It is for good reason that Jews close Yom Kippur — just before the blowing of the shofar— with the triumphant cry from the passage (First Kings, Chapter 19) in which Elijah vanquishes the prophets of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel: “Adonai Hoo Ha Elohim! The Eternal One alone is God!” We chant it seven times before we hear the shofar (the only time we hear the shofar on Yom Kippur) to signify the end of the most solemn holy day in our calendar.
Sadly, most Jews have no idea of this connection, but it is crucial. King Ahab and even more so, Queen Jezebel (whose name is synonymous with wickedness) had corrupted Israelite worship by setting up Ba’al and its prophets as their favored cultic practice. They vowed to kill Elijah who was the champion of the one true God.
So, Elijah challenges the prophets of Ba’al on Mt Carmel. He says we will each prepare our offering, and the god who consumes the offering without having kindled a fire is the true deity. The prophets of Ba’al go first, and though they cry out and gash themselves, nothing happens. Elijah then pours water over his offering, so much water that it fills the trench around the makeshift altar and cries, “Answer me O Eternal One, Answer me!”
POOF! The offering, the altar beneath it and even the trench filled with water go up in smoke.
Who is God? Elijah essentially asks? Is it your idol that you worship by gashing yourselves and with other abominations that make a mockery of human dignity? Is it Ba’al who you hope will greedily eat your offering? Or is it the one true God who wants us to create a world of justice, kindness, caring and compassion?
And then, in a most dramatic fashion, God vanquishes Ba’al on Mt Carmel and all must acknowledge God’s sovereignty. It is a replay in miniature of the ten plagues and the Exodus from Egypt where God defeats Pharaoh, the pagan god in human form.
So what should Jews take away from what is arguably the holiest moment of the year? What should we all learn from this passage that can help us to live more meaningfully?
Even though many in power debase the ideals and values that the Almighty wants us to uphold — and even though God does not assert the reality of the Divine presence as dramatically to us as we see on Mt. Carmel (or in the parting of the sea) — it is our job to hold fast to God’s desires for us. True worship is not found in mouthing empty words, but in making our faith the driving force in our lives. We glorify God and demonstrate our faith when we use our talents — whatever they may be — to help repair this broken world.