Melachim Bet

We just can't stop learning! ...The Bekiut Nach class of 5766 in a quest to complete Nevi'im Rishonim

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Chapter 2 ...continued /


We have become accustomed to seeing Eliyahu as a lone figure. Even though he is described as having an assistant (see 18:43,19:3) the assistant plays a very minor role. Eliyahu is always depicted alone appearing with a certain surprise, a suddenness. And yet, in this Perek, Eliyahu is surrounded by followers; talmidim! Now, clearly, the Bnei Neviim in this chapter feel attached to Eliyahu. They search for him for three days! In the early section of the perek, they are deeply disturbed by his imminent passing. Did Eliyahu really have Talmidim, in the manner of Shmuel? (see I Samuel 19:20-22) - Shmuel guided trainee prophets in the art of prophecy? Was that the relationship? Or possibly they had remote contact with Eliyahu, but, due to their ongoing practice of the art of prophecy, they revered Eliyahu who was the "Master", the ultimate prophet.

This having been said, why does the perek bring n the topic of the Bnei Neviim? What does the Perek transmit to us by this inclusion?

A second peculiarity that we should mention if we have been reading Sefer Melachim thus far, is that ever since that auspicious moment in which Eliyahu hurled his cloak at Elisha (19:19) transforming him into a prophet, we have never seen Eliyahu and Elisha together. This perek is the first time that we are permitted to view Eliyahu and Elisha walking and talking with one another. This is especially curious in the light of the passuk that instructs Eliyahu to anoint Elisha as "a prophet instead of you." (19:16) And we wonder then what manner of apprenticeship Elisha experienced with Eliyahu. Sefer Melachim never elaborates. We DO know that here in ch.2, the other prophets address Elisha refrring to Eliyahu as "Your master" – telling us that in some way Elisha was already know as Eliyahu's "Talmid Muvhak." (primary student.) Another informative source appears in ch.3 where Elisha is identified as "Elisha ben Shafat who poured water on the hands of Eliyahu." Is this a metaphor for close apprenticeship, or for a personal attendant. We don't know. But apparently Elisha and Eliyahu had spent considerable time together up to this point.

So we have two observations. The first concerns the Bnei Neviim; the second concerns Elisha. In a snese they are both new additions to the Eliyahu story. What message do they give us.


The perek is built with an inbuilt threefold repetition:

2 Eliyahu said to Elisha:
'Please stay here, for God has sent me to Beth-el.'
And Elisha said: 'As God lives, and your soul lives, I will not leave you.'
So they went down to Beth-el.—

4 Eliyahu said to him:
'Elisha! Please stay here, for God has sent me to Yericho.'
And he said: 'As God lives, and your soul lives, I will not leave you.'
So they came to Yericho.—

6 Eliyahu said:
'Please, stay here, for God has sent me to the Jordan River.'
And he said: 'As God lives, and your soul lives, I will not leave you'
So they went together.--

What is the nature of this repetition?

Eliyahu tries to encourage Elisha to leave him. Elisha expresses his dedication, and unwillingness to abandon his teacher. Here we witness the uncompromising commitent of a student to his Master. Eliyahu repeatedly requests that his student leave him, but the student refuses to leave him – for God's sake, and for Eliyahu's sake – and it would appear that Eliyahu is happy that he accompanies him … when they do leave for the Jordan at the end of passuk 6 … they go "together," indicating a certain connection.
Moreover, after the third conversation, Eliyahu doesn't challenge Elisha again, say, before he allows him to join him in crossing the Jordan. He accepts that Elisha is accompanying him. It is almost as if Elisha has proven his worthiness.

Here let us return to the Bnei Neviim. God apparently informed them of Eliyahu's imminent demise so that they could prepare themselves for this difficult moment. It could be that God sent Eliyahu on a very uncharacteristic social "tour" in order that the community of Nevei Hashem would have a special opportunity to pay respects to the great prophet Eliyahu. And yet, here we see a major difference between Elisha and the other prophets. They understand, even in the opening lines, that Eliyahu is Elisha's master. And they realise that they (#7) will have to stand "at a distance." So the pesukim enforce the feeling of concentric circles around Eliyahu. First, there is his Talmud Muvhak, and then the wider group of prophets.

This flows directly to the final exchange between Elisha and Eliyahu.

"9 And it came to pass, when they crossed, that Eliyahu said to Elisha: 'Ask what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.'
And Elisha said: 'Let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.'
10 And he said: 'You have asked a hard thing; nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so; but if not, it shall not be so.'"

