February 16, 2023

#08-285: Elijah and the Rabbi

In the Bible, Elijah was taken up in a "chariot of fire" as Elisha looked on.
Thus some believe that, since he did not die, he can return.
Painting by Giuseppe Angeli, c. 1740 (Wikipedia)

Note: The Jewish tradition has given the world many inspiring folk stories; here's a good example.

Get Ready: Do you find it difficult to understand "why bad things happen to good people"? How do you explain it?

The story of "Elijah and the Rabbi" comes from The Talmud, a central text in Judaism. Much of the book is highly technical, but some of it is expressed in delightful stories. One of these is so good it was even included in T. H. White's The Once and Future King, as a story Merlin taught to the boy who became King Arthur!

A rabbi named Yochanan prayed fervently to see the prophet Elijah, who had passed many centuries before. So good a man was Yochanan that his prayer was granted, and he was allowed to travel the earth with Elijah. Only, he was to ask no questions about anything he saw.

The first night of their journey they reached the home of a poor man who had nothing but a good wife and a cow, his only treasure.

The man and his wife ran out to meet the strangers, and welcomed them, and gave them milk from the cow, and bread with her sweet butter. That night, Elijah and the Rabbi slept in the couple's bed, but the man and his wife took a place on the floor in front of the fire.

The next day, as Elijah finished his prayers, he and Yochanan heard wailing. The man and his wife were outside, and when asked, explained between their tears that their cow had died.

After expressing their condolences, the holy men went on. Yochanan wondered about what had happened, but held his tongue.

The next night they stayed at the home of a rich man, who gave them only water and stale bread, and made them sleep with the cows. The next morning, Elijah noticed that a wall on the rich man's land was falling down, and paid for a mason to come repair it.

This was too much for Yochanan. "Why did the poor man, who treated us so well, lose his cow; but you repaired the wall of the rich man, who abused us?"

"I will explain," said Elijah, "but then I must leave you. That night, the poor man's wife was meant to die; for their kindness, God took their cow instead. And the wall at the rich man's had a treasure inside it; without repair, the treasure would soon be exposed, and the rich man would have even more money with which to abuse the poor."

And with that, Elijah was taken up into heaven, and the Rabbi Yochanan was left to ponder his words.


  • Read more about the Biblical figure Elijah: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elijah
  • Read the extended version of "Rabbi Joshua ben Levi" FREE online in the same article under "In Jewish Folklore."

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. abuse
  2. condolences
  3. fervently
  4. Judaism
  5. mason
  6. ponder
  7. prophet
  8. rabbi
  9. stale
  10. wailing

  1. a person in the Bible who speaks for God
  2. a teacher among the Jews
  3. treat badly
  4. think about
  5. crying loudly
  6. sympathy
  7. the religion of the Jewish people
  8. a person who works with bricks and stone
  9. intensely; enthusiastically
  10. not fresh; hard and dry

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 16, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. c; 2. f; 3. i; 4. g; 5. h; 6. d; 7. a; 8. b; 9. j; 10. e