The Prophet Of Fire

In the third year of the famine this command came from Jehovah to Elijah: “Go, show yourself to Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth.” So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab.

The famine was so severe in Samaria that Ahab had called Obadiah, the overseer of the palace. Obadiah was very loyal to Jehovah; for when Jezebel tried to kill the prophets of Jehovah, he took a hundred and hid them in a cave and kept them supplied with bread and water. Ahab said to Obadiah, “Come, let us go through the land to all the springs and to all the brooks, in the hope that we may find grass, so that we can save the horses and mules and not lose all of them.” So they divided the land between them, Ahab going in one direction and Obadiah in another.

While Obadiah was on the way, Elijah suddenly met him. As soon as Obadiah knew him, he fell on his face and said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?” He answered, “It is; go, tell your master: ‘Elijah is here.'” But Obadiah said, “What sin have I done, that you would give your servant over to Ahab to kill me? As surely as Jehovah your God lives, there is no nation nor kingdom where my lord has not sent to find you; and when they said, ‘He is not here,’ he made each of the kingdoms and nations take an oath, that no one had found you. Now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, Elijah is here!’ As soon as I have left you the spirit of Jehovah will carry you to a place unknown to me, so that when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will put me to death, although I, your servant, have been loyal to Jehovah from my youth! Have you not been told what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of Jehovah, how I hid a hundred by fifties in a cave and fed them continually with bread and water?” Elijah answered, “As surely as Jehovah of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will show myself to Ahab to-day.”

So Obadiah went to Ahab and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah. As soon as Ahab saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is it you, you who have brought trouble to Israel?” He answered, “I have not brought trouble on Israel, but you and your father’s house have; because you have failed to follow the commands of Jehovah and have run after the Phoenician gods. Now therefore call together to me at Mount Carmel all the Israelites and the four hundred and fifty prophets of the god Baal who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

So Ahab sent for all the Israelites and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. Then Elijah came to the people and said, “How long are you going to falter between worshipping Jehovah or Baal? If Jehovah is the true God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him.” But the people were silent. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left as a prophet of Jehovah, but there are four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal. Let us take two oxen; let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, without lighting any fire, and I will dress the other ox and lay it on wood, without lighting any fire. Then you call on your god and I will call on Jehovah. The god who answers by fire is the true God.” All the people answered and said, “It is a fair offer.”

Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the oxen for yourselves and dress it first, for you are many, and call on your god, without lighting any fire.” So they took the ox which he gave them and dressed it, and called on their god from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, hear us.” But there was no voice nor answer, although they leaped about the altar which they had built.

When it was noon, Elijah mocked them, saying, “Call loudly, for he is a god; either he is thinking, or he has gone out, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened!” Then they called loudly and cut themselves, as was their custom, with swords and lances until the blood gushed out upon them. When noon was past, they cried out in frenzy until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was neither voice nor answer nor was any attention paid to their cry.

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people drew near to him, and he rebuilt the altar of Jehovah which had been thrown down. Then around the altar he made a ditch that would hold about two bushels of seed. When he had placed the pieces of wood in order, he cut up the ox and laid it on the wood. Then he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt-offering and on the pieces of wood.” And he said, “Do it the second time”; and they did it the second time. He said, “Do it the third time”; and they did it the third time, so that the water ran round the altar. And he also filled the ditch with water.

When it was time to offer the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Jehovah, God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy command. Hear me, O Jehovah, hear me, that this people may know that thou, Jehovah, art God, and that thou mayst win their hearts.”

Then the fire of Jehovah fell and burned up the burnt-offering and the wood, the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and cried, “Jehovah, he is God; Jehovah, he is God.” But Elijah commanded them, “Take the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape!” So they took them down to the Brook Kishon and there put them to death.

Then Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink; for there are signs of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went to eat and drink. But Elijah went up to the top of Carmel and crouched down upon the earth, with his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” So he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” But seven times he said, “Go again.” So the servant went back seven times, but the seventh time he said, “There is a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising out of the sea.” Then Elijah said, “Go, say to Ahab, ‘Make ready your chariot; go down, that the rain may not stop you.'” In a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. And as Ahab rode toward Jezreel, Elijah was given divine strength, so that he tightened his belt and ran before Ahab to the entrance to Jezreel.

