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Elijah: A Guide to Life's Inner Meaning #736

07/22/2022 04:38:39 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Pinchas: “And after the fire, a soft murmuring sound.” (Book of Kings 1, 19:12)

Elijah: A Guide to Life's Inner Meaning


Perhaps one of the most overlooked characters in the entire Bible is Elijah, the Prophet.

We know him well.

We welcome Elijah near the close of the Passover Seder as we encourage him to drink from Elijah’s Cup, which contains our hopes for a better, more just world.

We also invite Elijah to join us at a bris. There is a special chair set aside for him, for he is also known as “the guardian of the little ones.”

While the Passover Seder and the bris are major events within Jewish tradition, this week, we experience another side of Elijah, the Prophet.

This week, the Bible inspires us to set aside life’s “big ticket items,” and focus more on the private and quiet answers that lie within.

It is natural for us, as human beings, to search for answers to life’s major questions: How did we get here? What are we doing here? Where are we going after it is over?

Modern culture offers many quick fixes.

We want diseases to be quickly cured by solutions we see on television. We turn to books or “Ted Talks” to provide us with immediate strategies. Many put their faith in a variety of false prophets.

The Torah reminds us, that life’s elusive answers are not found “in the heavens…or the other side of the sea.”   

“No,” says the Torah, “The thing is very close to you – in your mouth and in your heart…” (Deuteronomy 30:12)

And Elijah drives home that point in this week’s synagogue reading from the Book of Kings.

We are transported to Haifa, about 2,850 years ago. 

Ahab and Jezebel, reigning as king and queen of the northern kingdom of Israel, have led the nation astray toward the worship of Baal - the regional god of fertility.

In short, Elijah becomes incensed, kills many of these false prophets, causing the king and queen to seek revenge. But Elijah escapes and goes on the run. He is lost and lonely, looking to connect with God.

During this time of insecurity, an angel appears to him. We sense that God is nearby.

Suddenly, the winds begin to blow, splitting mountains and shattering rocks. But the text tells us that God is not in the wind.

Next comes an earthquake. But Elijah doesn’t find God there either. Then comes fire, but still, Elijah does not feel God.

But - as the first Book of Kings recounts - these major physical phenomena subside, and Elijah hears “a soft murmuring voice.” Some translations from Hebrew call it a “gentle whisper,” or a “still small voice,” or a “light silent sound.”

Elijah follows this soft sound to the mouth of a cave, where he senses God’s presence. God speaks to him, and he is uplifted.

The idea of this “soft, gentle whisper” so moved our Sages, that they included it in the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy, in the paragraph just before we pose the question, “Who will live and who will die?”

And the answer to the big High Holiday question - which we will pose in two months, as our tradition suggests - is not to be found in life’s big events. Yes, we are inspired by beautiful sunsets; we live in awe of hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires.

But ultimately, our Sages encourage us to look beyond the physical and focus inwardly on the spiritual.

It is the feeling that we experience when we support, embrace, and even forgive family and friends. It is the feeling that gently uplifts us when we use words that build and encourage, rather than criticize or destroy.

It is the moment we realize that we have enough.

This transformation is not always easy. It seems, these days, that there are too many technological distractions that numb us from life’s uncertainties.

But as this week’s Haftorah inspires us to consider: Sometimes we need to block out all the external noise and listen for that quiet voice within which often remains hidden.

I often think about, and refer to, a meeting I attended in Israel with then Prime Minister Shimon Peres, during my years in the Canadian government. We announced a joint venture between the Province of Alberta and Israel to address the issue of flash flooding.

Peres addressed the room of dignitaries and support staff in a barely audible whisper.

Noted Peres, “This technology will mean nothing unless we share it with people in Africa and other continents.” His words magnified through the softness of his voice.

This week’s Haftorah encourages us to look beyond the seduction of the physical.

For by truly listening to each other, and by performing simple acts of lovingkindness, we possess the capacity to block out the noise that often misdirects us, and focus on what really matters,

As the Torah teaches, life’s answers are not that baffling at all. They are right in front of us. They lay within.

For God is not found in the external.

Rather, God and the pursuit of true meaning, can be found within that soft voice within.

The question remains, “Are we listening?”

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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