Remember the restaurant controversy from around a year ago? The hi-class Manhattan kosher restaurant, now known as JSoho, used to be called Jezebel’s. When the restaurant asked the Orthodox Union for kosher supervision, the OU said it would do so only if the name of the restaurant was changed. Though the restaurant owners chose the name after an old classic movie from the 1930’s, Rabbi Moshe Elefant, the head of the Orthodox Union’s kashrus division said, “Jezebel was an evil person and it is not appropriate to name a kosher restaurant after her. Jewish law states that a name has significant influence on who you are, what you are and who you represent.” In general society, and especially in Christian society, calling someone a ‘jezebel’ means you think she is an evil devil woman.
The original Jezebel, or Izevel in Hebrew, appears prominently in this week’s haftarah (Melachim 1, 18-19).
Eliyahu challenged the idolatrous ruler of the Northern Kingdom of the Ten Tribes, the Melech Yisrael, King Achav, to a “competition” of sorts before the nation. The worshippers and false prophets of the idol, Baal, would offer sacrifices and pray, while Eliyahu would offer sacrifices and pray to Hashem. Whichever one, Hashem or Baal, would answer with a fire that would consume the sacrifice would be accepted as the true G-d.
This proposal was accepted and a fire came down to consume only Eliyahu’s sacrifice and not the one of the prophets of the Baal. The nation saw and proclaimed, “Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim, Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim, Hashem, He is the G-d! Hashem, He is the G-d!” (Melachim 1, 18:39). This is the powerful and dramatic phrase with which we end the Yom Kippur prayer service.
Eliyahu then destroys the false prophets of the Baal and asks Hashem for a miraculous rainstorm that ends a prolonged drought.
King Achav reports back to his wife, Queen Izevel, thoroughly dejected. It seems Eliyahu has defeated them and their idolatrous practices. The nation would no longer worship Baal and return once again to serving Hashem. This threatened Achav and Izevel’s entire hold on their kingdom.
Then a most curious thing occurs. Seemingly incongruous, Izevel sends a messenger to Eliyahu saying, “Tomorrow, I am going to kill you.” Eliyahu receives the message and is totally dejected. He runs into the desert and requests that G-d take his soul. He wants to die.
Rav Yaakov Weinberg, Rosh Yeshivas Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, asked: What is going on here? Did Eliyahu actually think that Izevel would have an epiphany? Izevel was the epitome of evil. Surely, Eliyahu could not have ever hoped to change her idolatrous ways. In addition, Eliyahu had been running from her his entire life and never gave up his mission of removing idolatry from Bnei Yisrael. And now, after performing a wondrous miracle that transformed the nation, he is ready to give up?
And how do we explain Izevel’s actions? Doesn’t she realize that the chips are stacked against her? Eliyahu has successfully and miraculously defeated the worship of the Baal. And if she does not care about public opinion, but simply wants to murder Eliyahu because she considers him a nuisance, why doesn’t she kill him today? Why does she say that she will only kill him tomorrow?
Rav Weinberg answered that it is clear that Izevel was not sending Eliyahu a message that she wants to kill him. This is not what she meant. Rather, she was saying: “Eliyahu, you think you have defeated me? You performed a grand miracle for all to see. Today I can’t touch you. But tomorrow I’ll kill you and nobody will say a word. For just one day your miracle will work. That’s how effective your miracle will be.”
Eliyahu had thought that Bnei Yisrael’s reaction to his monumental miracle would be grandiose change. He assessed the Jewish national soul and felt that Bnei Yisrael would finally repent. But then Eliyahu hears Izevel’s message and realizes that her assessment is more accurate than his. This new miracle would not be viewed differently, because the power and inspiration of miracles does not last forever, and this one won’t be any different. Izevel is right. Eliyahu is ready to give up because he feels there is no way for him to help transform the nation.
(There is something fascinating and positive about Izevel that is recorded by Chazal. The mitzvah of being m’sameiach chosson v’kallah, creating joy for the bride and groom, is something Chazal took very seriously. Kesuvos 17a describes how one should stop learning Torah in order to uplift a groom and bride. Chazal also mention the various lengths that many Tannaim went to dance, sing and “do shtik,” in order to make the bride and groom jovial. Izevel, who seems to have no merits at all in her life and did not even merit a normal burial, did indeed receive the zechus that her head, hands and feet should have a normal burial because of her excellent performance of this one mitzvah. She would dance energetically before the bride with her head, hands, and feet (Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer, Perek 17).
We always think that if Hashem would just send some miraculous events, the world would be a different place. But it would not. It would be the exact same world. Miracles do not change people. We remain with our ability to rebel and sin a short while after the miracle’s effect wears off.
Judaism is not based upon the performance of miracles. The Rambam writes (Mishnah Torah, Yesodei Torah, Chapter 8) that Moshe did not perform miracles in order to prove the truth of his prophecy or to inspire people. He only performed miracles based on the physical needs of Klal Yisrael at that time in the desert. We believe in the Torah’s truth only because G-d appeared Himself at Mount Sinai in a national revelation and told us that the Torah is true.
When some inspiring event occurs and we are motivated to change, we must think of some small, slight area in which we can grow. We should never expect the inspiration to last, but we can use the “miraculous” event to affect one small change in ourselves. Over a lifetime, small but steady changes will produce the transformations we are all looking for.
And these are some of the happenings in this week’s haftarah.