Elijah - Lesson Plan 2 – Full Class Notes
Re-cap and Introduction
I. Read I Kings 19:8-14
8 Elijah got up, ate and drank, and went refreshed by that food for forty days and nights until he arrived at Horeb, God’s mountain. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.
The Lord’s word came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”
10 Elijah replied, “I’ve been very passionate for the Lord God of heavenly forces because the Israelites have abandoned your covenant. They have torn down your altars, and they have murdered your prophets with the sword. I’m the only one left, and now they want to take my life too!”
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”
14 He said, “I’ve been very passionate for the Lord God of heavenly forces because the Israelites have abandoned your covenant. They have torn down your altars, and they have murdered your prophets with the sword. I’m the only one left, and now they want to take my life too.”
A. Why does God bring Elijah here for this revelation? Why couldn’t the communication be at home in Israel? What’s happens; what’s its effect?
Some say God wanted to make clear the prophet must show more love and compassion for the people than did Elijah. He needed to strip away some of his zealousness. Rather than bringing on drought, he should advocate and, yes, admonish, but also pray for the people, carrying mercy rather than retribution.
Radak is the exception. He thinks God brought Elijah there to have him experience the Shechinah as a reward for having seen to the mass act of teshuvah, the execution of the false prophets. Elijah, he says, did require the contemplation associated with the demonstration. This seems plausible – an exhausted, drained prophet was enlightened and renewed/restored.
This is where Moses advocated for the people after the Golden Calf (though he punished them severely, too).
Moses stood in the cleft of the rock and learned of the Divine attributes (Exodus 33:20-23). Elijah will have a similar experience in that very same place.)
B. Elijah says that he has acted with zeal toward God but the people had forsaken the covenant, killed prophets (or allowed Jezebel to), and razed His altars. Now he’s alone, and they’re trying to take his life. (One supposes that there must have been significant support for Jezebel in her quest against Elijah.)
God tells him to go to the place outside the cave on the mountain. This is akin to the place/manner in which God reveals the Divine Attributes to Moses.
There’s a mighty wind. Then came an earthquake. Then, there was a fire. But God was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire.
Then came a still, small voice (or a sound of sheer silence or voice of a light whisper or a thin sound/voice of a whisper). God was there.
Elijah goes to the entrance of the cave; God asks him why he’s there. Elijah repeats what he had said before.
1. What’s the purpose/lesson of God’s demonstration?
(We see God in a different way than at Sinai. The still, small voice may relate to our conscience, the way in which the Divine communicates with the soul, an idea that we, like God, might need to lead in other holy, less visibly powerful, ways.
All the possible translations create great wonder and possibility of what this is in which God can be found.
God speaks to our conscience, “illuminating the mind and stirring resolve in individual and nation.”)
2. Did Elijah learn the lesson from the voice? It’s unclear. He repeated the same reason for coming.
(Most commentators say that God was disappointed in Elijah’s response, which showed a failure to understand and turn. He should have shown a newfound appreciation for the people as God’s children and the need for the prophet to love them and advocate for them.
On the other hand, is it possible that Elijah saw and appreciated the lesson but simply came to the same conclusion?)
3. Did God shift his expectations of Elijah afterwards?
(Most say yes. Elijah was to go back and prepare for a new King (Yehu) who would root out the current corrupt bunch in Israel and designate Elisha as his successor. See 19:15-18.)
4. Another Midrash sees Elijah as harsh in his righteous indignation. He should here at some point have sought mercy for Israel. God gives him several opportunities to do so, including after the demonstration, but Elijah, it says, only speaks of his needs and observations.
5. General view in the Midrash:
a) Jeremiah honored both the Father and the son,
b) Elijah honored the Father but not the son, and
c) Jonah honored the son but not the Father.
C. Yet, again, most don’t see Elijah as cruel or altogether unloving. Furthermore, he’s remembered for good (zachur latov) so often in Midrash and Talmud because his reason for being has been and continues to be on behalf of the people Israel.
He was tough, but it was in our best interest, to lead us back to God. He did what he did for the “honor of heaven.” It was only love that motivated him. Yet, perhaps God saw a need for the end of his prophecy.
How do you see it?
(Given the people’s resistance to see and do the right, wasn’t Elijah right? Shouldn’t he have been as tough as he was? Wasn’t that necessary?
A good case can be made. Perhaps that’s why there’s a case for Elijah. Perhaps that’s why Elijah continues to live on in tradition and service. Because of his concern that the covenant be maintained, we have a chair for Elijah at each brit milah, as if to assure it’s being done. Would all that be so, if he were seen only as objectionable by God?
But, is it possible that the people were so beaten down both by the King/Queen and Elijah’s harsh punishments they were unable/unwilling/unmotivated to resist and take down Jezebel at the end?
If they had turned entirely, they might have followed Elijah as they did Moses when the latter handled the balance of prophecy/toughness with mercy better in the earlier episodes.
This suggests that had he had and shown the compassion Moses showed, which might have helped turn the people more his way and together, the story would have had a better and more felicitous next stage.)
II. Read I Kings 19:15-18.
15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17 Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
Both Chazel and Yehu attack idolatry in Israel – one as an opponent from the outside, and one as King within. Then Elijah was to appoint Elisha as his successor.
A. So, in a sense, God understands what Elijah says and agrees with it. How can that be so?
(Plenty die as a result of the first two assignments. And, yet, there will be a new leader who might have a better balance.
Yet, all these actions could be seen as harsher for the people than Elijah’s drought, etc.)
What does that portend?
(Perhaps Elijah had the balance of love and duty to God more in balance than his critics suggest.)
B. Actually, Elijah first appointed Elisha, and then Elisha later did the rest. Why?
(Some say Ahab’s repentance delayed the sentence? Some say that since Elijah commissioned Elisha to do it, he did start the action God commissioned in motion.
III. Note in I Kings19:19-21 that Elisha goes home to kiss his father and mother and do some labor before he’s anointed. This suggests separation, loneliness, and isolation for the prophet’s life.
19 So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20 He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah[a] said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” 21 He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
III. Several verses in chapter 21 and 22 in which Elijah foretells the fate of Ahab and Jezebel. Then there is a period in which Elijah does not appear on the scene.
IV. Read II Kings 1:5-8. Had Elijah re-appeared as a nazir?
5 Adonijah, Haggith’s son, bragged about himself and said, “I’ll rule as king myself.” He got his own chariot and horses with fifty runners to go in front. 6 Now Adonijah’s father had never given him direction; he never questioned why Adonijah did what he did. He was very handsome and was born after Absalom. 7 He took advice from Joab, Zeruiah’s son, and from the priest Abiathar. They assisted Adonijah. 8 But Zadok the priest, Jehoiada’s son Benaiah, the prophet Nathan, Shimei and his friends, and David’s veterans didn’t join Adonijah.
V. Read II Kings 2:1-14 regarding the Day Elijah Ascends to Heaven.
2 Now the Lord was going to take Elijah up to heaven in a windstorm, and Elijah and Elisha were leaving Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, because the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”
But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives and as you live, I won’t leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.
3 The group of prophets from Bethel came out to Elisha. These prophets said to Elisha, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”
Elisha said, “Yes, I know. Don’t talk about it!”
4 Elijah said, “Elisha, stay here, because the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”
But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives and as you live, I won’t leave you.” So they went to Jericho.
5 The group of prophets from Jericho approached Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”
He said, “Yes, I know. Don’t talk about it!”
6 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, because the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”
But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives and as you live, I won’t leave you.” So both of them went on together. 7 Fifty members from the group of prophets also went along, but they stood at a distance. Both Elijah and Elisha stood beside the Jordan River. 8 Elijah then took his coat, rolled it up, and hit the water. Then the water was divided in two! Both of them crossed over on dry ground. 9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “What do you want me to do for you before I’m taken away from you?”
Elisha said, “Let me have twice your spirit.”
