Haftarah Pinchas: Reading the Text VII
“So he arose, and ate and drank; then he went, on the strength of that meal, forty days and forty nights, until the Mountain of God, Horeb (I Kings 19:8).” What did Elijah eat? If it was from the same cake, why did only this meal and not the first last forty days and forty nights? How did Elijah know to head to Horeb?
We cannot read of forty days and forty nights without thinking of Moshe who did not eat or drink for the forty days and forty nights when he was on Horeb/Sinai. Yet, Moshe went for so long without a magical meal, and only after he was already on Horeb. Elijah had his forty day-forty night period without eating before he reached Horeb.
It was not the food that empowered him to journey forty days and nights without eating, not even food served directly from Heaven’s kitchen. It was the preparation: “Arise! Eat! For the road will be long for you (Verse 7).” The same miraculous food changes by virtue of the preparation for the meal. That is why the verse insists, “The angel of God returned to him for a second time. That is why the angels goes through the same motions as in Verse 5; “touched him,” “Eat! Drink!” Everything is the same, and yet the touch, the food and the drink are all different.
Elijah was different after his first meal than he was before: He experienced “yeish mai’ayin,” something from nothing. He learned that even the person who feels that he is a nothing, “no better than my forefathers (Verse 4),” can become something! He was not helpless or hopeless. He could reconnect to his original intention of, “va’yeilech el nafsho,” walking toward his soul, connecting with himself, and achieving more.
The Elijah who experiences the same touch, is not the Elijah who felt the angel’s first touch. The Elijah who ate the same food, drank from the same container of water, was not the Elijah who first ate and drank. The food and water became different because of who was eating and drinking.
The Children of Israel who lived after the miracles on Mount Carmel and the blessing of the rain, were not the same people as they were before the experience. Jezebel saw only the surface; that Elijah’s efforts would not result in massive change, but she was oh so wrong about the lasting effects of Elijah’s accomplishments. The people were different, and they would be able to derive more from their future experiences than they were from any previous.
Elijah had not failed.
He ate and drank with his new perspective. He understood the angels words, “for the road will be long for you,” as referring to his own personal journey; he must shed Jezebel’s poisonous approach of demanding immediate results, and approach his efforts as steps forward on a long journey.
This clarity changed Elijah’s perspective of the Covenant of Torah, and the place where the covenant was carved: Horeb. He understood that even Moshe’s forty day and night stay on Sinai was not the end of a journey, but a beginning.
Horeb as the destination of a journey is a failure: The Golden Calf. Horeb as the beginning of a journey, can work through Golden Calves, Ahabs and Jezebels.
Horeb as the ultimate achievement will allow an Elijah to consider himself a failure. Horeb as the beginning of a journey will heal Elijah, and empower him to soar to the Heavens on the greatest journey of all, one that never ends; the Elijah who appears throughout history until he announces the coming of the Messiah.
This is the Elijah who visits a Brit Milah: This is the beginning of a journey for child and parent.
This is the Elijah who joins the Seder: “Don’t look back with longing to the Exodus; Look forward with expectation!”