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Elisha’s Surprising Miracle At The Jordan River Teaches Us About Purpose

Rav Ben-Ichai of Emunah Shelema B’Yerushalayim gave a remarkable shiur today that eloquently illustrated the importance of santifying our actions – whatever we’re doing – for the sake of heaven. Our kavanah, or purpose, can sanctify G’s name regardless of what it is we do.

Focusing on the Book of Kings (Part 2, Chapter 6) the Rav began by reviewing briefly what we’d seen in last week’s class. To summarize the review, the prophet Elisha’s assistant Gechazi had improperly taken money from the Aramean king, thereby desecrating G’s name.

This was right after Elisha had just sanctified G’s name by healing the foreign king and refusing all payment or money! He thereby showed that it wasn’t the foreigner’s idol who healed him, but Elisha’s G’ who healed the king.

(A very interesting aside arose at this point. Rav Ben-Ichai stated that love of money is forbidden, because it makes a man dependent on something ephemeral. As it says in Tehillim (Psalms) 49, when you die you can’t take it all [wealth] with you. Rather, man should center his existence (that’s what is meant by “dependent”) on that which is timeless – the Torah and good deeds. To be clear, the Rav said, this isn’t to condemn wealth or to say that wealth is somehow prohibited in the Torah, only that love of money is a terrible, forbidden thing.)

Following that, we find a seemingly peculiar story that doesn’t teach us a whole lot at first glance.

Elisha’s students came to him saying that the yeshiva (Torah school) they were studying in was too small to accomodate his rapidly growing number of students. So the students sought to go to the Jordan river, where there were thick, strong trees they could use, and build a new yeshiva there.

Elisha agreed that they should go. Then one of his students asked Elisha to join them, and he agreed to go.

They went, cut trees, and one student in particular had the misfortune of his axe-head flying off the axe-handle and sinking into the river. If that weren’t bad enough, the axe was loaned from someone else, and this impoverished student didn’t have money to repay the person from whom he’d borrowed the axe.

Elisha asked where it was, had the spot pointed out, then tossed in a piece of wood and the the axe-head came miraculously floating to the surface. The student took the axe-head back (on Elisha’s instruction) .

There the story ends.

There are a few things that are strange with this story.

First, why do the students need their master to come with them?
Second, Rav Ben-Ichai emphasized that miracles aren’t performed without a very good reason. Was helping an impoverished student save some money / work (to earn and repay the axe-head’s value) really a significant enough reason?

A 30-ish person in Rav Ben-Ichai’s class, named Moshe, provided a great answer.

He began by providing some greater context. Previously, Elisha had made great miracles to feed his numerous students. There were exceedingly poor, yet chose to study Torah instead of going to the workforce. (This makes me wonder how they could have chosen such a path, when the Talmud teaches us that it’s prohibited to rely on miracles.

In sum, they were sacrificing a lot for the sake of sanctifying G’s name with their study.

After having sacrificed so much, they went and forsook their studies! How could that be?? Ah… they didn’t just give them up for nothing – they went to chop down trees to build a yeshiva and sanctify G’s name in even greater fashion by enabling more students to learn than had previously been possible.

So for someone who has sacrificed so greatly to sanctify G’s name – the prophet Elisha saw it fit to perform a miracle.

Rav Ben-Ichai agreed and added that Elisha’s accompanying his students was also for the sake of sanctifying G’s name – his students sought for him to make a statement that it wasn’t just acceptable that they should go and cut these trees, but that it was laudatory! Had it just been a necessary evil, presumably Elisha would have demurred. Since it was laudatory – and in a significant way – he went and joined them in their task.

And Elisha performed a miracle to show that they were doing the right thing – a revelation of G’s dominance over this world, a sanctification of his name.

Posted in Judaism.

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