10 Elijah said, “You’ve made a difficult request. If you can see me when I’m taken from you, then it will be yours. If you don’t see me, it won’t happen.”
11 They were walking along, talking, when suddenly a fiery chariot and fiery horses appeared and separated the two of them. Then Elijah went to heaven in a windstorm.
12 Elisha was watching, and he cried out, “Oh, my father, my father! Israel’s chariots and its riders!” When he could no longer see him, Elisha took hold of his clothes and ripped them in two.
13 Then Elisha picked up the coat that had fallen from Elijah. He went back and stood beside the banks of the Jordan River. 14 He took the coat that had fallen from Elijah and hit the water. He said, “Where is the Lord, Elijah’s God?” And when he hit the water, it divided in two! Then Elisha crossed over.
A. Why did Elijah not want Elisha to witness his ascension to Heaven? And why did Elisha insist to stay?
(Some say he wanted to spare Elisha the frightful vision. Some say he was modest and didn’t want to appear to flaunt this extraordinarily holy experience.
Elisha had been with him throughout and wanted to until the end. Elisha was going to carry on his work.
B. What do you make of Elisha’s asking for twice Elijah’s spirit? Was it audacious or ambitious? (Most say the latter.)
(Some say it’s actually 2/3 of Elijah’s. Elijah would leave one portion for the other prophets and two for Elisha.
Others say it was twice – he didn’t have a tzaddik with him and needed more, and he performed twice the number of miracles.
Others say it was twice what Elijah had before departing.
Could one argue he was due twice because he might love the people more than Elijah did? (I’m skeptical.)
C. Elisha mourns, though it’s not exactly a death.
D. Interestingly, the Targum Yonasan translates Israel’s chariot and horsemen as “who benefited Israel with his prayers more than chariots and horsemen.” He had been a righteous tzaddik, and of a rare sort.
E. What happened to Elijah?
(Radak says Elijah actually died, but in a spectacular fashion.
But most think entered an earthly Gan Eden with his physical body intact.
A Gemara says he became an angel, dwelling in the upper heavens as a spiritual entity.
Some see both!
Is it possible that Elijah’s future in eternity was to be available to come back to earth to help the people as a way of fulfilling God’s desire that he do that, and perhaps the “price” he pays for not having done it adequately during the normal course of life?
Nevertheless, the continued life of Elijah marks something very special, for even Moses died.)
VI. In II Kings 2:15-18, the prophets’ disciples look for Elijah, presumably to bury him.
VII. II Chronicles 21:12-15. This involves a letter from Elijah to Yehoram indicating awful things to come. The key interest here is it shows Elijah remaining active after his ascent.
VIII. Here are a few accounts of Elijah’s activity after the ascension, with the primary purpose of bringing peace in the world:
A. Elijah frequently visited Judah the Prince. The Rebbe once thought that Rav Chiya, a student had wronged him. The Rebbe had been living with a painful tooth for a long time. Elijah appeared in the form of Chiya and placed his fingers on his tooth, healing it.
When Chiya returned, he observed the Rebbe was feeling better and asked how it was so. The Rebbe credited him, but Chiya admitted it wasn’t so. The Rebbe realized it had been Elijah, who wanted him to appreciate Chiya and his greatness. From then on, the Rebbe treated Chiya with the utmost honor.
B. It was Elijah who was asked for God’s reaction to the decision of the majority to go against Rav Eliezer as to the purity of the oven.Elijah said that God was so pleased, proclaiming, “My children have prevailed over Me, My children have prevailed over Me.” (Bava Metzia 59b)
C. Elijah appeared to Akiva and Rachel when they were in great poverty after father chose not to support them when Akiva wanted to study. Elijah acted even poorer than they were, asking for any straw for his wife for the purpose of giving birth. This gave Rachel the view that they weren’t so poor after all, and she encouraged Akiva to go study.
D. Elijah shows Rav Beroka two people slated for the World to Come. They were comedians who lifted the spirits of the depressed and brokered peace when they observed people quarreling.
What do we learn from these encounters with Elijah?
IX. Conclusion – takeaways