Hebrew In Israel | Father and Honour – Learn Torah

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Hebrew In Israel | Father and Honour – Learn Torah

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In the book of Kings the text gives us the following description of a lament Elisha called out after Elijah was taken away:

וֶאֱלִישָׁע רֹאֶה, וְהוּא מְצַעֵק אָבִי אָבִי רֶכֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל וּפָרָשָׁיו, וְלֹא רָאָהוּ, עוֹד; וַיַּחֲזֵק, בִּבְגָדָיו, וַיִּקְרָעֵם, לִשְׁנַיִם קְרָעִים

Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”  And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two. 2Kings 2:12

Elisha calls out as a sign of mourning over the loss of his mentor and calls him “Father”.  The same is done when Elisha dies and the king also calls him Father.  Though we are looking at two different types of leaders, the shared form of lamenting can teach us about the practice at the time.

This form of naming someone “father” for leader was common in the ancient world and can be found for example in the following text: “ana a-ab-bi-ni DI.KUD.MEŠ ša Nippurum qibīma – speak to our fathers, the judges of Nippur” (CAD A/1, p.71,2a).  We see from this text that judges, who usually were also leaders, were named fathers of a people due to their responsibility to take care of the people.

In the same manner Elijah and Elisha were both fathers to the king and the people because they were charged with taking care of their spiritual needs.  Though their methods were very different, the charge upon them made them into important figures of the people, giving them the rightful name “father”.

Other examples:

וֶאֱלִישָׁע חָלָה אֶתחָלְיוֹ, אֲשֶׁר יָמוּת בּוֹ; וַיֵּרֶד אֵלָיו יוֹאָשׁ מֶלֶךְיִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיֵּבְךְּ עַלפָּנָיו וַיֹּאמַר, אָבִי אָבִי, רֶכֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל וּפָרָשָׁיו

Now Elisha had a terminal illness.  King Yoash of Israel went down to visit him. He wept before him and said, “My father, my father! The chariot and horsemen of Israel! 2Kings 13:14

King Yoash recognizes the authority of Elisha as a messenger of God and shows him the same respect Elisha gave Elijah.

We also find this same form used when a servant turns to Na’aman:

וַיִּגְּשׁוּ עֲבָדָיו, וַיְדַבְּרוּ אֵלָיו, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אָבִי דָּבָר גָּדוֹל הַנָּבִיא דִּבֶּר אֵלֶיךָ, הֲלוֹא תַעֲשֶׂה; וְאַף כִּיאָמַר אֵלֶיךָ, רְחַץ וּטְהָר

Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?  How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 2Kings 5:13

In sum, we find in the Biblical text a form of respect given to important leaders of Israel.  This same term was also used to show respect to important people in the ancient world.  The above verses are all from the stories of Elisha which are northern, but the term is also found in Jeremiah 2:27 and Job 17:14, which means it was also used in the south. 

As a final side note, we also find the idea of Father attributed to YHWH, and people used it to represent the leadership and protective side of a father. 


Originally Published:  28 November 2014

One comments

Sarah Yocheved

September 2, 2017 at 4:04 am

This teaching brought back a 75 year oldmemory for me. It was in 1942-43 in first grade that I learned about George Washington, the Father of our nation. That is what he was called. Every classroom in our New Orleans public school had a framed picture of him mounted on the wall in front of the class. We sang songs about him, and revered him as the Father of our nation. If I remember correctly, February 22 was his birthday and a holiday. It was a big deal to honor and respect George Washington, the first president of America, the Father of our nation. I don’t remember any other President referred to as our Father, nor receive the respect that George Washington did–not Abe Lincoln, and not Franklin Roosevelt (which at that time was our president)!

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