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Haftarah: Vayeira: At What Cost?

II Kings 4:1-37: How much must a person be willing to sacrifice in order to help his community?

The selection begins with the story of a widow, desperate for money to pay her deceased husband’s creditors. They were taking her children as slaves to pay her deceased husband’s debts. She pleaded with the prophet, Elisha, to help her. She needed a miracle.

Table Talk

Ø Who was this woman?

Ø Why did her husband borrow so much money and put his family at great risk?

Ø Would Elisha make a miracle for anyone so desperate for money?

Ø Did he need a miracle?

Surely, a prophet of God, a leader of the community could raise funds to help the woman. Perhaps, he could have used his moral authority to plead her case with the creditor.

The sages teach that the woman was the widow of Obadiah He had been in charge of the household of the previous king, Ahab, and, at great risk to his family and life, he sustained one hundred prophets of God from the murderous queen, Jezebel. (See I Kings 18:12-13) Desperate times called for desperate measures. Obadiah was convinced that he had to do everything possible to protect the lives of the hundred prophets. He borrowed the money from Jehoram, Ahab’s son, the king at the time of this story. (Rashi) Obadiah died before being able to pay his obligations and Jehoram was determined to collect.

Table Talk

Ø Was Obadiah permitted to place his family at such great risk in order to save the prophets?

Ø Would Elisha have performed such a great miracle if Obadiah’s debts were for a lesser cause?

Ø Can a teacher sacrifice his family in order to teach Torah to a generation thirsty for guidance?

Ø Can a person sacrifice basic time with his wife and children in order to dedicate himself to the community?

Ø How much is a teacher obligated – if anything – to sacrifice to the public?

Ø May a person rely on God’s protection of his family as a response to his sacrifice?

Ø Was Elisha’s miracle a statement to other people who would find themselves facing a situation similar to Obadiah’s?

Ø At what cost must a leader lead?

Ø Does this not parallel Abraham’s situation when commanded to sacrifice his son?


Please forgive the long list of questions: One of my goals in writing these emails is to help people place picture the stories of the Prophets as if they were active participants. I want people to experience the situations that generated the prophecies so that we can feel as if the prophet was speaking directly to us.™ recently added a TableTalk section to its future website. We hope to suggest questions for the Shabbat Table that will trigger substantive conversations. This essay is intended to introduce TableTalk and to engender important discussions over the course of Shabbat. Please let me know your opinion about TableTalk and any suggestions you may have for future weekly emails. Thank You.

First Responses:

Jacob Segura (Los Angeles):

Dear Rabbi Weinberg,

I would ask additional questions. Was Obadiah irresponsible and foolish, and even a little arrogant to “throw his wife and sons under the bus” to save 100 strangers? Where does he get off incurring those debts that encumber the futures of his wife and sons? Either his priorities were out of whack, or he arrogantly tempted God by expecting God to bail him and his family out if things did not go as he had planned (which happened because he died before repaying his debts.) It is “sub-prime” borrowing and lending like this (borrowing without any realistic ability to repay) that created the financial meltdown that we are now suffering through.

Turning to the Avraham connection you raise, it was only the voice of the Angel that prevented Avraham from committing premeditated murder in the first degree. Even with the Bat Kol, Avraham certainly committed horrendous child abuse fully justifying prosecution by Child Protective Services, and the placing of Yitzhak in foster care. Sarah to was complicit, knowing for years that Avraham had been hearing voices, and talking to invisible visitors.

Obviously, the issue is where does one draw the line? How can we possibly know when the sacrifices we choose to make are worthwhile and promoting of goodness, and when are we pursuing our own vanities, and massaging our subconscious urges to feel good about ourselves, at the expense of those we love? I don’t know the answer.

Sarah Salvay (Monsey)

It would seem that in order for us to have great leaders, people who completely devote themselves to the cause of the Klal,(community) some personal sacrifices are necessary.

I believe that leaders who are involved in outreach justify the neglect they might be imposing on their families by focusing on the fact that what they are doing is saving lives, saving Neshamos. (Souls)

The question is- how are we to judge whether saving “the masses” is more important than taking care of our own children?

Did Ovadia ask for his wife’s permission before taking out the loan?

Does this go back to your question last week- was Avraham required to ask Sara’s permission before going to Eretz (The Land of) Israel?

When one spouse decides to sacrifice his/her family for a greater cause, doesn’t he/she need explicit authorization, support and well-defined parameters?

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