II Kings – Chapter 4

"My head! My head!"

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

A prophet’s widow came to Elisha crying that she couldn’t pay her debts and that the creditor was going to take her children as servants to work it off. Elisha asked her what she had in the house; all she had was oil.

“No problem,” he said. “Go to all your neighbors and borrow vessels – as many as you can! Pour oil into all these vessels until they’re all full.” This she did. She poured oil until she ran out of jugs to hold it. She sold the oil, paid off her debt, and was able to live on the balance.

Elisha traveled to a place called Shuneim. A local woman invited him for a meal. Eventually, he became a regular guest at this woman’s table, as he passed her house on his travels. The woman asked her husband to build an addition to their home so that Elisha could have his own room there.

One time, when Elisha was staying there, he told his servant Gechazi to get their hostess. He told Gechazi to ask the woman, “You have done so much for us, what can we do for you?” Gechazi reported back that the woman had no children and would like one. Elisha told the woman that in a year’s time she would have a son. She said, “Don’t tease me,” but he was serious and, sure enough, she had a son.

The boy grew. One day in the field, he called out “My head! My head!” and he collapsed. The boy’s father had him carried to his mother, who held him in her lap until noon, when he died. She put the boy on Elisha’s bed and told her husband to get her a donkey and an attendant so she could go see Elisha.

“Why?” asked the man. “It’s not a special day.” “Just do it.” she said. She traveled to Elisha at Mt. Carmel.

When she saw Elisha, she threw herself at his feet. Gechazi took the role of body guard and pushed her away. (The Talmud in Brachos, 10b, says that Gechazi took the opportunity to grope the woman. If that seems random, it will make more sense the more we learn about Gechazi in the next chapter.) Elisha saw that the woman was distressed and told Gechazi to let her be.

The woman said, “I didn’t come to you asking for a son – I asked you not to toy with me!” Elisha had Gechazi get his things and accompany the woman. Gechazi was to lay Elisha’s staff on the boy’s face. The woman insisted on staying with Elisha. Gechazi ran ahead and put the staff on the boy’s face, but nothing happened. He ran back and told Elisha.

Elisha arrived. He entered the room with the boy and shut the door behind him. He prayed and stretched himself over the boy, warming him. He walked around, then stretched himself over the boy again. The boy sneezed seven times, then opened his eyes. Elisha called the woman to come and get her son.

Returning to Gilgal, Elisha passed a band of prophets who had a problem: they made a stew with some poisonous mushrooms and it was making everyone violently ill. There was a famine and they had no other food. Elisha had them pour the stew back into the pot. He added some flour and cooked it together. Then he told them to dish it out because it was now wholesome food.

A man came with bread for the prophets, but it wasn’t nearly enough. (The simple reading is that there were 20 loaves to feed 100 people, which is actually pretty good. The Talmud in Kesubos, 106a, clarifies that there was one loaf for every hundred people – that’s very different!) Elisha told them not to worry, just start handing out bread and not only would everyone be fed, but there would be leftovers! Sure enough, that’s what happened. (Please note: If you ever hear a story about someone raising a person from the dead and feeding a large crowd with a few loaves, such things were recorded in this chapter first!)

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