Under Any Circumstances

“The vision of Obadiah. This is what the Sovereign LORD says about Edom — We have heard a message from the LORD: An envoy was sent to the nations to say, ‘Rise, let us go against her for battle.’”—Obadiah 1:1

The Torah portion for this week, Vayishlach, is from Genesis 32:3—36:43 and Obadiah 1:1–21.

The Haftorah for Vayishlach is taken from the book of Obadiah. Obadiah, contained in one chapter, is a prophecy against the nation of Edom and describes her downfall at the End Times. The Sages teach that Obadiah was a natural choice to prophesize against Edom for two reasons: First, because he was “one of them” and understood their shortcomings all too well; and second, because Obadiah was the antithesis of Edom’s great ancestor – none other than Esau from this week’s Torah reading.

Esau had the privilege of growing up in the holy home of Isaac and Rebecca. He had perfect role models in his parents and was given a loving and nurturing upbringing. According to Jewish tradition, Obadiah, on the other hand, grew up among the depraved Edomites. After converting to Judaism, he lived with King Ahab and Queen Jezebel – arguably the most wicked king and queen ever to rule Israel. (See 1 Kings 18:3–16.) Esau, in spite of his envious upbringing, ended up living an evil and immoral life. But Obadiah, despite the evil influences around him, remained righteous and good.

By examining the lives of Esau and Obadiah we learn that while our life experiences definitely affect us, we are ultimately responsible for the paths we choose in life. We cannot control what happens to us in life, but we can always control how we react to those events.

This reminds me of an age-old story about a daughter who complains to her mother about the circumstances in her life. In response, the mother boiled three pots of water and added a carrot to one, an egg to another, and coffee beans to the third. After a half hour, the mother tells her daughter to take a look.

Each of the three items had been placed into the same situation– boiling hot water – but they all reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, but came out weak and mushy. The egg went in soft and fluid, but came out hard and unyielding. The coffee beans were unique. They used the boiling water to become something better – a delicious cup of coffee. The mother then explains to her daughter that for every circumstance in life, we choose the consequence. We can let our circumstances weaken us; we can let them harden our hearts; or we can use them to become better. Obadiah chose to become better.

How do you react to life? Are you more like the carrot, the egg, or the coffee beans? Do you let the circumstances in your life bring you down, or do you use them as a springboard to reach higher? The choice is ours.

Having It All

“Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.”—Genesis: 33:11

The Torah portion for this week, Vayishlach, is from Genesis 32:3—36:43 and Obadiah 1:1–21.

Jacob sent his brother Esau extremely generous gifts in hopes of winning his friendship, even though the two had been enemies for years. Thankfully, Esau reacted positively to the gesture. Not only did he extend his hand in friendship, but he even declined to take any of Jacob’s possessions.

Esau: “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself” (Genesis 33:9).

Jacob insisted: “Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.”

At first glance, it seems that the brothers were saying the same thing: “You keep the gifts – I don’t need them!” And while both men acted admirably, there is something profoundly different in what each one said. Esau said, “I have enough,” but Jacob said, “I have everything.”

What’s the difference? Having enough implies that while I’m fine with what I have in life, there is always room for more. I would prefer more. But having everything means that I have exactly what I need. I don’t need less and I don’t need more. God has given me exactly what I need to succeed in the place I am in my life right now. My cup is already full and I feel truly blessed.

The Sages teach: “Who is a wealthy man? He who is satisfied with his lot.” What we have doesn’t determine how wealthy we are; how we perceive what we have, does.

Today we live in a society where the average person enjoys a standard of living that exceeds what the wealthiest people enjoyed just a century ago. But does the average man feel exceedingly blessed? Unfortunately not. We are constantly reminded by billboards and infomercials of how much we still lack. Though we might acknowledge that we have enough, few people feel that they have everything.

Superstorm Sandy was a devastating hurricane that not only changed the New York coastline; it also brought out a side of New York that does not fit with the stereotype. Suddenly the ambitious dollar-driven city that never sleeps… slowed down – friends, family, coworkers, and strangers, bonded together to share food and shelter. Amid horror stories of loss, came uplifting stories of the human spirit. Now that is everything!

