Haftarah Parshat Vayerah
(2 Kings 4:1-4:37)
October 26, 2002
This week’s haftarah contains two of the miraculous episodes in the life of Elisha, the prophetic disciple of Elijah. In the second story, Elisha miraculously prophesies the birth of a son to the Shunamite woman. One day, after the child has grown up, he ventures out to visit his father in the fields. While in the field, he suffers a pain in his head. His father has him carried back to his mother, where he dies in her arms. She takes the dead boy and carries him up to a special apartment in her house set aside for Elisha, where he stayed on his visits to town. She places the boy’s body on the bed, closes the door and quickly sets out to find Elisha to plead with him to intercede on the child’s behalf. Elisha, at first, sends his servant Gehazi to restore the boy to life. Elisha is very explicit in his charge to his servant: “Gird your loins [get dressed], take my staff in your hand, and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him and if anyone greets you do not answer him. And place my staff on the boy’s face.” (2 Kings 4:29) Gehazi; however; proved unable to restore the boy to life.
What caused Gehazi’s mission to fail, requiring Elisha to go himself to restore the boy to life? The Biblical story does not deal with this question. Pirke d’Rabbi Eliezer, an 8th-9th century aggadic work probably written in the Land of Israel, attempts to give an answer. This book is not a midrash in the classical sense but rather a retelling of the Biblical narrative. Notice how it weaves its answer into its retelling of the Biblical story.
“[Elisha commanded]: ‘Take my walking staff in your hand.’ He then handed it to Gehazi. He then said to him: ‘Do not say a single word until you have gone and placed my staff on the boy’s face so that he will be brought back to life.’ Instead Gehazi made a mockery of his master’s command by asking everyone he met whether they thought he would succeed in accomplishing his mission to restore the boy to life. This explains why the mission was unsuccessful until Elisha went and put his face on the boy’s face, his eyes on the boy’s eyes and prayed to God: ‘Master of the world, just as You performed miracles through my master, Elijah, and restored people from the dead, so too do this miracle for me and restore the boy from the dead.’ The boy was miraculously restored to life” (adapted from Pirke d’Rabbi Eliezer Chapter 33)
What distinguished Elisha’s success from Gehazi’s failure? Elisha’s faith and determination gave him the strength to be undeterred in carrying out his mission. Gehazi failed because his faith was weak. Consequently he could not focus sufficiently on his responsibility. Elisha’s determination should serve as our model. Gehazi’s equivocation should be a warning.