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"And [Eliyahu] Stood in the Entrance of the Cave" The Recurring Deliberation between Eliyahu and God On Seclusion and Involvement

  • Harav Mosheh Lichtenstein
The haftara of Parashat Pinchas[1] (I Melakhim 18:46-19:21) describes the drama that plays out in Eliyahu's soul in response to Israel's impaired spiritual state. The story's plot revolves around Eliyahu's desire to withdraw from society out of jealousy for God, a process that reaches its climax when he encounters God at Chorev.
The timing of Eliyahu's withdrawal from society is very surprising, as it immediately follows his great victory over the prophets of the Baal and the climactic moment when he brought all of Israel to proclaim: "The Lord is God, the Lord is God" (I Melakhim 18:39). On the face of it, it is precisely at this time, after Israel acquiesced to his approach and accepted the yoke of Heaven, that we would expect Eliyahu to remain with the people and leverage his success in his confrontation with the prophets of Baal to take action among the people of Israel. After bringing Israel back to God and restoring his own faith in them, Eliyahu is now at the height of his prestige. What would be expected on both the personal and public planes is that he engage himself with the people and offer them spiritual leadership.
In our study of the haftara for Parashat Ki-Tisa, we noted that Eliyahu adopted a policy of disengagement and separation from the people during the years of famine, and the assembly at Mount Carmel was intended to bring him face-to-face with the people and convince him to assume responsibility for their fate. Not only did Eliyahu re-involve himself with what was going on with the people following his return to society, but he even succeeded in convincing Israel of the rightness of his path. His abandonment of the people in the aftermath of that development is therefore exceedingly puzzling.
The answer to this question seems to be found in the opening verses of our haftara:
And the hand of the Lord was on Eliyahu; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Achav to the entrance of Yizrael. And Achav told Izevel all that Eliyahu had done and how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Izevel sent a messenger to Eliyahu, saying: “So let the gods do [to me], and more also, if I make not your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” And when he saw that, he arose and went for his life, and he came to Be'er-Sheva, which belongs to Yehuda, and left his servant there. (I Melakhim 18:46-19:3)
Let us begin with the first verse. After years of disappearing and fleeing from Achav, Eliyahu makes a strenuous effort to stand before him. It would appear that his running before Achav is not only an attempt to honor the king after having embarrassed him at Mount Carmel, but rather reflects an honest and sincere desire to join the ranks of the royal palace and reconnect with the world of action and politics, after having rejected them in the past. On the assumption that even Achav was influenced by the outcome of the assembly at Mount Carmel – whether because of the miracle or because of the will of the people – Eliyahu sees fit to go to the royal city and contribute whatever he can.
Disappointment, however, is quick to follow. Immediately after Achav returns to Yizrael, Izevel sends Eliyahu a message threatening him with death. Beyond the danger and the cautionary steps that this dictated, the critical point lies in the fact that the threat proved to him that nothing really changed in the wake of the assembly at Mount Carmel; the kingdom would continue its previous policy of supporting idolatry and persecuting the prophets of truth and justice. As far as Eliyahu was concerned, this confirmed his pessimistic view of his ability to influence and repair. If even after the unparalleled miracle that occurred on Mount Carmel, things went back to usual, if even the clear and unequivocal declaration of the people that "the Lord is God" changed nothing, what more could Eliyahu do to change the situation? What reason could there be to continue his activity?
Therefore, "when he saw that, he arose and went for his life." In reaction to the words of Izevel and in accordance with his understanding of the reality that had been created ("when he saw that"), Eliyahu decided that there was nothing further for him to do in Yizrael and that the path of seclusion ("and he went for his life") that he had previously adopted was justified. The impressive assembly on Mount Carmel was a one-time event, which could not change the traditional policy of the house of Achav. As a result, Eliyahu went to the very edge of permanent settlement ("and he came to Be'er-Sheva"), in order to retire from practical life and embark upon absolute solitude ("and he left his servant there").
