The haftarah1 for Vayeira tells us of two stories of miracles from our prophet Elisha.

In our parshah we read how Sarah, who was in her 90s, was blessed to have a son, Isaac. In the haftarah, the Shunamite woman, who was also at an advanced age, was also blessed to give birth to a son.

However, reading the haftarah, it is clear that most of it has nothing to do with the blessing and birth of the boy. How does the rest of the haftarah connect to the parshah? What deeper lessons are found in these stories?

The first story in the haftarah tells of one woman, the widow of a prophet, who cried out to Elisha. According to tradition2 the prophet was Obadiah, who saved a hundred prophets from King Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel by hiding them in caves and borrowing money to sustain them. Now the creditor was coming for the money. Since she didn’t have it, he wanted to take her two sons as slaves. What was she to do?

Elisha asked her: “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”3 She responded: “There is nothing but a jug of oil.”4

He told her to borrow vessels from all of her neighbors, “empty vessels, don’t skimp.”5 Then she should close the door, start pouring the oil and fill all the vessels. And so she did.

Even though there was little oil in the jug, it continued pouring until the last vessel was full. When there was nowhere to pour another drop of oil, it stopped.

She then went to Elisha and told him what happened. He advised her to sell the oil and pay the debt, and “you and your two sons will live off the rest.”6

A beautiful and well-deserved miracle.

Please allow me to take you to a deeper place.

There is a teaching from the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Chabad) that this story is a metaphor for someone who feels empty and apathetic towards Judaism, and wants that to change.

The “one woman” in the story is the neshamah (soul), which is always one with G‑d.

She was “the wife of a prophet,”7 who received G‑d’s word and was filled with meaning. She cried with bitterness to “Elisha,” symbolizing Hashem (if you divide the name Elisha, you get E-li sha, which means “my G‑d turns [His attention].”

“My husband (in Hebrew ishi) has died!”8 Ishi can be divided into aish, which means “fire,” and the letter yud, which symbolizes G‑d—meaning that she doesn’t feel the G‑dly fire burning inside. She feels that her Judaism is hollow and void of meaning.

“The creditor” is the animal soul, which yearns for physical pleasure and makes us forget about G‑d. He “is coming to take my two sons.” The animal soul wants to take our love and fear of G‑d, and divert them for selfish desires and pleasures.

What do you to do in this situation, when you feel so distant from G‑d?

To this, Elisha responds: “Tell me, what do you have in the house? Is there anything left of your connection with G‑d?” She responds, “There is nothing but a jug of oil.” Oil symbolizes the essence of a Jew, the pintele Yid that cannot be affected and is always one with G‑d.

He says, “Go borrow vessels ... empty vessels.” Torah and mitzvahs are vessels for G‑dliness, but now they are empty, lacking meaning, love and fear of Hashem. “Not a few” means to do a lot of Torah and mitzvahs, even though they seem empty, because they are vessels for G‑dliness. “Pour on them oil,” tap into your essence, and allow it to flow and fill all of your vessels.

How does one tap into his essence?

When you have a log that won’t catch fire, you break it into pieces and then it catches on fire. The same with us. When we don’t feel it, we need to break ourselves. How? When you ponder on your empty state, being so distant from G‑d, you will become bitter and broken. This is when the “oil,” your essence, will begin to pour and fill all of the empty vessels you created.

After you pay the creditor, “you and your children will live with the extra.” Not only will you regain the connection you lost, but you will have even more. When you break the dark state that you were in, you bring out a light that is beyond anything that you experienced before. This is the great light that comes out of the darkness.9

The haftarah now tells us a second story. Once when Elisha was in Shunam, a prominent woman, the Shunamite, insisted that he eat at her home. From then on, whenever he passed through Shunam, he would eat by her home. According to Rashi,10 she was the sister of Avishag the Shunamite, who kept King David warm in his old age.

Realizing how holy the guest was, she asked her husband to build a loft, with a chair, a table, a bed and a candelabrum for his use.

When Elisha saw all the trouble she went through for him, he wanted to reciprocate. She didn’t have children, so he blessed her to have a baby. A year later, she gave birth to a son.

The boy grew up. One day his head started hurting, and he soon died on his mother’s lap. She brought him up to the loft, laid him on Elisha’s bed and locked the door.

She traveled quickly to Elisha, and he came back to Shunam, to the loft, and saw that the boy was dead. The haftarah then tells us how he miraculously brought the boy back to life. According to our tradition, the boy was our prophet Habakkuk.11

Much of the haftarah tells about these two mothers and the lengths they went to secure the welfare of their children. This is what I think is the connection between the entire haftarah and the parshah. In the parshah, we read how Sarah sent away Ishmael so that he wouldn’t be a bad influence on her son, Isaac. Since our great sages chose to include these parts about mothers who cared for their children, which is most of the haftarah, they must have felt that this was an important theme of the parshah, if not the most important.12

This is an ode to Jewish mothers, who give so much and are strong for their children. Our parshah speaks of the Akeida, the binding of Isaac on the altar, yet the Haftarah doesn’t even hint to this monumental paternal sacrifice. Instead, it speaks of the love and care of Jewish mothers to their children.

May G‑d show us the same love, send Moshiach and save us from the clutches of this dark exile. The time has come.