When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD — he is God! The LORD — he is God!” — 1Kings 18:39
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.
As if to highlight the foolishness of the actions of the Israelites in this week’s Torah portion – when they made a golden calf to serve as their ‘god’ — this week’s Haftorah portion describes a time in history when idolatry was put to the test. And boy, did it fail!
The time: 9th century BCE.
The place: the northern kingdom of Israel.
The people of Israel had gathered at Mount Carmel for the ultimate standoff. On one side were 450 self-proclaimed prophets of the god Baal backed by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. On the other side was the lone figure of Elijah the prophet.
The challenge: to offer a sacrifice that would bring down fire from the heavens and thus be devoured. The goal: to prove who represented the true God.
Here’s what happened. The 450 prophets went first. They built an altar, called out to Baal, and offered a bull. Nothing happened. They performed a ritual dance. Nothing happened. They called out louder and danced faster. Nothing happened. Then it was Elijah’s turn.
Elijah built a stone altar and dug a trench around it. He placed wood on the altar and a bull on the wood. He then drenched the offering, the altar, and the trench with water. Elijah invoked the name of the Lord, and a fire immediately descended from heaven, devouring the offering, the altar, and even the water.
The contest won, the Israelites proclaimed: “The LORD – he is God! The LORD – he is God!” The nation promptly rounded up the 450 false prophets and handed them over to Elijah, who executed them. The spectacle concluded when Elijah prayed to God, ending the three-year drought with a miraculous rainstorm.
To us modern-day folk, it seems ridiculous that anyone could ever believe that an idol could be more powerful than God. It seems that we have figured out that no material object could possibly be greater than the Creator of all things!
But have we really?
The truth is that we often place just as much faith in material things as the false prophets did in Elijah’s time. Sometimes we misplace our trust and instead of placing it exclusively in God, we place it in green paper called money. Or in a certain individual. Or in a house, a car, or the latest electronic gadget. When those things fail to bring us the security and well-being we desire, we may dance faster and talk louder, but in the end, our “idols” are powerless to help us.
We must live with the clarity experienced at Mount Carmel and remember: “The LORD – he is God.” He alone can help us, and it is only Him whom we should serve.
Honor Rabbi Eckstein