Haftarah Parshat Vayera
(2 Kings 4:1-37)
October 19, 2013
15 Heshvan 5774
The second story in this week’s haftarah opens with an account of the Shunamite woman’s incredible hospitality and kindness toward the prophet Elisha. So great was her generosity that she and her husband even had special quarters built in their home for his visits to their town: “Let us make a small enclosed upper chamber (aliyat kir) and place a bed, a table, a chair and a lampstand there for him, so that he can stop there whenever he comes to us.” (4:10)
The Talmud relates this verse to the biblical story of King Hezekiah, one of the righteous kings of the southern kingdom of Judah, who in a moment of tribulation and illness cried out in prayer before God: “Thereupon Hezekiah turned his face to the wall (kir) and prayed to the Lord.” (Isaiah 38:2) The “pshat” or plain meaning of this verse concerning Hezekiah is simple. He took up a place before wall and he prayed. The Talmud, however, takes the word “kir” mentioned in this verse and conjures up various biblical associations to enhance the case that Hezekiah presents before God as he beseeches God for the restoration of his health.
Among those associations, the Talmud makes reference to the story in our haftarah: “R. Levi said: [Hezekiah prayed] with reference to ‘kir’. He said before Him (God) : Master of the Universe! The Shunamite woman made only one little chamber [on the roof for God’s prophet] and You restored her son to life. How much more so, then, regarding my illness since my ancestor overlaid the Temple with silver and gold! Remember now, O Lord, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart, and have done that which is good in Thy sight. (Isaiah 38:4) (Adapted from Berachot 10b)
This Talmudic story tries to draw a correlation between extraordinary deeds done by human beings and divine mercy. Hezekiah asserts that if the Shunamite woman’s act was answered with her son’s restoration to health after having died then most certainly his prayers for health should be answered as well on account of his ancestor Solomon’s extraordinary act of kindness towards God in building the Temple.
Human acts matter not just in the world but also to how God interacts with us. Human beings are certainly expected to have gratitude for God’s providence. It is our hope and prayer that we can have the same expectation from God.
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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