Haftarah Pinchas: Reading the Text VIII
“He came there to the cave and spent the night there; and, behold! The word of God came to him and said to him, ‘Why are you here, Elijah?’ (I Kings 19:9)”
“The word of God came to him and said to him, ‘Why are you here, Elijah,” sounds like, “They heard the Voice of God, the Lord, walking in the garden…God, the Lord called out to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ (Genesis 3:8-9).” Two steps; first the experience of the Voice, and then a defining question.
“Where are you,” ‘ayeka,’ is the same as ‘Eicha’,’ the theme word of Tisha B’Av. We can only imagine what would be different if Adam and Eve, realizing that they could sense the Voice of God even as it moved through the Garden, “mithaleich,’ walking on a journey, despite their sin, ran out to greet God rather than hide; if they had responded to Ayeka with, “We sinned! Forgive us!” This is what we intend to repair when we say, “Shema Yisrael,” Hear!
What would be different if the Children of Israel ran toward God after hearing the report of the Ten Evil Spies, and called out, “We sinned! Forgive us!” This is what we intend to repair when we say, “Shema Yisrael,” Hear!
What would be different if the Jews of Jerusalem heard the thunder of the Babylonian armies as the Voice of God and reached out to Him and said, “We sinned. Forgive us!” This is what we intend to repair when we say, “Shema Yisrael,” Hear!
The people who recovered the corpses of the Beitar Tisha B’Av, that were not decomposed, experienced the miracle as the Voice of God and responded by adding to Benching, even in their darkest hours, “Hatov v’hameitiv,” Who is good and does good, responded as Adam and Eve, the Jews in the desert, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, all could have, and they set the path for the journey of the Jews through history, renewing our commitment to Halacha, the journey of serving God. This is what we intend to emulate when we say, “Shema Yisrael,” Hear! We recite the final blessing of Grace AFTER the Meal, not as an After, but as the first step forward from the experience of God’s blessings through the meal into the journey of our future.
Elijah’s experience is similar, but different: It was not the Voice, but the word. It was as if resting in the famous cave of Moshe (Exodus 33:22) could hear all the words of Torah he had learned, all his prophecies, coming with new clarity. These words called out to him, “Nu! So why are you HERE?”