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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayera

Giving More Than You Have?

Rabbi Yossef Carmel20 Cheshvan 5767
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Like the angels in the parasha, Elisha in the haftara promised a barren woman she would bear a child. Later he had to bring the child back to life (Melachim II, 4). Elisha seemed to have inherited the ability to perform miracles from his illustrious teacher, Eliyahu. Before Eliyahu ascended to the Heavens, Elisha asked him for pi sh’nayim beruchacha elay (ibid. 2:9), which Chazal seem to understand as two times as much ability to perform miracles as Eliyahu (Agadat Bereishit 70). Eliyahu answered that if Elisha would see Eliyahu being taken away, then his request would be fulfilled (Melachim ibid.:10).

The Rishonim asked two questions. First, how could Eliyahu give more to Elisha than he himself possessed? Second, what connection is there between Elisha viewing Eliyahu’s departure and fulfillment of his request?

The Ralbag answered the first question simply, saying that the request was to have twice as much of Eliyahu’s spirit as other students would have, not double Eliyahu’s powers. Seeing Eliyahu was just a sign of acceptance. He does not explain why it appears that Elisha did perform more miracles.

Yalkut Shimoni explains that when Eliyahu split the Jordan, it was done in the merit of both him and Elisha. When Elisha did so on the way back, it was for him alone. Thus, we can say that Elisha possessed his own merit plus that of Eliyahu, thus giving him double.

The Derashot Haran takes a different approach. As Eliyahu was being carried up to the Heaven, his spiritual level soared in an unprecedented manner. If Elisha could tap into his spirit at that time, he would receive more than Eliyahu had possessed previously. Thus, both questions are answered logically. Elisha did not get more than Eliyahu possessed at the time he gave it, and he needed to be connected at the correct moment to receive it.

Let us give an explanation in a totally different direction. The Radak’s father understood pi sh’nayim as two thirds, as the Torah uses the phrase regarding a first born receiving a double portion of inheritance in a case where there were two sons. Again, this assumes that Elisha did not think of asking for more than Eliyahu possessed. Very possibly Elisha feared that due to Eliyahu’s despondency regarding prospects for the future, no powers would be transferred to his disciples (see Melachim I, 19:10-14). Indeed, other students lost their ability to prophesy when Eliyahu disappeared, as we see in Yericho and Beit El. Elisha, who clung to Eliyahu until the end, received two thirds. How do we explain the apparent fact that Elisha performed more miracles?

We can answer based on the Ramban. That which appears as the world operating based on the rules of nature is really a series of hidden miracles. In some ways, open miracles are a sign of a lower spiritual level. Thus, the increase in open miracles at the time of Elisha is not an indication of a higher spiritual level than Eliyahu possessed.

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