The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” — 2 Kings 4:1
The portion for this week, which means “and he appeared,”is from Genesis 18:1—22:24 and the is from 2 Kings 4:1
I have always loved pomegranates. Not just because of their taste and beauty, but because of what they symbolize. Pomegranates are one of the seven species of Israel — the seven agricultural products mentioned in the Bible that are considered special products of Israel: wheat, barley, dates, figs, olives, grapes, and pomegranates. They can be found all over the country in early fall as the people of Israel herald in the High Holy Days. There is a tradition to eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and we make the following blessing as we eat them, “May it be Your will, God, that our merits increase like the seeds of a pomegranate.”
The pomegranate represents a person who is filled with kindness and good deeds. But the seeds of the pomegranate aren’t necessarily apparent from the outside. They are clustered together on the inside between folds of the fruit’s white flesh, out of view from any observer. This is the kind of people who we should strive to be like – full of kindness even behind the scenes. Some people only do an act of kindness when the whole world is watching them and they can get plenty of applause; others work just as hard or harder at helping people even when no one is aware of their quiet heroism.
In this week’s Haftorah passage, we read about the widow of a God-fearing man who came to Elisha the prophet with a problem: a creditor was about to take her two sons and make them slaves in order to pay off her debt. The widow had no money to pay him to redeem her sons. Elisha told her to borrow as many empty flasks as she could find, and then a miracle occurred. She was able to continually fill the flasks with the oil from just one flask. She then sold the oil and used her earnings to pay off the creditor.
On the surface, it seems that this story has little in common with this week’s Torah reading. However, the Jewish sages share some additional information garnered from Judaism’s oral tradition. They teach that this widow was the wife of the prophet, Obadiah. One of Obadiah’s greatest deeds was saving 100 God-fearing men from the evil King Ahab. He hid the men for years, feeding them at his own expense and also providing them with plenty of oil so that they could study and pray after dark.
Like Abraham, Obadiah gave generously, with all his heart. However, unlike Abraham, Obadiah’s good deeds were hidden and relatively unknown. Yet the message of his widow’s story is that every good deed is known to God. God had seen Obadiah’s kindness to the holy men and repaid him with kindness to his widow.
This is our prayer on Rosh Hashanah and all year round – that we, too, become like Obadiah — filled with hidden good deeds like a pomegranate’s seeds and appreciated immensely by our God.