Rabbi Uri Sherki
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children
24 Elul 5763
English translation of a lesson transcript that has not been edited by Rabbi Sherki yet
At the end of his book, the prophet Malachi discloses a Divine promise. Malachi, the last book in order of Trei Asar, or the Twelve Prophets, is also the last of the books of prophesy; this promise, therefore, concludes the period of prophetic revelation. As the word of God stands to disappear for a significant period of time, there is a need for a Divine pledge (Malachi 3, 22-24):
"Remember the law of Moses My servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, even statutes and ordinances. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers; lest I come and smite the land with utter destruction."
The prophetic period, which began with God’s word at the world’s creation, ceases with these words: the prophesy reveals pursuing historical success to be dependent on the renewed appearance of the prophet Eliyahu. In this context, Eliyahu appears in a role in which his main responsibility is to make peace between fathers and sons—between the older and younger generations. It follows, therefore, that there is a certain disagreement between the fathers and sons, one which only Eliyahu can resolve.
Eliyahu Makes Peace?!
It is surprising that Eliyahu is chosen to settle the dispute between the fathers and sons. Why is he specifically chosen from amongst all the prophets to make peace? In light of the fact that in a previous story Eliyahu failed at efforts to educate the Jewish nation, it seems that he is not qualified for this endeavor.
The well known story involves Eliyahu and the four hundred and fifty nevee'ey baal, the "prophets" of the idol Baal: he assembles the nation at Har Carmel; arranges for a competition between himself the nevee'ey baal; and attempts to relay a didactic message to the Children of Israel intended to catalyze teshuva (Melachim 1 18:21):
"And Elijah came near unto all the people, and said: 'How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.' And the people answered him not a word."
After the nevee'ey baal fail at their attempts to bring their sacrifice, Eliyahu brings his sacrifice (Melachim 1 18: 36-39):
"And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening offering, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said: 'O LORD, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel, and that I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that Thou, LORD, art God, for Thou didst turn their heart backward.' Then the fire of the LORD fell, 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: 'The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.' "
Eliyahu, showcasing a great success in the midst of the nation, causes them, seemingly, to repent as they cry out: 'The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.' He subsequently exploits the moment of ecstatic enthusiasm and, within one day, kills all of the nevee'ey baal in the Kishon river; this is surely a great victory for Eliyahu.
He later arrives at Yizrael, the winter house of the kings of Israel, and meets a messenger sent by Achav’s wife, Izevel. The messenger relates Iezevel’s reaction (Melachim 1 19:2)
"Then Iezevel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying: 'So let the gods do [to me], and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to-morrow about this time.'"
Izevel warns that she intends the kill Eliyahu in the exact manner that he killed the nevee'ey baal. It is important to understand the political situation: Isabel’s willingness to threaten Eliyahu in such a flagrant manner that day after his impressive victory evidences the power and influence she retains; the nation continues to respect and heed the words of the queen. Apparently, therefore, the efforts of Eliyahu did not draw the expected results and the nation did not repent its previous ways.
Eliyahu’s Didactic Failure
After hearing the harsh words of Izevel, Eliyahu flees to Be’er Sheva; from there he goes down to the desert; and it is there that an angel appears to him (Melachim 1 19 4-10):
"But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom-tree; and he requested for himself that he might die; and said: 'It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.' And he lay down and slept under a broom-tree; and, behold, an angel touched him, and said unto him: 'Arise and eat.' And he looked, and, behold, there was at his head a cake baked on the hot stones, and a cruse of water. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said: 'Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.' And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meal forty days and forty nights unto Horev the mount of God. And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said unto him: 'What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said: 'I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.'"
This story resembles many aspects of the story of Moshe Rabeinu: both Moshe and Eliyahu fast for forty days and forty nights; God reveals Himself to both Moshe and Eliyahu at Mount Sinai; Eliyahu enters the very same cave in which Moshe heard the shlosh esrei middot, the thirteen attributes of God.
As God reveals himself to Eliyahu He asks a strange question: 'What doest thou here, Elijah?’ God instructed Eliyahu to come to Mount Sinai; it is surely clear why he is there.
It is integral, therefore, to understand the meaning of the question 'What doest thou here (po), Elijah?’ The Hebrew word "po" does not refer to "here"—at Mount Sinai, but rather "here"—in this world, olam ha’zeh. The question was: "What are you doing in olam ha’zeh, Eliyahu?" How do you understand your role in this world as a prophet of God? Eliyahu, though, answers with harsh accusations of the Children of Israel:
"The children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword."
Our Sages explain that Eliyhu’s words cause the following reaction from God:
Eliyahu says: "The children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant" and God asks: "My oath or your oath?"
Eliyahu says: "...thrown down Thine altars", and God asks: "My altar or your altar?"
Eliyahu says: "...and slain Thy prophets with the sword" and God asks: "My prophets or your prophets?"
In other words God is asking Eliyahu: "How is this your business? What do you want?" The oath and the alters and prophets belong to God and not Eliyahu. Eliyahu then responds: "...and they seek my life, to take it away". Here the problem becomes a personal issue of Eliyahu; it is not a problem with the nation—as it once seemed—but rather with Eliyahu.
It is at this point that Eliyahu merits a exceptional revelation (Melachim 1 19,1-14):
"And He said: 'Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.' And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said: 'What doest thou here, Elijah?' And he said: 'I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.'"
This unique revelation comes to teach Eliyahu a didactic message: wind, earthquakes, and fire are all impressive and exciting, and yet that is not where God is found; He is found, rather, in the "still small voice". True education, that which penetrates to the soul and remains there, is only successful if done through calm means, rather than wind, earthquakes, and fire. It is impossible to educate the nation through zealousness alone.
At the end of the revelation, Eliyahu is asked again: "'What doest thou here, Elijah?" It seems that God it testing Eliyahu to see whether he comprehended the message, whether he understood the lesson that God was teaching him. Eliyahu’s response, though, is the very same response that he answered the previous time:
"'I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant… and they seek my life, to take it away."
Eliyahu did not understand the lesson.
Following Eliyahu’s response, God assigns him a number of tasks (Melachim1 19, 15-16):
"And the LORD said unto him: 'Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when thou comest, thou shalt anoint Hazael to be king over Aram; and Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room."
God excuses Eliyahu from his duties: He commands him to perform a number of last assignments; to appoint Chazael as the king of Aram and Yehu as king over Israel; and afterwards to appoint a replacement for himself, Elisha ben Shefat. And, thus, immediately after Eliyahu performs these three tasks, he ascends to heaven in a storm, fury. The message of dismissal comes after God sees that Eliyahu does not know how to work with people; he who does not know how to deal with people, does not belong on Earth. Ramban explains that God says to Eliyahu that if he continues in this manner, he will eventually kill everyone and thus it is preferable that he ascend to Heaven now. Eliyahu’s extreme personality does not mesh with matter of this world. If so, though, why is Eliyahu specifically chosen to organize the worldly matters before the arrival of "the day of the Lord"?
The Two Types of Holiness
After Eliyahu ascends to Heaven he undergoes a dramatic change. It is great to begin as one zealous for the word of God, but ultimately it is important to moderate one’s stance and that of judgment. It is this that Eliyahu learns in Heaven. Eliayhu Hanavi is he who says: "for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant".
And thus God sends him to see that the case is not so, for in actuality the Children of Israel are following the agreement He made with them. We can learn a lot about the nature of peacemaking from the fact that Eliyahu was chosen for such a task: it cannot be achieved through naiveté, leniency, or shortcuts; rather, the peacemaker must be one who opposes shortcuts, he who is adamant and zealous is fitting for the role. However, he must first make a short visit to Heaven in order that he reveal the root of the Israeli nation which appears in all factions of the nation, and only then can he herald peace.
Rav Avraham-Yitzchak HaCohen Kook explains the task of Eliyahu: he is the link between the various facets of the nation. The nefesh of the nation is the sinners of Israel; the spirit, the scholars; those who connect between the soul and the spirit are the neshama of the nation. In the language of Harav Kook:
"I see with my eyes the light of Elijah’s life rising, his power for God being revealed, the holiness in nature breaking forth, uniting with the holiness that is above course nature, with the holiness that combats nature. We fought nature and emerged victorious. Material nature crippled us, struck us in our thigh, but the sun shone to cure us of our limping. Judaism of the past, from Egypt until now, is a long battle against the ugly side of nature, be it human nature in general, or the nature of the nation and of every individual. We fought nature in order to subdue it. It succumbs before us; the worlds are increasingly refined. At the essential depth of nature a great demand wells up for holiness and purity, for delicacy of soul and refinement of life. Elijah comes to herald peace, and in the inner soul of the nation a life stream of nature breaks forth and approaches holiness. The remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt becomes a remembrance of the delivery from nations; we are all approaching nature and it beckons to us. Nature is conquered before us and its demands are increasingly consonant with our noble demands from the source of holiness. The youthful spirit that demands its land, its language, its freedom and honor, its literature and strength, wealth, and feelings, is flooded with a flow of nature, which within is full of holy fire." (Orot Hatchiyah 30)
Rav Kook admits that he himself saw "ascending light of the life of Eliyahu". When Rav Tzvi Yehuda (Rav Kook's son) would teach this passage to his student he would point to himself and say: "I see, with my own eyes, the ascending light of Eliyahu". And what does one see? One sees how the holy nation struggles with nature. Holiness is generally found in opposition with nature, above nature. In order to maintain holiness it is necessary to overcome nature. This, however, is not the truth in its fullest sense: there is holiness latent in the depths of nature, a holiness which is much deeper than that which opposes nature. Ultimately, this holiness, which is hidden in nature,
תובעת את עלבונה
And the first form which this holiness in nature assumes is that of the impudence and opposition of the holiness which is above nature.
