control how they spoke, while Ahab\’s generation was rewarded for being careful in how they spoke. The sages use the wicked Ahab to illustrate how important it is to speak carefully. This single virtue was enough to save his entire generation. It is also avirtue worthy of our attention.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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