Leaving Eretz Yisrael: When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going
There’s a story in מלכים ב that gets no attention, among all the miracles that Elisha does:
We know the background of this woman and her family:
And we know the background of the famine: it was caused by war, not weather:
The story of the miraculous birth and revival of the child I understand. But why this epilogue? I think the נביא is making an important point. In the original story of the Shunamite woman, Elisha offers to help her:
She’s a rich, important woman. Elisha has connections in the capital; he can get her a zoning variance, some tax incentive financing; surely she needs something. But her answer is בתוך עמי אנכי ישבת. As long as I am with my people, I don’t need anything else. I am blessed.
So our story shows that when she does abandon her people in a time of difficulty, that is exactly what she needs: a word with the king; some protekzia. It’s a lesson in the importance of our connections בין אדם לחברו. Even when we think we don’t need others, as soon as we abandon those who need us, we find we do need them.
The parallel with מגלת רות is obvious:
Elimelech and his family are אפרתים, rich, important people. They abandon the people of Bethlehem in a time of famine (and in the context of ספר שופטים, it’s also because of war: the war with Amon in chapter 12. ואכמ״ל). But the consequences seem much more severe. Elimelech and his sons die; the text even calls them מחלון וכליון, Disease and Destruction, which may be a prophetic description of their fate:
And when Naomi comes back, she has a much harder time getting her ancestral fields back:
The language of גאולה indicates that the field had to be bought back:
The Shunamit just got a decree that her field was hers, without having to redeem it.
Why was Elimelech’s fate so much harsher? Or, since this is תנ״ך, why was Elimelech’s sin so much worse? I think the difference is in where they went. The Shunamit went to ארץ פלשתים. Elimelech went to שדי מואב. To see the difference, we have to go back to a much older famine:
And another one:
ארץ פלשתים, even if those who dwell there are enemies of the Jewish people, is still ארץ ישראל. The Shunamit maintained a connection, however slim, to her people. The קדושה of ארץ ישראל has its own importance:
There’s another side to the story, when we look at the background of the famine of the Shunamit, and the end of the war with Aram:
We often lose sight of the fact that this great miracle happened to the kingdom of Israel, whose kings were idol worshippers. Why did they deserve such a reward?
There are three aspects of our connection to ה׳, that define us as Jews. In the words of the Mizrachi motto:
Elimelech and his sons broke the first two. It’s implied they broke the last as well by marrying non-Jewish women—note that רות does not “convert” until she returns with Naomi much later. And with that conversion, she explicitly weaves the three threads back together into a חוט לא במהרה ינתק: