II Kings – Chapter 6

Stop This Cannibalism!

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

The student prophets said to Elisha that their study hall was too small. (Attendance was booming since Gechazi got kicked out.) They went to go build themselves a new school. When they arrived at the Jordan to cut down trees, one of the prophets suffered a mishap. The head of the axe flew off into the water and sank like a stone. This made the prophet especially distraught, as it was borrowed and he couldn’t afford to replace it. “No worries,” said Elisha. He cut a new axe-handle and threw it into the water. It floated back up with the axe-head attached to it. (You will note that under normal circumstances, iron does not float.)

The King of Aram planned a series of raids on Israel and he set an ambush. Elisha knew about it prophetically and sent word to Yehoram, king of Israel, to avoid certain places. When the king of Aram saw that his traps were being avoided, he asked his advisors which of his subjects was tipping off the Jews. “None of us, your majesty!” they replied. “There is a prophet named Elisha who knows even what you discuss in private!” The king of Aram sent his soldiers to arrest Elisha.

Elisha got up in the morning and saw the army of Aram waiting for him. His attendant was worried, but Elisha was unconcerned. He prayed to G-d to “open the eyes” of the attendant. He did, and the servant saw that they were protected by a fiery Heavenly army. Elisha then prayed to G-d to blind the army of Aram, which He did. But, just as “opening the eyes” of the attendant enabled him to perceive certain thing, “blinding” the army kept them from seeing certain things. (Had they been literally blinded, they would have no doubt “freaked out.”) Elisha said to the army, “You’re going the wrong way! Let me lead you to the one you seek.” He led them to the capital in Samaria, where he prayed that G-d enable them to see. Their vision restored, they found themselves surrounded by the fully-armed Israelite army.

King Yehoram asked Elisha whether they should strike down the army of Aram, but Elisha said no. “You wouldn’t kill prisoners you captured with conventional weapons. Rather, feed them well and send them home.” They served the army of Aram a feast and sent them back in safety. Ben-Hadad, king of Aram, heard about what happened and decided that sending raiding parties into Israel was a strategy that was not going to work, so it was discontinued.

There was a period of peace for a while, but then Ben-Hadad laid siege to Samaria. There was a famine in the land and people were starving. Such normally disgusting things as a donkey’s head (for food) and pigeon dung (for kindling) were going for exorbitant prices. Yehoram was walking on the city wall, when a woman cried out to him. He assumed she was going to ask for food (which he didn’t have); instead, she wanted him to judge a case. “This woman said to me that we should cook and eat my son today and then we’d cook and eat her son tomorrow. Well, we ate my son, now it’s her turn and she’s hidden him!” This so upset the king that he tore his clothes and people could see he was wearing sackcloth under his robes. Yehoram swore that he would execute Elisha. (Why? What did Elisha do? Well, Yehoram reasoned that Elisha had the power to end the famine just as Elijah had ended the drought in his day.)

The king sent a messenger to Elisha, who was sitting with the Sanhedrin. Of course, Elisha, being a prophet, already knew what was going on and he said to his companions, “Do you see what that son of a murderer has done? He sent this man to chop off my head! When he gets here, throw him out, because his master is no doubt behind him!” However, when the messenger arrived and heard this, Yehoram realized that the famine was due to his own evil, not due to inaction on Elisha’s part.

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