The Torah portion of Vayera (Genesis 18:1–22:24) and the Haftorah (2 Kings 4:1-37) connected to it, teach much on the relationship between hessed, deeds of loving-kindness, and miracles. In this Torah portion Abraham and Sarah are told that they would miraculously have a son.
They are told about this in the midst of their involvement in an act of loving-kindness. Abraham is recuperating from his circumcision and yet when he sees three travelers in the distance, he invites them into his tent and begins frantic preparations to feed them.
“And Avraham hastened to the tent to Sarah, and he said, “Hasten three seah of meal [and] fine flour; knead and make cakes.” “And to the cattle did Abraham run, and he took a calf, tender and good, and he gave it to the youth, and he hastened to prepare it.”( Genesis 18:6-7)
In the Haftorah , we are told of the Shunamite woman who tells her husband , “Behold now I know that he is a holy man of God ( the prophet Elisha) , who passes by us regularly. Now let us make a small walled upper chamber, and place there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp; and it will be that when he comes to us, he will turn into there.( 2 Kings 4:9-10). She too is promised a son.
In both cases their act of hessed seems to be intrinsically linked to a prophecy of an upcoming miraculous birth . What then is that connection? We read in the book of psalms that “:HaShem watches over you–HaShem is your shade ( Tzilcha) at your right hand;”(psalms 121:5).The Hebrew word for shade “Tzilcha” can also be understood as ” your shadow”.
The Baal Shem Tov teaches that G-d can also be seen as our shadow and just as a shadow move in synch with the person and mirrors his movements , thus does G-d deal with His Creations. When we act with hessed in the lower worlds He responds with hessed from the upper worlds.
Yet the beginning of the Haftorah carries an even more powerful message .
We are told of a widow who according to our tradition was the wife of the prophet Ovadiah, minister to the King Achav. Ovadia had used up their livelihood in order to purchase oil for the lamps that were used to light the two caves wherein Ovadia had hidden the last 100 prophets , fleeing from the evil king Achav and his evil wife Jezebel. This widow cries out to Elisha the prophet, saying, “Your servant, my husband, has died, and you know that your servant did fear the Lord; and the creditor has come to take my two chlldren for himself as slaves.”(Kings 2 4:1)1 Elisha asks the widow “What shall I do for you? Tell me what you have in the house.” And she said, “Your maidservant has nothing at all in the house except a jug of oil.”( ibid 2)
Elisha told her to gather as many empty containers as possible and to then pour oil from this jug into all the empty containers. She did as commanded, and miraculously the oil continued to flow . Then we read: ”And it was when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel,” and he said to her, “There is no other vessel.” And the oil stopped.”( ibid 6)
There is much to be learned here.
First is, that miracles come into being on pre-existing vessels. HaShem does need those vessels in order for Him to act, but mankind needs to prepare them in order to become partners in HaShem’s act of hessed. That is actually the essence of prayer. Prayer is simply the preparation of the vessels.
One of the words for prayer used in the biblical text is “VaYeatar” as we see in the book of Genesis “And Isaac prayed (VaYeatar ) to Hashem for his wife, because she was barren.” (Genesis 25:2) In the Talmud (Yevamot 64a), our Sages point to the fact that the Hebrew word for plead/ pray (VaYeatar) is linked to the word for pitchfork. Just as a pitchfork turns the sheaves of grain from one position to another, so does sincere prayer change the dispensations of G-d.
Does that mean that our prayers change G-d’s mind? That is clearly not the case.
King Hezekiah is told that it was decreed by G-d that he would die. He turns to the wall in prayer and HaShem rescinds the decree ( 2 Kings 20:1-6). What did Hezekiah say that G-d was not already aware of? In actual fact, his prayer did not change G-d’s mind at all. Rather Hezekiah’s prayer changed Hezekiah. He became a new Hezekiah after prayer, a new vessel, and as a result was worthy of a different decree.
HaShem has a plan and destiny for all of His creations. That plan can move through the attribute of Divine Justice or it can transverse the attribute of Compassion. The Veyatar form of prayer changes us. We move from being a vessel that necessitates being impacted by the attribute of “ Din/ Justice “ into a vessel that can be transformed through “hessed/ compassion”.
So we have seen that our actions of loving-kindness are mirrored in the heavens and that focusing inwardly in order to improve our self and our souls, enables destiny to move through us in a different way. Yet there is one more layer. Regarding the stopping of the flow of oil. it says “and he said to her, “There is no other vessel.” And the oil stopped.( 2Kings 4: 6) Why must we be told that someone declared that there were no more vessels?
HasSem’s hessed is unending. Firstly , as we have seen, we must make ourselves worthy vessels. Yet all that loving-kindness ceases to pour out when we mistakenly feel that HaShem’s hessed is limited. The flow of Divine hessed is hampered when we believe that all the vessels have been used up and we fall into the trap of despair ( ye-ush).
We, who are witnessing prophecy after prophecy being revealed in our days. We, who are seeing a nation born in one day. We, who have experienced the beginning of “the return of the exiles”, cannot live our lives regularly any more. We must rise to the occasion and become worthy vessels…and we must never despair.
Though we have been taught not to depend on miracles, we have also been taught that we are permitted to anticipate them.