God in the Silence

Elijah learns that God is found in the still, small voice, not the impressive special effects

Each week, after the Torah portion is read in synagogue, a section of the Prophets are chanted as well. The following commentary refers to this week's Prophets reading, I Kings 18:46-19:21. It is reprinted from Derekh CLAL: The Webzine of Jewish Possibilities .

Elijah the Prophet had just staged one of the greatest public demonstrations of the unique power of the God of Israel. Before a multitude of Israelites, he challenged the worshippers of Ba'al to a divine showdown. With the drama and special effects befitting a Steven Spielberg movie, God reveals Himself to all of those standing on Mount Carmel, leaving no doubt as to the truth of His existence and the authenticity of His prophet, Elijah.

And yet, as soon as the production so successfully directed by Elijah is over, Elijah is running for his life. Jezebel, the evil queen of Israel, is intent on killing Elijah for the destruction of the Ba'al cult that she had established among the Jews. Elijah flees to the wilderness where, overcome with depression, he prays to God to end his life.

In Elijah's mind, he had failed; his life was not worth living. He had done what he thought he could do to communicate the truth of God's covenant. He had been zealous for the Lord and all it got him was a death sentence.

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God instructs him to go to Mount Sinai and to stand in the same place where Moses, centuries earlier, had received the great revelation from God:

"And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still, small voice" (I Kings 19:11-12).

The message that God reveals to Elijah on Mount Sinai is that the big productions are not enough to educate people in the covenant. Moses had also orchestrated a great event on Mount Sinai that impressed the crowds with its thunder and lightning, its earthquakes and fire. But shortly thereafter, the people were worshipping the golden calf. The effect of the big show had been short-lived.

Ultimately, the tablets that symbolized the revelation of God were broken. It was only after Moses went back up the mountain without the public display and communed with God in a quiet and intimate way that the second set of tablets representing the renewal of the covenant emerge.

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