She is quite a mysterious woman.
We don’t know all that much about her.
Yet, her legacy is very much alive, and I don’t only mean that she is a figure in Tanach.
The Isha Hashunamis, the woman from the city of Shunam, is the central figure in our haftarah.
Her burial site is known to us and the accuracy of its location is supported by the fact that Rav Chaim Kanievsky has visited there many times to daven for women who are experiencing infertility. He also recommends that couples themselves travel to the kever and daven (Divrei Siach, Vayeira, 2015).
The kever is located near Afula, in the center of the remote Arab village of Sulam (Shunam), next to an ordinary old house. A person who is determined to get there must enter a moshav, Merhavia, and make his way to a dirt road. While the burial sites of many tzaddikim and holy people from Tanach are the subject of some controversy, the fact that Rav Chaim takes time from his incredible learning schedule to visit a kever in the middle of a forlorn Arab village, tells us that we can be sure it’s the real thing.
So, why is the kever of the Isha Hashunamis a special place for tefillos? The answer is in our haftarah.
On Rosh Hashanah, the day when childless women, such as Sarah Imeinu, Rochel Imeinu, and Chanah, mother of Shmuel HaNavi, were “remembered” by Hashem and conceived, the prophet Elisha sent his servant, Geichazi, to the Isha Hashumanis to ask her if he could repay her kindness in some way (Zohar, cited in Rabbi Eliyahu Wolf’s sefer on haftaros). Elisha was extremely thankful for the hospitality she showed him, always preparing a place for him to stay in her attic when he was in the area.
She asked Elisha for a child and he gave her a bracha, there in the village of Shunam. Thus, Rav Chaim and others maintain that Elisha’s bracha became part of the land for all time. Just as Elisha prayed for and blessed the Isha Hashunamis with a child, and this blessing still has the spiritual potency to bring children to those women who so desperately want to conceive.
A more basic segulah for having children is practicing hachnasas orchim. Rabeinu Bachaye (Kad Hakemach, Orchim) points out that both Sarah Imeinu and the Isha Hashunamis fulfilled this mitzvah just prior to being blessed with a child. (Rabbi Eliyahu Wolf points out that the Midrash Tanchuma [Ki Setzei 2] makes this point as well.)
The Isha Hashunamis gave birth to a boy. Who did this young child become? Chazal tell us he was the navi Chabakuk. His name is derived from the word chobeik, to hug, since the pasuk (Melachim Beis, 16:4) describes how Elisha blessed his mother, saying she would be chobeikes ben, hugging a child, within a year’s time (Zohar, cited in Rabbi Eliyahu Wolf’s sefer on haftaros).
There is another interesting and important lesson which appears in our haftarah (see Melachim Beis, 4:23).
While working with his father in the fields, the young boy falls ill with a head ailment, perhaps a high fever. His father brings the sick boy to his mother and he later dies in her arms. She goes to find Elisha and shortly after he brings the dead son of the Isha Hashunamis back to life.
Rabbeinu Bachaye focuses on one part of the story. After the boy dies, the woman rushes out of the house and tells her husband that she is going to find Elisha. She does not tell her husband what happened and he says, “Madu’a at holeches eilav hayom, lo chodesh velo Shabbos, why are you going [to the prophet] today? It’s not Rosh Chodesh or Shabbos.” The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 16b) comments that we see from here that, in fact, one is supposed to go to a prophet on Rosh Chodesh and Shabbos. From this, Rabbeinu Bachaye says that in all generations we have an obligation to seek out our chachamim and Torah leaders on Shabbos to hear the word of Hashem. This is done by attending shiurim but can also be fulfilled by studying our Totah leader’s teachings.
Rabbeinu Bachaye (Shemos 20:8) makes a fascinating point and diyuk on the following pasuk, “Mah ahavti sorasecha, kol hayom hee sichasi; how I love Your Torah! I discuss it all day!” (Tehillim 119:97). If all Dovid HaMelech was saying was that he loved to “talk in learning” all day long, the pasuk should have said, bechol yom hee sichasi, which means that all my conversations involve Torah each and every day. Why does the pasuk say hayom, the day, with the hei hayediah, definitive article, as if to refer to a specific day?
Rabbeinu Bachaye answers that the pasuk is actually referring to a particular day, Shabbos Kodesh. Of course, Dovid HaMelech loved to discuss Torah as often as he could every day. But on Shabbos, he made a special effort to only conduct Torah conversations because Shabbos is designed for us to spend our time studying as much Torah as we can. Kol hayom, on the day, on the day of Shabbos, hee sichasi, Dovid made sure to learn constantly.
Utilizing Shabbos as a day for maximum Torah study is what the pasuk means when we are directed to “Remember the day of Shabbos and sanctify it, zachor es yom haShabbos lekadsho.” We sanctify Shabbos by utilizing the day to turn away from the weekday focus of satisfying our physical needs and desires and increase the quality and quantity of our Torah learning.
That is one of the lessons we learn from the Isha Hashunamis.