Sunday, November 15, 2009

Elisha The Prophet, Part Two

The Haftorah for the Torah portion of Vayeira comes from Kings 4:1 – 4:37, and relates two stories about the prophet Elisha. He lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, during the time after King Solomon, when there was a split between the Northern Kingdom, comprised of ten tribes, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah comprised of two tribes. It was a period of general decline and depravity. Some commentators say Elisha exhibited qualities similar to Abraham. The first story concerns a righteous woman who is the widow of another prophet. She falls on hard economic times and is about to lose her two sons into slavery because of debts she can not pay. Her only remaining possession of any value is one container of oil. Elisha instructs her to borrow as many empty vessels as possible, and to start filling those vessels from the one container of oil she has. Miraculously, as in the loaves and fishes story of the New Testament (which most likely borrowed from this earlier story), all of the empty containers are filled from the one container. Elisha then instructs her to sell the oil, which yields enough money to pay off the debts and support her family.

The second story concerns a wealthy elderly woman who is childless and whose story parallels that of Sarah. She had always shown great kindness to Elisha, recognizing his spiritual depth. She even made up a room for him to stay in her house whenever he passed through her town. He wanted to repay her with some kind of blessing or favor, but she always declined any such offer. His assistant points out to him her childless state despite her desire to have a child. Much as in the Sarah story, Elisha then tells her that she will bear a son in a year’s time, to which she expresses her disbelief, as she is an old woman past child-bearing age. However, in a year, she gives birth to a son, as prophesied. However, there is more to this story, for some time later, her son dies, and she goes to Elisha in her grief, after placing the corpse on the bed that Elisha would use in her house. There are a few interesting aspects to the events that follow. Elisha instructs his assistant to go ahead of them with Elisha’s staff, and “if you meet anyone, do not greet him and if anyone greets you do not reply; and place my staff on the child’s face.” Elisha then comes, prays to God, and the following takes place (Kaplan translation): “…he went up and lay upon the child, placing his mouth on the child’s mouth, his eyes on the child’s eyes, and his hands on the child’s hands. Then he stretched himself on him; and the child’s body became warm. Then he returned, and walked back and forth in the house; and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.” And thus, through this interesting process, the dead child was brought back to life and returned to his ever-grateful mother.

I received an inquiry asking what the stories listed above mean. Are they simply an inspiration to have faith that miracles do happen or is there more? How did Elisha do these things?

Implicit in these questions is a broader question of how to approach understanding any kind of scripturally-based story, particularly ones conveying miracles. A good beginning point would be specific and personal to each individual. The reader should examine what their initial reaction was to the story, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. What kind of impact, if any, did it have on them? Did it resonate in some way that might be difficult to articulate? What is the feeling behind that resonation? Perhaps it is worth sitting with, meditating on, pondering any such feelings that it evoked to see if further insight and understanding comes forward. If there appeared to be no particular impact on the reader, leaving them indifferent, cold or confused, then, before abandoning any effort at further understanding, it may be worthwhile to resort to other sources to find meaning. Jewish sources have identified a process known by the acronym, PaRDeS: P – Peshat – Plain – literal; R – Remez – Allusion – the entry point into the realm of the figurative, the allegorical; D – Derash – Exposition, a more in-depth homiletical approach, extracting deeper spiritual and ethical teachings; S – Sod – Secret, the deepest mystical, intuitive level beyond the rational, delving into the realm of the nonrational, as distinct from the irrational. Talmud and Midrash are the sources of traditional commentaries addressing the realms of Remez and Derash, while Sod is addressed in Kabbalistic writings.

As the person posing the question posed it to me, I will provide my answers to their questions as to the impact of these stories on me, and why I find them fascinating and worth repeating.

Concerning these and any stories involving miracles, I am always fascinated and inspired by such stories. They convey that the world and the universe is a much more glorious and fantastic place than what we usually encounter in the humdrum existence of our daily lives. If we keep our inner senses attuned, our inner eyes and ears open, we can become more receptive to experiencing such things more regularly in our daily lives. They are often subtle, and can be easily overlooked and ignored, or dismissed without a second thought. Stories of miracles are illustrations of something I firmly believe in, that anything is possible. If we view our lives as self-limiting, then we have defined those limitations and subject ourselves to them. If we view our lives as having limitless possibilities, even if not probabilities, we will have a different approach and perspective.

How did Elisha do these things? Well, to answer that question is a tall order indeed! The short answer is that Elisha followed the spiritual intuition he was provided as a servant of the Lord infused with Divine Guidance. I was fascinated and thrilled by the specifics of these stories as conveying subtle messages about the mechanics of how miracles occur. Also, the true prophet miracle-worker always, ALWAYS, acknowledges that the source for their abilities lies beyond their separative selves, and originates with and is by the grace of a power beyond themselves, for which they never fail to express their gratitude. The Rasputins, the charismatic ego-maniacs of the world, while they may garner significant occult-type of abilities, forget the Source from beyond, which inevitably results in tragic consequences.

The significance to the first story for me lies mostly in the realm of the figurative, not the literal. However, on the level of the literal, I find it interesting that the commodity involved is oil. Oil was not merely used for cooking, it was used for anointing and massaging, and it was used as a fuel for providing functional and votive light. So it is this fuel for light that is being miraculously regenerated and serves as the basis for the continued support for the widow and her family. It leads right into the more figurative realm that this is more than a story and message of physical survival. It conveys an oft-repeated message of spiritual wealth, that what truly nurtures us at the deepest level of the spirit, of inner Divine Light, is always available, free of charge, and in abundance if we open up to it. It is our self-created obstacles that prevent this access. It is up to us to remove the obstacles so that the inspiration can flow unimpeded. That was the state of being of the prophets. They had that kind of access. I do not agree with the common notion that the type of revelation and gifts available to the prophets are not currently available, and will only become available again at the time of the coming of Messiah. I believe everyone has such potential, but few actualize it, because it requires brutally honest effort and self-purification on our part for the Grace to be bestowed, and most of us are afraid to engage in such an undertaking. God will meet us half-way. But most of the time, the horse won’t even go to the water, and even when the horse does go, as we all know, you can’t make him drink.

The second story stands in contrast to the first. The first involved a materially poor widow with children, while the second involves a materially wealthy married woman who is poor in another fashion, because she is childless. I am quite certain that there have been volumes of commentary written about this because of its complex set of circumstances and the extraordinary miracles of a conception after menopause, and bringing someone back to life. I have not personally encountered these commentaries, so I am strictly shooting from the hip as to how it fascinates me without the benefit of reading any other commentaries. My focus has not been as much on the miraculous conception as it has been on the second miracle of restoring life to the dead. She had never asked Elisha for anything, and didn’t ask him for a child. It was only due to his assistant revealing to Elisha her desire for a child by which Elisha came up with the perfect gift for her due to her faith and her honoring him. But the bestowing of this perfect gift, still due to a deep material desire, leads to the tragedy and grief of her son dying. This is yet another message not to erect the foundation of your life on anything in the relative world, because you subject yourself to the pain of loss. This woman was materially wealthy, but poor without a child. The child was given to her and then taken away. And then, somewhat reminiscent of the enigmatic and oft-debated story of Job, this source of wealth is miraculously restored. It is not clear whether this woman, in going to Elisha in her grief, was requesting or expecting the miracle that was bestowed, but it appears to be the first time she ever requested anything from Elisha, even if it was just for solace.

I can only say that I was fascinated with the procedures involved in bringing the boy back to life, without fully understanding all of it. The details are just fascinating. The preliminary instructions to his assistant, not to become distracted by speaking with anyone along the way, is an illustration of what in kabala is called “kavanah”, one-pointed focused concentration and intention. Within this framework follows placing the staff on the child (and the staff, as I have expounded elsewhere in the context of Moses, is the staff of the serpent power of existential life, of the Shechinah/kundalini), and then lying face to face, eyeball to eyeball, mouth to mouth, hand to hand. The Tree of Life correlates with the human body, and the rudimentary life force/prana/ruach carried through the breath is what brought life to Adam. Sneezing in this case seems to be the equivalent to the first cries of a newborn baby, the expression of inhalation and exhalation, not only of breath, but of life force (think about it, sneezing begins with an inhalation, the “ah”, which is followed by an exhalation, the “choo”). And the sneezing seven times is indicative of energizing the seven primary life force centers identified in yoga as chakras, which have correlates in the kabala’s Tree of Life.

I hope that the above is sufficiently responsive to the questions asked. It’s about the best that I can do for now.

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Quote of the Week 381 - Heaven

Heaven is all round,

Translated to sound.

--Michael Hedges



Announcing Publication of New Book, DIMENSIONS: Navigation the Spiritual Spectrum

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