Parsha Mitzvot: Shemot: Mitzvot 516 & 424 – Concepts 9 & 10
“Moses responded and said, ‘But they will not believe me, and they will not heed my voice, for they will say, “God did not appear to you.” We are commanded to listen to a prophet. (9) We are forbidden to unduly test a prophet. (10) Rambam, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah – The Fundamentals of Torah.
Why do we listen to a Navi? How do you know a Navi speaks for God? We don’t listen to a Navi because a Navi makes many miracles happen. We don’t listen to a Navi because the Navi has predicted the future and the predictions have proven to be accurate. We don’t listen to a Navi because the Navi says, “Well, you know, God spoke to me the other day, this is what He said you should do.” We don’t listen to a Navi for those reasons because anyone can do it, and you have people who have all sorts of magical powers.
All the Jews were worshipping God; they were very religious, very orthodox, but they also served an idol named Ba’al. In other words, they were religious, they went to shul, they contributed money to the Rabbi’s discretionary fund, and they kept kosher and everything else, but they worshipped an idol called Ba’al, because, quite frankly, the most successful armies in the area were those armies of people who worship Ba’al, and they figure if you want to win your battle, you want to have everyone on your side, including Ba’al.
There was a terrible drought, demanded by Elijah in response to their idol worship. Elijah and the King of Israel, Ahab, decided to “have it out” on Mt. Carmel:
They built two identical altars and made a deal. They would take two animals, born on the same day, in the same pen. They would each slaughter one animal, and each one would place an animal on the altar, each one would yell up to their God, “Send out a fire from heaven,” and whichever God would send out a fire from heaven, would be proven to be the real God.
The people who worshipped Ba’al knew very well that no fire was going to come down from heaven to burn up their animal. So, they hid a man underneath their altar with a torch, telling him that when we signal, you’ll just go like that; it will appear as if the fire has appeared out of nowhere, and that will prove that Ba’al is at least as powerful as the Jewish God. So they gathered together, they built this altar, and they hid the man with the torch underneath the altar.
The two animals were prepared. Elijah says, “Listen, I’m here with Elisha, only one person; you have hundreds of thousands of people in your side, who believe in Ba’al, you should go first.”
“Thank you very much.”
The Ba’al worshippers sent some schlepper to go and get the animal. He goes, tries to pull the animal, but the animal won’t budge. So then, he comes, he pulls a little harder; it’s a stubborn animal, they send a second person over, one person pushes, the other person tugs, they can’t move this animal one inch. So, they bring a third person, then they say, “Hey! Elijah, you know, we’re just taking care of some problems here,” and you know they’re pushing with three and four people, and meanwhile, the rumors and whispers are going around. They’re desperate to get this animal to move, they can’t move this animal!
Finally, they figure it out.
They go to Elijah, they say, “One minute here, this is a trick, this is no fair, you’re doing some kind of magical trick, the whole deal is off.”
He says, “What are you talking about? A trick, me? Elijah the prophet? Would you think Elijah would trick anyone?”
So, Elijah went over to the animal, and he starts yelling, “What’s your problem?” So the animal answered him, and says, “Listen, I don’t want to go on an altar to an idol.” So, Elijah says, “Listen, by you going on that altar, you’ll help prove that God is God, and there is no other god, and that Ba’al is not. So, really, you will be sanctifying the name of God by going on the altar to Ba’al.”
So the animal answered Elijah and said, “Well, you know, that is very easy for you to say, ‘cause it’s me that’s going to be going on top of that altar, but I will do it on one condition; if you hand me over to them.” So, Elijah goes, he takes the animal, hands it over to them.
Now, whether this story is true or not, let’s pretend for a second that it’s true: Would you say that these are unusual circumstances? And would you say that an animal talking is impressive? And an animal saying “I don’t want to go on the altar” is impressive? And then Elijah being able to move the animal by himself? No one’s impressed.
They take the animal, slaughter the animal, put the animal on the altar, and they start yelling their secret signal to the man who is hidden under the altar. Little do they know that God sent a little snake to come and bite the man hiding under the altar, who is now dead. He can’t hear their signal. They don’t realize that he’s dead. They start yelling louder and louder, “Oh, send the fire, oh, send the fire!” They’re yelling louder and louder and louder and louder; you had eight hundred and fifty priests of idols there yelling, the stupid idiot underneath the altar doesn’t get the message, there’s no fire!
They realized something must be going wrong; things are not going well here. So, they start dancing and praying to their god and tearing out their hair and cutting themselves, and meanwhile, Elijah is saying, “You know what? Maybe your god is in the bathroom, and the door’s locked. Why don’t you yell a little louder?”
So they start yelling a little louder. And they are yelling for another hour, and Elijah says, “You know what? Maybe he’s taking a nap. Why don’t you wake him up?” So they yell a little louder. They’re going nuts; they have sore throats… Unbelievable, they’re going insane; their throats are raw, they’re exhausted, they’re bleeding, their hair is pulled out, they look like hell, they all need showers, but no fire comes from heaven.
Elijah says, “Okay, hey, listen, it’s my turn.”
He takes twelve stones, builds an altar in front of anyone; he makes sure that no one suspects that he has someone hiding under his altar. He digs a little ditch all the way around his altar, and he calls his student, Elisha, and says “Elisha, bring the animal.” They bring the animal; they slaughter the animal. Then he says, “Elisha, can you fill this whole area with water, please?”
So, Elisha said, “You know, I’d really like to do it, but the whole reason we’re here is because there has been a drought for three years, and it’s a little difficult, because nobody has any water.” So, Elijah says, “Don’t worry about it, just fill it with water,” and the pasuk says that his fingers turned into fountains of water that filled up the it with water and flooded the altar with water.
Something miraculous was happening!
Elijah calls out to God, “Aneini Elokim, aneini,” “Answer me God, Answer me.”
Why did he say answer me twice? “Answer me” with a fire from heaven, and “answer me” so that they won’t think it’s a magical trick.
A fire comes down from heaven, burns up all the water, burns up the animal, burns up the altar, the Jews see it, “Wow! Hashem hu HaElokim!” They bowed down to the ground, “We believe in God, we believe, we believe!” and they take out their swords and they murder and execute all the priests of Ba’al and all the priests of Asheira, “no more idol worship for us,” and then it starts to rain, the drought is over, there’s a parade, and Elijah is dancing and everyone is really happy. God won the day. His miracles worked. Everyone believes.
Jezebel sends a message to Elijah, and she says, “Listen, Eli, I have a message for you. Today, I can’t kill you, because today, everyone believes in God, but tomorrow, I’ll kill you, because tomorrow, they’ll forget about it.”
And Elijah says, “You know something? She’s right.” and he runs away, and then he asks God to die. “Well, what did I accomplish?”
Miracles proved absolutely nothing. We don’t listen to a navi because a navi makes miracles happen. We don’t listen to a navi because the navi can predict the future. We listen to a navi because the Torah says to listen to a navi.
Why do we obey the Torah? Because Moshe, the navi, was a different category of prophet: