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In this week’s Haftarah, Elijah flees King Ahab. As the last survivor of Ahab and Jezebel’s persecution of Israelite prophets, he ran into the wilderness, believing that only death was ahead of him. What would one expect next? What miracles would God perform for the persecuted prophet?
As Elijah slept, God sent an angel, who woke him and offered him …food and water. Elijah ate and drank, and then went back to sleep. The next day, the angel returned again, and what miracles did he bring the second day? Again, …food and water.
Although this scene heralds one of the most famous scenes of Elijah’s life, we shouldn’t overlook this strange little prosaic moment. Elijah is fleeing persecution, running for his life into the wilderness, and God sees that he will not be able to complete his arduous journey – the angel tells him, “Get up and eat, for the way is too much for you.” (1 Kings 19:7) – so God makes sure that he is fed, and that he is safe while he sleeps.
It would be easy to lose this moment in the grandeur of the one that follows, in which Elijah, having reached the cave at Mount Horeb, speaks to God and God asks him, “מַה־לְּךָ֥ פֹ֖ה אֵלִיָּֽהוּ” -what are you doing here, Elijah? And after Elijah explains himself, God instructs him to go outside. Elijah waits to hear God’s voice, he waits while a great wind passes by, and an earthquake, and a fire, and it is not until at the last, when a little, thin, voice is heard, that Elijah emerges from the cave in which he is hidden and speaks to God, and has the *exact same conversation* with God, that he just had.
The Talmud (Pirkei Avot 3:21) says: “אִם אֵין קֶמַח, אֵין תּוֹרָה” If there is no flour (for bread), there is no Torah. Without those moments in the wilderness, Elijah would be unable to withstand the wind and the earthquake and the fire. He would not be able to wait for the sublime spiritual moment. But it is not on Elijah to make sure that he is well-fed and well-rested in order to be prepared for God’s presence. Indeed, the entire house of Israel was also carried by God, fed and sheltered and led to the right place in order to receive the Torah.
So many of us prefer spirituality to religion, wanting the feeling of majesty, the joy and desire to be moved by something beyond ourselves. But it is worth remembering that it is the boring and prosaic that actually brings us to that moment. And that while we are obligated to do the work to prepare ourselves, none of us can reach the moments of revelation without the assistance of others- the boring love and care taken to make sure each of us has our physical needs met.
We seek the unique and disparage the regular, but we have it backward; it is in the every day and the repetitious, that we find divinity. We think of the spiritual as unique – a searing moment unconnected to everything else. But as God showed with Elijah, feeding the hungry is the root of revealing the divine. Every morsel is the bread of the spirit. Each and every body is holy – we don’t need to hide the physical away in a dark cave so that God will not be disgusted with our physicality – God gave us that physicality. God is not in the wind, the earthquake, the fire – the destructive forces of the earth, that which topples trees, tears the earth, and turns matter to ash; God is in the voice, thin and small only in our minds. God speaks to us on the mountain, where we can be seen- in our little, thin, weak, hungry bodies, the vessels of the divine.
Pronounced: hahf-TOErah or hahf-TOE-ruh, Origin: Hebrew, a selection from one of the biblical books of the Prophets that is read in synagogue immediately following the Torah reading.