“Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”—1 Kings 18:23–24
The Torah portion for this week is Ki Tisa, which means “when you raise up,” from Exodus 30:11—34:35, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 18:20–39.
This week’s Haftorah portion is among one of the most dramatic stories in the Bible. It takes place during the time of Elijah the prophet when the rulers of Israel were the wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Not only did they worship idols and encouraged idolatry throughout the land of Israel, they also had murdered God’s true prophets. Their influence was powerful and most of Israel had fallen into idolatry.
Elijah decided that enough was enough, so he invited Ahab’s prophets to partake in a showdown between the idol Baal and the God of Israel. The plan was for the prophets of Baal and Elijah to each prepare an offering on Mount Carmel and then call upon their god to light the fire and consume the offering. Whichever god answered would determine the true god of Israel.
Needless to say, the prophets of Baal did not succeed. They sang, danced, screamed, and cut themselves, but nothing happened. Elijah drenched his offering in water and then called out to God. In a flash, a fire came down from heaven, consuming the offering, the water, and everything around it! The people were convinced and immediately proclaimed: “The LORD – he is God!” (1 Kings 18:39).
Most of the time, when we read this passage, the focus is on the people’s faith. After reading the story, we reflect on the amazing display of God’s sovereignty and marvel at the clarity and faith that the people must have experienced witnessing this miracle. However, let’s focus on a different angle of the story — not on the faith of the people, but on the faith of Elijah. Think about the faith Elijah must have had to set up this contest and trust God to come through for him with miracles!
Elijah’s demonstration of faith is perhaps even more remarkable than the faith of the people. In Judaism, there are two words that roughly express the idea of faith: emunah and bitachon. There is a profound difference between the two: emunah is believing in God and that He runs the world; bitachon is acting in accordance with that belief. For example, a butcher who believes that his earnings all come from God has emunah. However, if he panics when a competitor opens up down the street, then he is lacking bitachon. Bitachon means living out the belief that God will come through for us every time. That’s the kind of faith that Elijah exhibited.
This week, let’s challenge ourselves to live our faith like Elijah – not just in abstract ideas, but in concrete actions, feelings, and emotions. Let’s take our faith to a higher level and know unshakably that God is in control and that we have nothing to fear.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President