(When Pinchas is read before the Three Weeks, this haftarah is read. When it falls in the Three Weeks, we read the haftarah for Matot.)

The haftarah1 for Pinchas is from the book of Melachim Aleph (I Kings). It comes right after Eliyahu’s confrontation with the prophets of Ba’al. Many of the people of Israel were straddling the fence, wavering between serving G‑d and the false deity Ba’al. Eliyahu set up a contest for all to see the fallacy of Ba’al. The contest was between him, a prophet of G‑d, and the corrupt prophets of Ba’al. Of course, he was victorious, and in his zealousness for G‑d, he had the prophets of Ba’al killed.

The haftarah tells the story of how Eliyahu ran away from Ezevel (Jezebel), who threatened to kill him for what he did to the prophets of Ba’al. He was met by an angel who gave him food and drink. Then he traveled to Mount Sinai and hid in the cave that was there.

G‑d told him to exit the cave. When he went out, he saw an amazing vision, and G‑d commanded him to appoint kings in Damascus and in Israel (the 10 northern tribes), who will help him destroy the worshippers of Ba’al, and to appoint Elisha to be his successor. It closes with the story of how Eliyahu met Elisha, and how he became his apprentice and a prophet.

Pinchas and Eliyahu: The Connection

This is connected to our parshah, which tells us about Pinchas, of whom are sages said “Pinchas is Eliyahu”; they shared the same soul. Just as Eliyahu acted out of zealousness for G‑d, which motivated the Jewish people to return to G‑d, Pinchas’ zealous action for G‑d caused the Jewish people to return to G‑d. Just as the parshah of Pinchas begins after his zealous act, the haftarah also begins after the zealous act of Eliyahu.

Another connection: Eliyahu will herald the coming of Moshiach and the era of everlasting life, and Pinchas was granted the everlasting reward of priesthood for him and his descendants. Why is their reward everlasting, while others who did amazing things weren’t granted such rewards?

There are two ways of affecting change. One way is by shining so much G‑dly light from above that the people are inspired to do good. The problem is that when the light ceases to shine, the inspiration fades, and the people revert to their old selves. The other way is by motivating the people to change themselves; this kind of change is everlasting.

Both Pinchas and Eliyahu’s actions motivated the people to change themselves and return to G‑d. And because what they did caused everlasting change, their reward is everlasting.2

Sustained by a Spark

The last thing that happened before the haftarah begins is that Eliyahu informed King Achav (Ahab) that the current drought was coming to an end and advised him to quickly take shelter from the impending storm.

The haftarah begins with G‑d giving Eliyahu amazing strength, enabling him to run faster than Achav’s chariot. Then he got the news that Ezevel wanted to kill him, so he went into the desert. After a day’s travel, he rested under a tree and asked G‑d to take his life. He fell asleep, an angel touched him, and told him to get up and eat. There was a fried cake and water, so he ate and drank. He fell asleep again, and again an angel touched him, and told him to eat and drink, because he had a long way to go.

Now the haftarah says that “He got up, ate and drank, then with the energy of that meal, he went forty days and forty nights until the mountain of G‑d in Chorev."3 Then he went to the cave in the mountain and fell asleep there.

How is it possible that the food that he ate kept him going for 40 days and 40 nights? Furthermore, centuries earlier, Moshe went up the same mountain and remained there 40 days and 40 nights without eating or drinking, and he didn’t have a special meal beforehand. How was that possible?

We see food as the thing that gives us the energy we need. But on a deeper level, it is the G‑dly spark within the food that gives us our energy. We are taught that the bread of our matriarch Sarah was blessed—that even a little would make a person feel satisfied. This was because she was so holy that she infused the bread with a great G‑dly spark. Eliyahu got his food from an angel. It was G‑dly food, and the G‑dly spark in it gave him enough energy for 40 days and 40 nights. In Moses’s case, it was the G‑dly spark from the Torah he was receiving from G‑d that gave him the energy he needed.4

Not in Thunder

G‑d’s word was upon him, and He said: “Why are you here, Eliyahu?”5 He responded: “I have zealously avenged G‑d . . . and they want to take my life.”6 G‑d told him to go out of the cave and stand on the mountain before Him, and G‑d would pass.

He saw a great host of angels of wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders before G‑d, and he thought: “G‑d doesn’t come with [angels of] wind.”7 After the angels of wind came angels of thunder, he thought: “G‑d doesn’t come with [angels of] thunder.”8 After the thunder, there was fire, and he thought: “G‑d doesn’t come with [angels of] fire.”9 After the fire, he heard a subtle, silent voice, and he covered his face with his cloak because he realized that the Divine Presence was there.

There was wind, thunder, fire and then a subtle, silent voice. Our morning prayer follows this pattern. First, we say verses of praise, which talks about the creation, done with the breath of G‑d (wind). Then we say the blessings before the Shema, in which we speak about the angels and the great noise they make (thunder). After all this preparation and meditation, we recite the Shema with burning passion and love for G‑d (fire). This is followed by the Amidah, the silent prayer, in which we stand humbly before the Divine Presence in silent prayer, which is the “subtle, silent voice.”10

From Eliyahu’s words, we learn a great lesson. Some think that they need to change the whole world in one fell swoop, like leaders who focus on the “important” global events, feeling that it is below their stature to deal with the everyday needs of the community, teaching about Shabbat, kosher, blessings before and after eating, etc.; that is work for their assistants. They give thundering speeches on global matters, hoping to get quoted in the news. To this, Eliyahu notes: “G‑d doesn’t come with thunder.” If you want to bring your community closer to G‑d, it is not thunder, but rather a subtle, silent voice, urging the community to keep Torah and mitzvahs, that will bring to Him.11 This is what will make a real difference, and ultimately, it will change the world.

The haftarah continues with G‑d commanding Eliyahu to appoint Elisha as his successor, and how he met Elisha and became his apprentice, later to become his successor. This is similar to the story in our parshah, when Moses asked G‑d to give the Jewish people a leader for when his time will come. G‑d commanded him to appoint Yehoshua as his successor, which he did.

It is our actions for G‑d, down here in the physical that makes the greatest difference. Like Pinchas and Eliyahu, when the effort comes from below, there is real change, everlasting change—the kind of change that will bring Moshiach. May he come soon!