("Melachim"/Kings 1, 18:39) Some general background on the "Haftarot"
The Haftarah of Parshat Ki-Tisa features a contest between King Achav and the Prophet "Eliyahu"/Elijah, between Eliyahu and the Prophets of the Cult of Baal; ultimately, between Hashem and Baal, and therefore no contest at all!
At the end of the "Neilah" Prayer on Yom Kippur, the Prayer which symbolizes the shutting of the special Gates of Prayer available to Man during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and the departure of the Divine Presence, which has been especially close during that period, the Service rises to a crescendo as the Prayer Leader and the Congregation respond to each other's affirmations:
First: "Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One!" (Devarim 6:4)
Second: "Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity!" (three times) (Midrash Devarim Rabbah 2:36)
Third: "Hashem is G-d!" (seven times) (Melachim 1, 18:39)
The last affirmation echoes that of the Children of Israel on Mt. Carmel when they witnessed a flame descend from Heaven and consume the burnt offering prepared by Eliyahu HaNavi, providing decisive proof that Hashem is the true G-d and the Baal, the idol, is less than nothing, as it says in Melachim 1, 18:39, "And all the People saw and fell on their faces, and they called, 'Hashem is God! Hashem is G-d!' "
The Ashkenazic community and the Sefardic community have different customs with regard to the Haftarah of Parshat Ki-Tisa. The Ashkenazic custom is to read from Melachim 1, Chapter 18 the verses 1-39, the "Contest" and its background, while the Sefardic custom is to read from where the "Contest" really begins, verse 20 through verse 39.
Summary of the Haftarah
It was three years into the drought that had been imposed by Eliyahu, as proof to Achav of the power over nature that Hashem grants to His servants, and based on his hope that it would bring the People to repentance. The Jewish People had fallen into the sin of idol worship to the cults of Baal and Asherah that, according to the Talmud, had tremendous attraction for the people of ancient times. He reasoned that any length of time without water was better than a moment away from Hashem (Psikta Rabati 44:17). Hashem, Who had still greater mercy than Eliyahu, commanded the Prophet to confront Achav and bring the crisis to an end. (Melachim 1, 18:1-2)
Achav and "Ovadyahu"/Obadiah, who was leading a "double life," secretly a Prophet who was, in fact, sheltering one hundred other prophets of Hashem from the murderous oppression of Izevel, and who was also Chief Advisor to Achav, were together in the parched territory of Shomron, part of the Kingdom of Israel. Achav suggested that they split up and search for fertile land, so that the Kingdom would not lose all its cattle to the drought. (Melachim 1, 18:3-6)
Eliyahu appeared to Ovadyahu, and commanded him to tell Achav that he'd found Eliyahu, whom Achav had been pursuing with the intention of killing him. Ovadyahu protested that it was like signing his own death warrant, because Achav had been very close to Eliyahu in the past, and the Prophet had escaped by disappearing and re-appearing elsewhere. If Eliyahu would do that this time, Achav would think that Ovadyahu had been "playing games" with the King, and would have him killed. But Eliyahu assured him that this time he meant to confront Achav. (Melachim 1, 18:7-15)
Ovadyahu did as he had been commanded by Eliyahu, and brought Achav to the scene. Achav said, "Is it you, the one who has made great trouble for Israel?" Eliyahu responded, "It is not I who has brought trouble upon Israel but you and your father's house, because you abandoned the commandments of Hashem, and followed the Baal." (Melachim 1, 17:18)
Eliyahu proposed a contest that would be specified at Mt. Carmel between himself and the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah (who in the end would not come, because they were protected by Izevel). Achav agreed. (Melachim 1, 18:19)
Achav sent for the prophets designated by Eliyahu, and for the People to assemble at Mt. Carmel. Eliyahu reproved the People, saying, "How long will you stand on both sides of the threshold? If Hashem is G-d, follow Him! And if Baal is god, follow him." But the People could not answer. (Melachim 1, 18:20-21)
Eliyahu proposed a contest. Each "group" of prophets (he being the only one in the "group" of Hashem's Prophets) and the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal would be given a bull to sacrifice. Let each "group" slaughter the bull, cut it into pieces, and place the pieces on top of firewood on an altar, but not kindle the firewood! Let the prophets of Baal call upon their god to send down fire, and I will call upon Hashem to send down fire. The One Who will send down fire will be recognized as the true G-d, and the other as a falsehood! The People said that it was a good and fair test. (Melachim 1, 18: 22-24)
Eliyahu said to the prophets of the Baal, "Why don't you go first, since you're in the majority - pick your bull, slaughter and do all the aspects of your worship that are appropriate, and try to bring down fire!" They took one of the bulls, slaughtered and prepared it for sacrifice on the altar. Then they called upon Baal all morning, hopping and dancing and cutting themselves, till they bled, in the manner of their worship. But there was neither a sound nor any response from heaven! (Melachim 1, 18: 25-26)
