Haftarah Parshat Vayera
October 23, 2010
(2 Kings 4:1-37)
15 Heshvan 5771
Modern people often find certain traditional religious concepts absurd or distasteful. This has sometimes even colored the way some academic scholars have approached their studies of the past. The concept known as \”tehiyat hamatim – the resurrection of the dead\” has had just such a fate. The Talmudic sages were pronounced in finding allusions to this concept in the biblical text. Modern scholars, however, sought to distance this concept from the biblical arena and see it as a late, foreign intruder into the Jewish religion.
Professor J. Levenson has taken a second look at this question, raising the possibility that this concept might underscore a number of significant biblical stories. This idea or a similar one seems to manifest itself in both the story of Isaac\’s miraculous birth to the elderly Abraham and Sarah and the story of the Akedah where Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son and then has his sacrifice miraculously stayed by an angel. In both cases, the patriarchal family is saved from its potential demise through divine intervention. (See his book, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel)
This theme also resonates in both stories in this week\’s haftarah. In the first story, the prophet Elisha saves a widow from selling her children into slavery (a form of death). The second story parallels the stories in the Torah reading. Elisha promises an elderly woman who is childless that she will bear a son. This prophecy comes true. At some point the child dies but is ultimately revived by God\’s agent, Elisha.
What are we to make of this idea? Clearly, the biblical tradition seems focused on the significance of life and on God as both the author and maintainer of life. Since the natural order is filled with examples where the average person experiences the birth and rebirth of life almost daily, these stories assume that God can do what cannot be done in the natural order. It is this idea which inspired the \”resurrection\” of the Jewish people as a national entity in our day.
This idea also might explain the link between this week\’s Torah reading and the haftarah chosen to accompany it. The likely reason that this haftarah was chosen to accompany the Torah reading was because the Sages saw a distinctive link between the stories of the birth of Isaac and the Akedah – the binding of Isaac, on the one hand, and the extraordinary birth of a child to the Shunamite woman, the child\’s sudden death and miraculous resurrection at the hands of Elisha the prophet.