A strange conversation. What is Elisha asking, and what is the reply? Many mepharshim (ibn Ezra, Radak) understand that Elisha is asking not to have DOUBLE of Eliyahu's power. That would indeed be presumptuous, arrogant and near impossible. Rather, Elisha requests to have a double portion – like a firstborn receives a double portion (pi shnayim.) The question is WHO WILL SUCCEED ELIYAHU? Even now, it would appear that the status of Elisha is not fully assured. And it is still an open question. Elisha imagines Eliyahu's powers being shared by ALL the Neviim. He requests that he be granted a double share.

Obviously Eliyahu cannot grant the gift of prophecy. God does that. Hence, Eliyahu gives him a sign. If you see me go up to heaven, then it will be proof to yo that you are indeed at an exceptional standard of Nevua.

In this sense, we can reframe the perek. The drama is about how Elisha is qualitatively different from the other Neviim. He sees Eliyahu go up in fire. (See Melachim Bet 6:17 – that one's eyes need to be specially opened in order to see chariots of fire and horses… it is not an image that is ordinarily visible.) He sees Eliyahu and the manner in which he departs the world, and hence he doesn't search. The other Bnei Neviim, see nothing. Their prophecy is of a lower level. Hence they search. Elisha knows that they will find nothing.

Maybe Eliyahu deliberately throws his cloak, his Aderet down to Elisha - the same mysterious garment that has the power to seep Elisha off his feet in ch.19 – in order that he can add his extra boost to the prophetic power that he hopes God will grant to Elisha. At any rate, Elisha's ability to split the Jordan reinforces to all the Bnei Nevvim that Elisha has taken Eliyahu's place and that he has his powers.

If this is correct, we may assert that one of the primary dramas of the story is exactly the Rebbi-Talmid relationship. When Eliyahu goes up in the fiery chariot, Elisha rips his clothing and refers to Eliyahu is his father. In fact, it is from this Perek that the Gemara in Moed Katan teaches that a Talmid Muvhak is obligated to tear Keriah for his Rebbe. And there are many Mishnayot (see Bava metzia 33a) that reflect the relationship of father-son in the Rebbe-student relationship "for your father brings you into this world, and your Rav into the world to come." But in truth, the Rav also provides purpose, and meaning, a new set of values and norms, in THIS world.

Let us add that here that it is only Elisha's devotion to his Rebbe that ensures his witnessing that vision, and his affirmation as Eliyahu's successor. Had Elisha been less persistent , he would have given up and let Eliyahu go alone, and none of this would have happened. Maybe the Tanach is reminding us that sometimes, the greatest way in which a Talmid can follow his teacher is by simply spending time with him, and even in the "down" moments – not great shiurim, or even conversations – but simple living, one learns a great deal. It is in "shimush talmidei chachamim" that true Rebbe talmid relationships are built. And this is the deep understanding of the Gemara:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף ז עמוד ב
ואמר רבי יוחנן משום רבי שמעון בן יוחי: גדולה שמושה של תורה יותר מלמודה, שנאמר: +מלכים ב' ג'+ פה אלישע בן שפט אשר יצק מים על ידי אליהו, למד לא נאמר אלא יצק - מלמד שגדולה שמושה יותר מלמודה.

Hence the end of the perek fits in perfectly. First is a story whereby Elisha acts as head of the clan of the Neviim, solving their problems via miraculous means, caring for their physical wellbeing. Elisha here turns death into life (see #21). (And it is interesting that in Jericho – by the Dead Sea – salt makes the water live – whereas the salt of the Dead Sea makes the sea "Dead"! … what does this teach us?)

And the very difficult story of the bears killing the children is also part of this story. As Elisha is ascending the mountain – quite a climb – to go to Beit El, youth emerge from "the city" – meaning Jericho (see #19 for a parallel) – and yell at Elisha. They yell "Go up, baldie." Why do they yell this?: Remember how Eliyahu is described in 1:8 as having long hair. As Elisha huffs and puffs up the hill, they see him in a moment of weakness and they are commenting of Elisha's baldness as opposed to Eliyahu's hair, but between the lines, they are expressing a critique of Elisha – whereas Eliyahu was full, you are empty, Eliyahu had hair, you do not. In other words, they cast aspersions regarding Elisha's worthiness. This is AFTER Elisha has saved their city's water supply! Elisha responds harshly. God reacts even more harshly by sending some mauling bears. God thereby expresses his absolute defence of his chosen prophet.


We can talk about the manner in which this perek transcribes the transition from Eliyahu to Elisha.

As much as the perek tells the story of Eliyahu's 'death' or disappearance, it tells the story of Elisha's unique status amongst the prophets, his special role, developed through years of dedication to and apprenticeship with Eliyahu. And the Perek affirms the succession of Elisha as the heir to the legacy of Eliyahu.