At noon, Eliyahu mocked the priests of Baal, saying "Call louder, maybe your god is with his advisors, or maybe he is at war with an enemy; maybe he is asleep. (RASHI carries the mockery to another level, putting in Eliyahu's mouth, 'maybe your god is in the bathroom.' ) " They continued their efforts till the time of the Afternoon Sacrifice (the "Minchah"), but still not a murmur, not a sound. (Melachim 1, 18: 27-29)
Then the Prophet Eliyahu said to all the People, "Come near to me," and they came near. He fixed the altar that had been built there by King Shaul. That altar had been destroyed along with all the other altars built in honor of Hashem. He took twelve stones, corresponding to the number of tribes of Jacob, to whom Hashem had said, "Your name shall be Israel." And he made a trench around the altar, equal to the size of the area planted with two measures of seed. He put the wood in order and cut the bull into pieces and put them on the altar. And he said, "Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood." Then he said, "Do it a second time." Then he said "Do it a third time." And he filled the trench also with water. (Melachim 1, 18: 30-35)
And it came to pass that at the time of the Minchah Offering, that Eliyahu the Prophet came near the altar and prayed, "O L-rd, G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yisrael, make it known today that You are the G-d of Israel, and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your command. Answer my prayer, O L-rd, answer my prayer, that this People may know that You, O L-rd, are G-d, and that just as You allowed them to slip backwards from You - if they repent, You will also bring them closer to You." (Melachim 1, 18:36-37)
Then the fire of the L-rd fell from Heaven and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the People saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, "Hashem is G-d! Hashem is G-d!" (Melachim 1, 18:38-39)
An Important Principle of Jewish Law
In certain situations, a prohibition may apply. If, in the eyes of a leading Torah Sage of the generation, the cause of Torah will be more harmed than benefited by observance of the prohibition; that is, in the long run, more violation of the Torah will be caused by its observance, the prohibition may be waived, based on the principle "et la-asot l'Hashem, heferu Toratecha!" "In a time of emergency, when something needs to be done for Hashem, a Torah prohibition may be waived" by an authority in "Halachah," Jewish Law, as was Eliyahu HaNavi.
In this case, since the Temple stood at this point in time in Jerusalem, it was forbidden to offer sacrifices outside the Temple. This was known as the prohibition of the "bamot," the "backyard," so to speak, sacrificial platforms. Thus, it was technically forbidden for Eliyahu to offer sacrifices at Har HaCarmel, outside Yerushalayim. However, in his eyes, and undoubtedly correctly, he realized that to bring the Jewish People to Repentance at this time overrode the prohibition of the "bamot."
Players in the Haftarah:
Eliyahu, a native of Gilad, prophesied and performed miracles in the Kingdom of Ephrayim, during the reigns of Achav and his son Achaziah. He waged a continuous battle against the Cult of Baal, which "Izevel"/Jezebel, his evil wife, brought to Israel from her native Tzor.
According to Malachi, the last of the Prophets, Eliyahu will herald the coming of the Mashiach, as it says (Malachi 3:24), "And he shall turn the hearts of the father to the children and the hearts of the children to the father."
Eliyahu left the world, in the company of his disciple and successor, Elisha, as is related in Melachim 2, 2:1-15. As Eliyahu and Elisha were walking, a chariot of fire with horses of fire descended from Heaven and came between them, and Eliyahu mounted the chariot and rose as in a windstorm to Heaven.
And Elisha saw this and cried out, "'My father, My father, Chariot of Israel and its cavalry."
He was the son of another wicked king, Omri.
According to the Talmud (Moed Katan 11a) three kings ruled over the whole world: Achav, Achashverosh of Persia, and Nevuchadnetzar of Babylon.
He was enticed into idolatry by his wicked queen, Izevel.
According to Masechet Sanhedrin 90a, he is one of the three kings and four non-royal individuals who have lost their share in the World-to-Come. The kings are Yeravam ben Nevat, who split off from the kingdom of Yehuudah, established his own temples, forbade his People from going to Yerushalayim, etc., Basha ben Achia, and Achav
According to Yalkut Shimoni Yeshaya 385, he was a convert, and the least of the Prophets.
According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 39b) Ovadiah was an Edomite convert.
According to Zohar, Part 1 : 171, None of the prophets knew what would happen to the descendants of Esav except Ovadiah because he himself was a descendant of Esav
According to Sanhedrin 39b, Ovadya merited to become a prophet because he protected 100 prophets from Jezebel.
"Izevel"/Jezebel HaMalkah (the Queen)
Her name is mentioned in the Haftarah.
She is "in the running" for the title of "most wicked woman in the Bible."
According to Tanna Dvei Eliyahu Rabbah: 10, she was the one who caused Achav to lose his place in the World-to-Come
Connections Between the Parshah and the Haftarah
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU