The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
The Eliyahu Narratives
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Shiur 13: The Drought part 6e:
Eliyahu revives the widow of Tzarfat's son (17:17-24)
By Rav Elchanan Samet
10. The Woman's Reaction
(24) "The woman said to Eliyahu: Now I know that you are a man
of God, and God's word in your mouth is true."
Is it really only now that the woman discovers that Eliyahu is
a man of God? Did she not already declare in her complaint, before he revived
her son, "What have I to do with you, O MAN OF GOD
And has she only just now realized that God's word in Eliyahu's
mouth is true? Did she not witness how, throughout the whole year, "the jar of
meal was not consumed, nor did the bottle of oil diminish, ACCORDING TO GOD'S
WORD WHICH HE HAD SPOKEN BY ELIYAHU'S HAND (16)?"
As a result of the realization of God's word as spoken by
Eliyahu, she and her son survived the entire year!
Indeed, the woman knew that Eliyahu was a man of God and that
his decree in God's Name was being fulfilled. But in all of this she did not
sense "truth." Not in the sense of fulfilling that which one has spoken, but in
the wider sense of the term: meaning a person who bears "truth" as the stamp of
God (see Shabbat 55a). God directs the world through a combination of two
traits that are mutually contradictory: the trait of strict justice and the
trait of mercy. But God, Who makes peace in the heavens, also makes peace
between these traits and brings them together in His running of the world. It is
the combination of both these traits that represents God's seal of truth.
Eliyahu has indeed been revealed to the woman of Tzarfat as a
"man of God" but only as a representative of the Divine trait of strict
justice. His presence at the gates of Tzarfat, like his year-long stay in her
home, has been a demanding one:
"Make ME from them a small cake FIRST and bring it out TO ME,
and make for yourself and for your son AFTERWARDS (13)."
His decree that the jar of meal and the bottle of oil would not
run out was admittedly fulfilled, thereby proving without any doubt that Eliyahu
was a man of God and that God's word in his mouth was realized. But Eliyahu
decrees this miracle not out of mercy and compassion for the starving widow and
her son, but rather to facilitate the fulfillment of his demands. And these
demands concern the man of God himself.
This sense of Eliyahu as a man of God representing only the
trait of strict and demanding justice is expressed quite clearly by the widow
when she tells him:
(18) "What have I to do with you, O man of God; you have come
to me TO RECALL MY SIN AND TO PUT MY SON TO DEATH."
Thus far, Eliyahu has not represented God fully. He has
represented Him in only one dimension, and therefore the stamp of "truth" does
not emanate from God's word in his mouth; his representation is not complete.
But now, after Eliyahu resurrects the woman's dead son for the
child's own sake ("please restore THE SOUL OF THIS BOY within him"), with no
thought about any other benefit (as in the miracle of the jar of meal and the
bottle of oil) and without presenting any demands, the man of God is revealed to
her in a new light. He represents God's trait of compassion in the world, and he
performs miracles through this trait. The fact that his decree on the jar of
meal and bottle of oil was fulfilled proved that God's word in Eliyahu's mouth
was indeed realized (and that he was indeed a "man of God"). The miracle of the
child's resurrection proves that he is a man of God in whose mouth God's word is
TRUTH. Eliyahu's personality is now revealed to the woman, through this miracle,
as a genuine representation of his Sender, rather than a one-dimensional
reflection of Him.
We may conclude this section by stating that the woman's
reaction here also relates to the ongoing argument between Eliyahu and God. We
saw above that both of the widow's speeches at the gates of Tzarfat and in her
bitter recriminations over the death of her son, before Eliyahu restores him to
life are harsh criticisms of Eliyahu. Without knowing it, the woman voices
God's secret accusation against Eliyahu for maintaining his oath that has
brought hunger and devastation to the world. We must also address this dimension
of her final words to him. Her praise for Eliyahu as bearing God's word IN
TRUTH, rather than in one-dimensional form, is a sort of Divine assent to what
seems to be Eliyahu's new path a path in which he represents his Sender both
in strict justice and in mercy and compassion.
11. Structure of this unit
This unit consists of eight verses, divided into two equal
parts of four verses each. The separation between the two parts, as in many
other biblical narratives structured in similar fashion, is to be found in the
dramatic turning point: not the resuscitation of the boy, in verse 23, as the
reader might have assumed, but rather in Eliyahu's second prayer, which is
preceded by his lying on top of the boy three times. It is not God's wonders
that represent the crux of this section, and therefore it is not the miracle
that serves as its focus. Rather, the subject concerns the prophet's path and
his relations with his human environment, on one hand, and with God, on the
other. For this reason it is Eliyahu's own actions that are the focus. The
transition between his first call to God, representing an argument about himself
at the center, and the second call, which focuses exclusively on improving the
fate of "this boy," expresses a dramatic change in Eliyahu's path. This change
(which we have discussed at length in previous sections) is what divides the two
sections of the unit.
Let us note the contrast between the two halves of the unit.
There is no phrase in the first half without a contrasting partner in the second
half. We present the two halves below: for the sake of contrasting them we
record the first half (I) in its proper order, each phrase with its
corresponding contrast from the second half (II):
the son of the woman who was mistress of the house fell
ill, and his illness grew exceedingly severe, until there was no life left in
the boy's soul was restored within him"
I (18) "She said to Eliyahu: What have I to do with you, O man
of God; have you come to me to recall my sin and to put my son to death?"
II (24) "The woman said to Eliyahu: Now I know that you are a
man of God and that God's word in your mouth is truth"
I (19) "He said to her: Give me your son"
II (23b) "He gave him to his mother, and Eliyahu said: See,
your son lives."
I (19) "He took him from her bosom and took him up to the attic
where he dwelled, and he lay him down on the bed"
II (23a) "Eliyahu took the boy and brought him down from the
I (20) "He called out to God and said: Lord my God, have You
also done evil to the widow with whom I dwell, to put her son to death?!"
II (21) "He stretched out over the boy three times, and he
called to God and said: Lord my God, please restore the soul of this boy within
The contrasts between the two halves of the unit exist on
several different levels of the story, all complementing one another. On the
level of plot, the first half presents us with a death which is irreversible, a
prayer that is not answered, bitterness and accusation on all sides; in the
second half we have God's response and accession to the voice of the prophet,
life that is restored, joy and appeasement on all sides.
On the literal level the contrast between the two halves is
expressed in the fact that twice in the first half we find the root
"m-v-t" (death "to put my son to death," "to put her son
to death"), while the second half makes mention twice of the root
"h-y-h" ("he lived," "see, your son lives"). Moreover, the
child is referred to four times in the first half as his mother's "son," and
four times in the second half as "the child" (as discussed in the previous
The difference between the terms used to describe the woman in
the two halves points to the contrast between them:
In the first half: (17) "the woman who was MISTRESS OF THE
HOUSE," (20) "The widow WITH WHOM I LODGE." In the second half: (23) "his
mother," (24) "the woman."
These references indicate a transition from the perception of
the woman solely in relation to Eliyahu and his distress, in the first half, to
a perception of her as an independent personality, whose situation as a MOTHER
and whose independent recognition as a WOMAN are the subject of the second half
(as discussed previously, in section 2.).
On the broader stylistic level, the first half is characterized
by two rhetorical questions that express unresolved tension. The widow's address
to Eliyahu and Eliyhu's address to God both conclude with the same question: "
to put my son to death?" and "
to put her son to death?." The second half, in
contrast, is characterized by two calls, each in fact an exclamation. There is
Eliyahu's call to God "Please restore the child's soul within him!," and his
address to the mother: "See, your son lives!" Each of these exclamations is a
stylistic and thematic contrast to one of the two rhetorical questions in the
first half, in chiastic order:
A "You have come to me
to put my son to death?"
B "Have You also
to put her son to death?"
B1 "Please restore the soul of this boy within him!"
A1 "See, your son lives!"
Moreover, there is a significant difference between the
respective endings of the two halves. The second half concludes with a contented
statement that is neither a question nor an exclamation ("
and God's word in
your mouth is truth"). This relaxed mood is a sharp contrast to the tension that
concludes that first half (
"Have You also done evil
to put her son to
All of these contrasts between the two halves on the level of
plot, the appearance of key words, and style are functions of a single
phenomenon: the change that takes place in Eliyahu's thinking when faced with
the dead child lying on the bed, realizing who and what has caused this
An examination of the comparison between the two halves of the
section, as set out above, reveals that other than the first corresponding pair
in the table, the order of correspondence of verses is actually inverse. In
other words, an earlier verse in the first half corresponds to a later verse in
the second half, while a later verse in the first half corresponds to an earlier
verse in the second half. This raises the possibility that perhaps this unit,
too like its predecessor (see the shiur on part 5, section 7) is
built as a system of symmetrical parallels around a central axis. The
presentation below demonstrates that this is, in fact, the case (except that the
symmetrical structure is imperfect):
I: (18) "SHE SAID TO ELIYAHU:
What have I to do with you, O MAN OF GOD;
You have come to me to recall my sin and to put my son to
II: (19) "HE SAID to her: GIVE ME YOUR SON.
III: He TOOK HIM from her bosom and TOOK HIM UP TO THE ATTIC,
where he lodged, and lay him down upon his bed.
IV: (20) HE CALLED OUT TO GOD AND SAID: LORD MY GOD
Have You also done evil to the widow with whom I lodge, to put
her son to death?
V: (21) He stretched out over the boy three times
IVa: AND HE CALLED OUT TO GOD, SAYING: LORD MY GOD
Please restore the soul of this boy within him.
(22) God heard the voice of Eliyahu and restored the boy's soul
within him, so that he lived.
IIIa: (23) Eliyahu TOOK the boy AND BROUGHT HIM DOWN FROM THE
ATTIC to the house
IIa: AND GAVE HIM TO HIS MOTHER, and Eliyahu SAID: See, YOUR
Ia: (24) THE WOMAN SAID TO ELIYAHU: Now I know that you are A MAN OF GOD, and
God's word in your mouth is truth."
This symmetrical structure addresses four contrasting pairs:
I: the woman's complaint to Eliyahu at the beginning of the
unit, while holding her dead son, and correspondingly her words to him at the
end of the unit, expressing her new appreciation for him after her son is
returned to her alive.
II: Eliyahu's words to the woman while she is still holding her
dead son ("Give me your son"), and correspondingly his words to her when he
returns her son alive ("See your son lives!") The root
"n-t-n" (to give) has a diametrically opposite meaning in
these two places: "GIVE ME your (dead) son" as opposed to "HE GAVE HIM (alive)
to his mother."
III: Eliyahu's actions leading up to the resurrection of the
boy, and correspondingly - his actions leading up to returning him to his
mother: "HE TOOK HIM (dead) from her bosom," "Eliyahu TOOK the boy (alive, from
the bed)," "HE BROUGHT HIM UP (dead) to the attic," "HE TOOK HIM DOWN (alive)
from the attic."
IV: Eliyahu's first call to God, which was not answered, and
correspondingly the second call, which is answered (both introduced with the
same words: "He called to God saying: Lord my God
What does our discovery of this symmetrical structure add to
what we already know about the structure of our unit? It highlights the inverse
order of the events in the second half as compared to the first half. The crises
that appear in the first half of our unit are gradually repaired and solved in
the second unit in the wake of the change that takes place within Eliyahu
himself but in inverse order. When the crises appear, they are ordered from
the most innocuous to the most grave from the crisis in Eliyahu's relations
with the widow to the crisis in his relations with God, Who refuses to accept
his first call. The second half, with the solutions, is ordered from the most
significant down to the least significant: first there is a repairing of the
severe rift between the prophet and God, Who now accepts his prayer and answers
him. As a result, even the painful lack of confidence that the widow expresses
towards Eliyahu is now repaired; it is replaced with a clear declaration of
Another significant contribution offered by the structure of
the unit as we have presented it above is the highlighting of the central axis,
giving it extra importance. We discover, then, that the five words (in Hebrew)
"He stretched out over the boy three times" represent the climax of this unit.
Why is this so? Because this phrase, by its very appearance, testifies to the
dramatic change that has taken place in Eliyahu's approach. This change is the
key to the whole turnaround that unfolds in the second half of the unit - as we
have also explained in previous sections.
Translated by Kaeren Fish