When I was a little girl, we got a jolly big pumpkin right at the farmer stand. Bright orange goodness made into mushy nutritious food and pies. And then my mother declared it was time to make pumpkin seeds. Guess who got called upon to do the chore of washing those seeds to get them ready? Yup, yours’ truly, who wasn’t the most cooperative of helpers.
Pumpkin seeds, for those of you who have scooped them out of live pumpkins instead of out of prepackaged snack bags, are smelly and slippery and gooey. You have to place it in a colander and really work off the goo which envelopes it, separating each slippery pod from its cohorts. I put up a fuss. Not me, no way, I wasn’t handling those smelly things. Why did I have to do it…I didn’t even like pumpkin seeds, said I (though I had never tasted them)…and on and on went my complaints. My mother warned me, “If you don’t help out in the making of those seeds, you won’t be allowed to partake in the delight of when they are finished.” “Who cares,” was my quick rejoinder, “I’d never want to eat pumpkin seeds. Do you smell how putrid they are?!” My mother warned me a few times over, reassured me that the finished product tasted good, but I was good old stubborn me. I dug in my heels and refused the job.
The seeds got washed. They got dried and salted. And the family sat about sucking out their salty goodness, cracking them open and enjoying them. Whilst I sat nearby, forbidden from having any. I learned my lesson. It doesn’t pay to abstain from working toward the good stuff, even if the working toward it might be not your fantasy job. After all, don’t we all want to enjoy the end product?
This week’s Haftorah (Melachim/Kings II:6) has an interesting story to tell. It was the times of Elisha and there was a horrible hunger in the Kingdom of Israel. If that wasn’t bad enough, just when things weren’t growing properly, the Aram enemy came and besieged Samaria. Now, even food from outside couldn’t come into the city and folks did desperate things to survive, some of them even becoming cannibals. Not for nothing was the famine in place, but as punishment for the depravity and idol worship that was rampant there in that land. Yet, even as punishment happens, there is always an element of pity that Divine Mercy has in place. The king went knocking on Elisha’s door, knowing full well that the famine was G-d sent, but hoping Elisha would be able to pray and get G-d to have pity on the people. Sure enough, the prophet Elisha reassured the king that by the same time on the morrow food would be so abundant it would be pennies for the pound. The king happened to be leaning on the arm of the captain of his army, a man who had a skeptical streak in him. And while the king took the prophecy at face value, his captain was all shades of a fool and spoke out in a mocking tone, “Even if G-d would install windows in Heaven, you think this prophecy can come true?” Ah, my friend, prophecies ought not be mocked. Nor should faith in providence ever be limited by our limitations. You see, G-d can do anything He wants in His world, at any time, with any given manner and means. Most times, G-d will use natural occurrences to do His bidding. However, He is not limited to your imagination. Just because you can’t imagine how G-d will help, doesn’t mean He can’t.
I interrupt the Haftorah with a true story. I girl I know called me one day hysterical. Her husband had just collapsed suddenly into a coma, and they discovered he had advanced cancer. He was now unconscious and the doctors didn’t think he’d make it. I told her, “Kiddo, you will do two things: don’t believe the doctors. They are not G-d. G-d gives life, not them. Your husband will be fine. Second, you must keep a sense of humor.” She thought I’d lost my marbles – “sense of humor?!” Yup, I confirmed, going through crisis is only possible by holding onto faith and humor, I’ve found. So, I told her to find a way to find something laughable every now and then in the situation. She didn’t think the second part of my instructions was doable, but she agreed that she believed enough in G-d that she could rely on G-d healing her husband.
Anyhow, she walked into the hospital every day to the ICU with a smile and determination. One day, the hospital called her into conference. They decided she was just disconnected with reality and they had to set her straight. Around the conference table were the team of doctors, a nurse and a mental health professional. “You know,” they began in somber tones, “your husband is a very, very, very sick man.” In telling me the story, she chuckled that she had finally been able to find a scenario that seemed off-kilter and kinda funny to her in the crisis. She realized they were there to make her grasp the fact that her husband was as good as dead at this point. She spoke up very quietly, in as somber a tone as they, “You know,” she began, “my husband is a very, very, very…,” she paused for drama, and then lifted her voice into a lilt, “…STRONG MAN! He’s going to make it!”
He did, by the way. A miracle, if ever the doctors have seen one. That couple makes a point of visiting that ICU every now and then to remind the medical team that they are not G-d…and that with G-d on your side, everything is possible.
Back to our Haftorah, where Elisha is promising abundant food would be delivered by G-d to the starving people within 24 hours, and some arrogant captain challenges the prophecy. “Will G-d open windows in heaven…?” Elisha turned to the captain and sharply said, ‘It will happen. You will see it, but you won’t get to enjoy it.’ Kinda like my pumpkin seeds.
At that time, there were four men who were stricken with Tzora’as, the skin condition that those who speak ill of others get afflicted with. The law is that such a person may not live together with society, for by speaking bad of others, they were trying to create a wedge between the general population and their victim. In punishment, the wedge is used against them – and they are to be distanced from everyone else. These four men, therefore, were right outside of the city walls, caught between the army camp set up by Aram and the starving residents of the city. One of them said, “This is ridiculous. We have no food to eat and are sitting here waiting for death. Going back into the city doesn’t make sense as there is no food to be gotten there. Tonight, let us creep into the enemy camp. If we get killed, at least it will be quick instead of slow starvation. And who knows, perhaps we can live if we manage to pilfer or beg some food.” The four set out to do so, and weirdness of weirdness, the entire enemy camp was deserted. Not a soul was in sight. The men ate their fill and wondered about the situation. All was intact, tents, ammunition, food supplies, horses, but there was not a person to be found. G-d had created noises that the enemy had heard that sent them running for home in fright – kinda like yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded auditorium and emptying it out that way.
The four men decided to share the news with the king…and sure enough, after a scouting party went out, it was confirmed: the enemy had scrambled back home, frightened, and left behind all their supplies. The city gates were opened, and the starving masses ran helter-skelter, pell-mell, thousands of them, to the tents of the enemy to feast on the enemy’s left-behind food. Standing at the gate, watching the abundance of food being eaten was the captain…but not for long, for in the shoving and chaos (think Black Friday stampedes) the captain got trampled to death. He saw the salvation he doubted, but didn’t get to enjoy it.
So, my friends, as we head into Shabbos, remember well, anything is possible for G-d to have happen. Believe in salvations. Trust in G-d. Pray for His help. And work toward meriting it. For if you do, you will get to enjoy the benefits.