But because it contains such striking points, here it is even when it's not Parshat Pinchas.
And because I am a bit of a linguistics geek, I've included the Malbim's definitions for certain Hebrew words.
This is entirely from the Malbim’s commentary on Melachim/Kings I 19:3-13.
First off, the Malbim mentions how Eliyahu Hanavi was mitboded.
L’hitboded literally means “to seclude oneself”—and specifically, to seclude oneself in conversation with Hashem.
Many people think that’s just the Breslov take on the word, but the Malbim clearly defines it that way, too:
Eliyahu was mitboded most of his days and concerned himself with the perfection of himself, to perfect his soul.
Only in a time of need was he a Prophet sent out to the Nation.
And after he saw that all the wonders he performed didn’t work, he realized that he had no business in perfecting the Nation.
Therefore, he rose up and returned to go for the perfection of his soul.
Note: The Malbim defines "midbar" as a place that is generally desolate, but is also sometimes sown, i.e. produces plants and foliage.
According to the Malbim, Eliyahu Hanavi's motivation was:
...to separate from people, to go out to the desert l’hitboded because that was the object of his desire now…and then he came to the place of his desire because after he distanced himself a day’s walk from the settled area [yishuv], he was in the place of his purpose.
For there, he would yitboded with Hashem.
To me, this hints at a spiritual journey, i.e. it's important to avoid spiritual stagnancy, so one must leave a place (spiritually speaking) that is unchanging and permanent.
The Famous Episode of the Storm Wind, the Earthquake, the Fire, and the Still Small Voice
Rashi explains these 3 events as occurring via a camp of angels.
The Malbim notes that these 3 effects are layers of klippot [shell] around the nut.
He explains that they are “partitions and veils” separating us from that which is holy.
The Malbim says (emphasis mine—MR):
Hashem is not in the camp of wind, earthquake, and fire—only in the small still voice.
And from this, His messengers and Prophets will learn not to be raging, not to be tumultuous, and not to blaze a fire like Eliyahu did in his zealousness for Hashem (in that he stopped the Heavens and slayed the prophets of Baal) because He will send his Prophets, that they’ll approach them with a quiet voice and will pull the Nation with cords of love and soft words.
It is not Hashem’s desire that the Prophets will punish the Nation and became zealous with za’am.
[Note: The Malbim defines "za'am" as anger that includes curses and punishments.]
Note: The Malbim defines "kavod" as the inherent splendor of an object's essence.
Bringing the Message Home
- Over the past couple of years, Hashem seems to be showing me that I can’t influence others—and who says I’m qualified to do so, anyway? This has led to increasing focus inward and investing more in self-introspection and a raw self-accounting.
And I spend far less time in social interactions, a natural progression having resulted from several events.
But back to the Malbim...
- The Malbim states that Eliyahu Hanavi perfected himself so much that he thought he was supposed to die then because once one achieves spiritual completion, his life’s mission is over. Yet Eliyahu Hanavi still separated himself from society and invested in further self-improvement.
Needless to say, this is very valuable advice.
- The Malbim supports the idea of giving tochachah with compassion.
But Eliyahu Hanavi couldn’t compromise.
His profound awareness of Hashem’s Unlimited Omnipotence & Indescribable Greatness didn’t allow him to soften his stance.
(At which point, he appointed Elisha Hanavi in his stead.)
I’m not on that level, obviously, but it’s good guidance to reflect on one’s sincerity and motive.
For your own spiritual well-being, it may be necessary to respond by hunkering down and shooting off porcupine quills at invaders and usurpers.
Furthermore, softness and compassion can turn into passivity and complacency.
At the end of the day, it’s a judgement call.
The Malbim and the Kli Yakar obviously promote gentle methods as the first and best option, as does the Pele Yoetz, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and many more.
But there is also a time to fight.
I know that for me, the message has been to turn inward and work on myself.
Davening for other people and situations have proved far more effective than me mucking around in it all.
At the same time, there are people who use pseudo-introspection and shallow davening as an excuse not to act when action is vitally necessary.
This is why it's so important to ask Hashem individually what we should be doing.
P.S. I couldn't help but notice that the Malbim's commentary sounds exactly like a scene from a Rebbe Nachman story.
The Reform Movement ruthlessly pursued him for most of his adult life. He even suffered a brief imprisonment in Rumania due to a false accusation made by wealthy German Reformers.
Fortunately, he left us an amazing commentary on the entire Tanach, along with the other valuable works he composed.