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Ki Tissa 5774

Haftarah Parshat Ki Tissa
(1 Kings 18:1-39)
February 15, 2014
15 AdarI 5774

King Ahab is infamous for his infidelity to God. He and his wife, Jezebel, were renowned for having led the northern kingdom astray from the worship of God and for persecuting God’s prophets. After a long drought, God sent the prophet Elijah to confront him: “When Ahab caught sight of Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is that you, troubler of Israel?’ He retorted: ‘It is not I who have brought trouble on Israel, but you and your father’s house, by forsaking the commandments of the Lord and going after the Baalim.’ (1 Kings 18:17-18)

In the rabbinic tradition, there is a debate over what makes a person unredeemable. Did Ahab’s affinity for idolatry render him someone who was beyond the pale? Rabbi Joseph Albo discusses this question in his treatise, Sefer Haikkarim (1:14). He notes that the transgression of any given commandment, even the most serious among them, does not signify the denial of the essence of Judaism: “Even though [Idolatry] is a very serious transgression, so much so that our sages say with regard to it that ‘one who believes in idolatry is like one who denies the whole Torah,’ note that it says ‘like’ one who denies and not ‘one who denies’. Let us note that Ahab worshipped idolatry but did not deny God, since he believed Elijah and he understood that the drought was on account of Elijah’s vows, as it says: ‘Is that you, troubler of Israel?’ Ahab erred in idolatry, perhaps thinking that idols were an intermediary between a person and God, or perhaps he thought that God guides only those who are good or who cling to Him like Elijah or other righteous ones like him, but for all others, their lives are guided by natural forces (the stars) and for this reason, he worshipped idols in order to influence his fate.”

It is interesting to note how much leeway Albo grants Ahab who is portrayed by the tradition as an idolatrous and villainous king. Albo, instead, depicts him as a religious person with doubts who only wants to “cover his bets” without actually denying God’s existence or power. One has to wonder why he would use Ahab as his paradigm. I can only think that he chose the most extreme character he could find in order to assert that the doors are never closed not even to the Ahabs amongst us.

About This Commentary

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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