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Room to Improve

By: Mrs. Neima Novetsky

I was always intrigued by the figure of Eliyahu HaNavi.  In Sefer Melakhim he emerges as a zealous, wrathful and fiery prophet who devotes his whole being to correcting the ways of Am Yisrael.   In legend and folklore, however, he is a kindly man, friend to the poor and savior to the unfortunate.  In the haftarah for this week, Shabbat HaGadol, he wears yet a third hat – harbinger of the Mashiach.  How do these varying portraits come together?  Why was Eliyahu, rather than any other prophet, chosen to announce the "awesome and great day of Hashem"?

One might assume that the unique appointment attests to Eliyahu's high stature as Navi.  After all, Chazal compare Eliyahu to no less than Moshe Rabbenu with Pesikat Rabbati 4 declaring: "Moshe and Eliyahu are equal in all things."  Eliyahu's miracles surpass those of others, and he appears to hold Hashem's "keys" to life in his hand, declaring drought on his own and bringing a child back to life. Finally, according to some, unlike normal mortals, he never died, but was rather taken up to Hashem, while alive, amidst a storm and fiery chariots.

Not all, however, share such a positive evaluation.  Mekhilta Bo condemns Eliyahu for being overly harsh in his prosecution of the nation, pointing out that a prophet is supposed to not only rebuke but also defend.  Pirkei De Rabbi Eliezer similarly explains that Eliyahu comes to every brit milah, not as a merit, but as a corrective to this negative attitude towards the nation.  Since he doubted their keeping of the covenant, complaining "the Children of Israel have left your covenant (brit)", Hashem forces him to come to every brit, to see with his own eyes that, contrary to his assessment, the nation is in fact keeping the covenant. 

These Midrashim suggest that Eliyahu himself had room to improve in the way he related to the nation and their sins.  He should have taken a more gentle tone in his rebukes, defended and not only condemned.  Did Eliyahu learn from Hashem's chastisement?   The answer of legend is a resounding yes.  The Eliyahu that lives on after Sefer Melakhim has become a friend of the nation, caring for, loving, and supporting them. 

The Midrash might say that it is for this reason that Eliyahu was chosen to prepare the nation for the coming of Mashiach and to "return the hearts of the fathers to the sons and the sons to the fathers."  Perhaps because Eliyahu himself has undergone a process of change he is most suited to bring about a similar change in the nation.  The time period will definitely need a prosecutor, but one who also knows how to defend and support, a message that Eliyahu has proven himself to have learned.

With wishes for a wonderful Pesach and a speedy redemption!








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