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.