It shouldn’t take a hurricane or cataclysmic event to remind us of what we have. Look around you and notice your many blessings. We have freedom. We have abundance. We have each other.

We have everything!


“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.”—Genesis 32:24

The Torah portion for this week, Vayishlach, is from Genesis 32:3—36:43 and Obadiah 1:1–21.

Scripture tells us that the night before Jacob encountered his brother Esau, he was left alone. But how is that possible? Just two verses before, we read that Jacob took his entire family and all of his possessions across the river of Jabbok. Wasn’t he surrounded by his wives, his eleven sons, and all his servants?

The Sages teach that after crossing the river, Jacob went back over to the other side in order to retrieve a few small jugs and jars that he had mistakenly left behind. That’s how he ended up alone, and that’s when he encountered the man who wrestled with him until daybreak.

Let’s put this into perspective. By this time, Jacob was an extremely wealthy individual. What was he doing crossing a river, on what could be the eve of a catastrophic war, in order to get a few inexpensive and easily replaceable items? That’s like Donald Trump walking across Manhattan in order to pick up a quarter that he had dropped a few hours earlier!

The Sages explain that to Jacob, all things – even the most insignificant things – were valuable. Jacob understood that everything created in this world has a purpose. Everything has meaning. Everything has value. It doesn’t matter how much it costs or how replaceable it is. Everything that God has placed in our lives has something to add to our lives. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be there.

Sometimes the lesson we need to learn from the objects in our homes is that there is a time to throw things out. Sometimes we need to learn to part with material objects or learn to move on. But for the material items in our lives that do function properly and serve a purpose in our lives, we should have respect and treat them accordingly. In a society where almost everything is disposable, we need to pause and remember that everything has value.

Take a look around your home and look at your possessions with fresh eyes. What purposes do they serve? What can you learn from a pair of shoes or a glass? How can you use what you have to serve the Lord?

When we take the time to appreciate the value of our possessions, we will treat them with greater respect. And we will become worthy of God’s respect because we act with honor.

Sharing His Wealth

“He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.”—Genesis 32:13–15

The Torah portion for this week, Vayishlach, is from Genesis 32:3—36:43 and Obadiah 1:1–21.

According to tradition, Jacob acquired 5,500 animals while working for Laban. From that, he gave one-tenth – 550 animals – to his brother Esau as an appeasement offering. This percentage is no accident. Ten percent of those animals didn’t belong to Jacob anyway.

When Jacob left his father’s home, he made a promise to God. In keeping with what would later become an official Biblical law, Jacob committed to giving one-tenth of his profits to charitable causes: “and of all that you give me I will give you [God] a tenth” (Genesis 28:22). But for whatever reason, Jacob did not tithe his property while working for Laban. Now, instead of parting with his assets for the sake of charity, Jacob ended up losing his property to Esau – a far less attractive cause!

We all know that we should be charitable and share our money with others. But that’s not always so easy to do! It’s our money after all! Shouldn’t we get to enjoy it? But God says: “The silver is mine and the gold is mine” (Haggai 2:8). None of our earthly possessions actually belongs to us. Everything belongs to God, and we are to use what He has graciously given to us appropriately.

There was once a man who learned a valuable lesson while waiting in an airport. The man had checked his bags, bought himself a snack and a magazine, and sat down to wait. As he opened his magazine and reached for a cookie, he was surprised to find another hand in the bag. The woman sitting next to him was eating his food!

He was too polite to say anything and so he kept quiet even though the woman continued to help herself to his snack. She didn’t even leave him the last cookie – instead, she broke it in half, smiled, and kept half for herself. How rude! Just then, the man’s flight was called. As he prepared to board the plane, he opened up his bag to get his boarding pass – and found his bag of cookies, unopened and untouched. He had been eating the woman’s cookies all along, while she had kindly shared!

There are many lessons to be learned from this story. One of them is that knowing who the owner is makes all of the difference! If we see ourselves as the true owners of our assets, then we may resist sharing them with God — and others. But when we realize that everything belongs to Him, we will jump at the opportunity to share.