This Weeks Haftorah
Rabbi Levi Langer

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The Choice

This week we read the stirring tale of the prophet Elijah's faceoff against the false prophets of the idol Baal. King Ahab, along with his cruel wife Jezebel, had persecuted the prophets of Hashem with a fanatic zeal, and had put most of them to death. The remaining prophets had gone into hiding. In Divine retribution, the land of Israel was deprived of rainfall for three years. Finally, at the end of this period, Elijah appeared before Ahav and told him to gather all of Israel at Mount Carmel and there he, Elijah, would stand alone and confront the prophets of the Baal. Each side would offer an animal sacrifice, and would then call upon his respective deity to kindle the fire.

Ahab assembled all of the people. Then Elijah took his stand before them and said:

"'How long will you stumble along both thought-paths? If Hashem is the Lord then follow Him, and if the Baal--then follow him!' And the people did not respond." (I Kings 18:21)

We are then told of how the prophets of the Baal attempted through all manner of prayer and through occult means to start the fire, but all to no avail. Then Elijah prayed to Hashem and a great fire descended from heaven to consume his offering. The people saw this and they fell upon their faces and cried, "Hashem, He is the Lord! Hashem, He is the Lord!"

Rabbi Yosef Yoizel Hurwitz, the famed "Alter" of Nevaradok (1848-1919), finds this account a bit puzzling. What, he queries, was the point of suggesting to the people that if they think the Baal is the Lord then they should follow him? Wasn't that a bit self-defeating?

The answer, writes the Alter, is that as long as the people felt that they could have it both ways, that they could be the people of Hashem and yet also worship their backyard image of the Baal, then it would be impossible for Elijah's message to get through. First, Elijah had to make things crystal clear. There was a choice to be made: either they would worship idols or they would worship Hashem. There's no middle ground, no "have your cake and eat it too" way of life.

"'If Hashem is the Lord then follow Him, and if the Baal--then follow him!' And the people did not respond."

Only after the people's silent acquiescence to this idea did Elijah perform his demonstration.

Sometimes being a Jew means that one must choose. We need to realize that we can't just live as we please and not have this take away from our lives as Jews. Once this point is clear, the choice itself becomes relatively easy.

You can't always have it both ways.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer

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