The Disagreement Between Parents and Children.
This is the disagreement between parents and children. The parents are the old generation, the old guard, representing the kedushah (holiness, sanctity) fighting nature. Their children are the new generation, representing the kedusha that is stored in the natural, which bursts out and interrupts at the first stage in the form of chutzpah, opposition and defiance. Therefore only one who stands above the kodesh (holiness) may connect these two extremes; the prophet Eliyahu.
This battle between the two types of holiness has still not ended, and we may feel it too. The fundamental source that opposes religion and the Torah that we see today is since Torah and religion as a whole are fighting against a foreign lifestyle. This lifestyle carries within it a flash of holiness intrinsically against this very lifestyle. The function of the prophet Eliyahu is to unite these two types of holiness. It is the task of holy people to reconcile this battle with nature. As long as we continue the fight with nature, nature will fight back. So that we may bring the coming of the prophet Eliyahu we must reconcile with nature.
In order to be successful in this mission we must do things according to the hour that maybe opposed to normal halachah (Jewish law). Eliyahu sacrificed at Mount Carmel offerings on an altar that was outside of Jerusalem – a transgression normally punishable by karet (the most severe Divine punishment). Who gave permission to Eliyahu to make a sacrifice outside Jerusalem? None other than himself! Prophets such as Eliyahu have the authority to make instructions that are relevant the hour, ones that otherwise may not be given.
But that was so when Israel had prophets, but how are we to act when there are no prophets? The prophet Malachi says it explicitly (Malachi 3:22):
"Remember the Torah of Moshe my servant, that I commanded him at Horev, these statutes and laws upon all Israel."
We must only act according to the Torah that was given to Moshe, there is no leniency to permit any different instructions, no matter how pressing the hour. So how may we bring together these two extremes, how to connect the opposite ends? This question too, the prophet Malachi taught from the following passage: "Here I send you Eliyahu the prophet ...". The prophet assures us that prophecy will return and moreover, before his coming, Hashem will reveal the Torah that unites the intuition of the older generation with the intuition of the younger generation. The prophet reveals to us that there will be the Torah of HaRav Kook. The holiness (kedushah) that is above the natural, and the holiness (kedushah) that is within the natural. In fact Moshe already said there are two kinds of sanctity (D’varim 30:6)
"Hashem, your God, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, to love Hashem your God, with all your heart and all your soul, that you may live."
From a close inspection of this passage, it can be said that there are two types of word concerning the heart: There is the word for the heart of the fathers and the word for the heart of the offsprings. Rav Kook explains that there are philosophical differences between the fathers and the sons. For this reason, each of these groups has a different character evident in their response.
The reason for kefira (heresy)
When the older generation wants to cause the young generation to do Teshuva, it is their responsibility to know how to approach the younger generation in the appropriate way so as to inspire them to do Teshuvah. It is important to know how to talk to others. Once, a Talmid Chacham (Sage) from Hungary sent a letter to Rav Zvi Yehuda when his father was still alive. In the letter were serious objections against Rav Kook. One of the objections raised in the letter to Rav Kook was that he spoke with secular people in a national secular style and not in the traditional Torah style. Rav Zvi Yehuda replied to the Talmid Chacham that this is one of the laws of tochechah – of giving a rebuke. It is halacha (the Jewish law) for the one who is rebuking to speak in a language that will be understood. There is no point in saying things that are correct and true if they cannot be heard. Therefore, in order to cause the younger generation to do teshuvah (repentance) we have to understand the true desire of the young generation. And that is: that their faith is immense and not lacking in any way. The younger generation demands a greater Judaism, a more meaningful Judaism. The younger generation has a greater soul, so to speak, and their souls seek out a path free from pettiness and triviality. This is the real reason for the heresy, for the denial, not because of a loss of faith, rather because of the magnitude of their faith! In his book "Orot HaEmunah" ("The Lights of Faith") Rav Kook writes on the belief that the Torah is Heaven sent (min hashamayim). Some Jews believe that the Torah was given to us by Hashem, and there are others who deny that belief. But do they even know what they are talking about?
There is denial (of God) that is effectively acknowledgement, and belief and acknowledgement of Hashem that is effectively kefira - a denial of belief. How can this be? A person acknowledges that Torah is given to us from the Heaven. What we now need to check is whether these are the same skies that the Torah came to us from, and what is the height of these skies. Sometimes the heavens that had previously borne us the Torah have become so strange and distorted, that nothing remains real in our faith.
And how is the heresy like acknowledgement of Hashem? When all of a man’s perception is based on those same distorted skies, the reason for his denial is not out of stubborn refusal to accept Hashem, it’s because he is unprepared to accept Torah from heavens that are so low. In such a case this denial is a considered an acknowledgement of Hashem. Don’t believe everyone who says that he does not believe.
In order to bring about teshuva in this generation, we will need people who are first and foremost able to "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers" and make peace between the sanctity which is opposed to nature and the sanctity which is found inside the nature.