Haftarah Pinchas: Reading the Text X
“And He said, ‘Go forth and stand on the mountain before God; and behold! God is passing, and a great, powerful wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the God; but the God was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but God was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire; but God was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.”
“And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said: ‘Why are you here, Elijah?’ (I Kings 19:11-13)”
The message of the “still small voice,” is consistent with the lesson that began with Elijah’s first meal, something can come form nothing, and the second meal that nourished him for forty day and forty night journey; a small thing, even a small accomplishment can last. Elijah may see himself as a failure; a nothing, but something can come even from nothing. Elijah may view all his efforts as no more than a whisper in the battle for Israel’s soul, but God is in the “still small voice.”
Before Elijah could learn the lesson of the still small voice, he had to first learn that God was not in the powerful wind, He was not in the earthquake, and not in the fire. Elijah’s mission was not to be as powerful as the splitting of the Sea, affected through the wind, not as the great miracle of the earth swallowing Korach, and not even in the fire he brought down from heaven at Mount Carmel. Change brought about by a miracle will not last; people will not find God in the big productions.
However, when we carefully read the text, we find that the order spoken by God is not the order of the events! When God speak, He says, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before God,” and after Elijah goes forth and stands on the mountain, “Behold! God is passing.” Yet the wind began to blow before Elijah could go forth. The earthquake shook the earth, and the fire burned, and Elijah still did not go forth and stand. He does nothing. “When Elijah heard it,” the still small voice, “he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave.” He did not emulate Moshe who covered his face at the Burning Bush, or Moshe whose face was covered by God’s Hand when he stood in the same cave, when he heard the wind, felt the earthquake, and saw the fire. He covered his face only when he heard the still small voice. Although God’s words read as if He is describing what will happen, they happen as He speaks. The wind blows, the earth shakes, the fire burns, before Elijah can go forth and stand on the mountain. Elijah experiences the power of God’s words, and this is the still small voice that he heard.
He wrapped himself in his mantle as we wrap ourselves in a Tallit, and went out to stand on the mountain to find God, which he does, in God’s question: “Why are you here, Elijah?” Do you still want to shake the world? Do you still burn with the same fiery jealousy? Have you learned the lesson of this vision and experience? If you have not changed, Elijah, from this incredible vision, can you expect Israel to change because of your Hollywood productions?
“And he said, ‘I have been exceedingly zealous/jealous for God, Power of Legions, for the Children of Israel have abandoned Your covenant; they have razed Your altars; they have killed Your prophets with the sword, so that I remain, by myself, and they seek my soul to take her‘ (I Kings 19:14).” The same words. The same answer as before his vision. “I have not changed.”
Elijah now understands that challenge of change, and is prepared to live as a still small voice, step by step preparing Israel for the future.
This is the Elijah who comes to a Brit Milah; This is only a step forward; it is not the end, but the beginning.
This is the Elijah who appears at the Seder: Don’t expect wind, earthquakes, or fire, from this experience. It will not be life changing unless you stop and listen to the still small voice.
This is the Elijah we remember as we recite Havdalah and step out of the cave back into the world, ready to take small steps forward, one after the other, each reflecting the still small voice we can hear if only we stop seeking powerful winds, earthquakes and fires to be inspired to grow in our service of God.
The same still small voice we can hear when we cover our faces and recite the Shema: Listen! Listen for the still small voice.