What Can I Do For You?
Recently, we read the Haftarah for Va-yera (Kings II 4:1-37). It features the story of Elisha, a student of Elijah Hanavi (the Prophet). Elisha works miracles for people in need. First, he helps a widow who is about to lose her house and sons to creditors. When she comes to him, Elisha asks what she has at home and works a miracle with her existing small amount of oil. She’s able to fill and sell jars with that oil and make a profit. The second miracle involves helping a childless couple have a son. Later, when that son is injured, Elisha works a miracle to bring him back to life.
In the first story, when the woman comes to Elisha, he asks her, ‘What can I do for you? Tell me, what have you in your house?”’
Later, when he meets the childless woman, she and her husband have built a room for him to use. He tells her, “You have gone to all this trouble for us. What can we do for you?”
Most of the discussion I’ve read regarding this haftarah has focused on the fact that Elisha asks what others have on hand. From that, he fashions solutions. Many center their interpretation and understanding of the story to be about solving our own problems with what we already have.
What strikes me the most, however, is that, before working miracles, Elisha always asks what he can do. Before doing anything, he asks what the person needs from him.
The pandemic has been incredibly difficult on so many people. People grieved loved ones. They’ve struggled financially. They’ve felt lonely and isolated. They’ve suffered illness. So many people are struggling in so many ways. They need help.
I’ve noticed on social media that many people will respond to someone’s plea or vent with something along the lines of, “Wish there was something I could do to help.” Yet they post that without ever asking what they could do to help. Maybe there is something others can do. We need to follow Elisha’s example and ask, “What can I do for you?”
We need to take the effort to reach out. If we just recognize others are struggling, ask what they need, and follow up, maybe we can help work miracles for each other .
Dorothy-Ann Parent (better known as Hyphen) is a writer, a traditional Jew, a seeker of justice, a lover of stories, the self-proclaimed Jewish Molly Weasley, hobbit-sized, and best not left unattended in a bookshop or animal shelter.