It seems, however, that Eliyahu despaired not only of political life, but also of the people. He therefore abandoned society entirely, and not only his political involvement in the kingdom. He said this explicitly to God: "For the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and slain Your prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left" (I Melakhim 19:10). According to the plain sense of these words, Eliyahu blamed not only the king, but also the entire people, while emphasizing his own apartness. There is no reason to doubt his contention that even the people were drawn to idolatry.
Once again, we must ask: Surely this description accords with the situation prior to the assembly at Mount Carmel, but not with what followed it! Why, then, does Eliyahu attribute to the people their previous behavior, when they have already shed their old skin and declared that the Lord is God?
The answer to this question is found in the words of the Rambam, which give fitting expression to the problem that troubled Eliyahu. This is what the Rambam writes regarding the nature and utility of prophecy:
The Jews did not believe in Moshe, our teacher, because of the wonders that he performed. Whenever anyone's belief is based on wonders, [the commitment of] his heart has shortcomings, because it is possible to perform a wonder through magic or sorcery.
All the wonders performed by Moshe in the desert were not intended to serve as proof [of the legitimacy] of his prophecy, but rather were performed for a purpose. It was necessary to drown the Egyptians, so he split the sea and sank them in it. We needed food, so he provided us with manna. We were thirsty, so he split the rock [providing us with water]. Korach's band mutinied against him, so the earth swallowed them up. The same applies to the other wonders.
What is the source of our belief in him? The revelation at Mount Sinai. Our eyes saw, and not a stranger's. Our ears heard, and not another's. There was fire, thunder, and lightning. He entered the thick clouds; the Voice spoke to him and we heard: "Moshe, Moshe, go tell them the following."
Thus, it is stated: "Face to face, God spoke to you" (Devarim 5:4); and: "God did not make this covenant with our fathers [but with us, who are all here alive today]" (Devarim 5:3).
How is it known that the [revelation] at Mount Sinai alone is proof of the truth of Moshe's prophecy that leaves no shortcoming? It is stated: "Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people will hear Me speaking to you, [so that] they will believe in you forever" (Shemot 19:9). It appears that before this happened, they did not believe in him with a faith that would last forever, but rather with a faith that allowed for suspicions and doubts. (Rambam, Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah 8:1)
As the Rambam correctly points out, faith based on a miraculous impression that is not founded on inner knowledge of the Creator and lacks spiritual conviction and genuine religious experience is faulty, both because of the superficiality of the experience and its contents and because it is unstable and short-term. There is well-founded concern that forgetfulness and routine will cause faith that is shallow and insufficiently grounded to be forgotten. Alternatively, some other impressive event is liable to draw the believer in a different direction and blur the belief that was based on the previous impression.
According to Eliyahu, this is what happened on Mount Carmel. At the time, the people did in fact believe, but it was fault-ridden faith, rather than sincere belief based on conviction regarding the impotence of the Baal and recognition of the difference between gods of wood and stone and the God of Israel. It is possible that Eliyahu had hoped that the assembly on Mount Carmel would prove to be a foundational event, a Sinai-like experience that would involve a renewal of the covenant, and that it would not be perceived merely as another miracle. This, however, was not the case. Now, as he contemplated the state of the people after the assembly on Mount Carmel, he realized that the underlying spiritual reality had not changed.
At this point, let us move on to a literary analysis of the haftara.  Eliyahu's departure to the wilderness is divided into two different journeys, both of which end in sleep:
But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom-tree; and he requested for himself that he might die; and he said: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom-tree; and, behold, an angel touched him, and said to him: “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and, behold, there was at his head a cake baked on the hot stones and a cruse of water. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said: “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meal forty days and forty nights to Chorev the mount of God. And he came there to a cave and lodged there. (I Melakhim 19:4-9)
At the beginning of his journey, Eliyahu goes for one day and asks that he might die, while the second part of the journey extends for forty days and brings him to Mount Chorev. These two journeys have striking parallels in two other famous stories in the Bible. Comparing and contrasting our story to these two stories and their heroes – Moshe Rabbeinu and the prophet Yona ben Amitai – will help us better understand our haftara.
The beginning of Eliyahu's journey is very reminiscent of the final scene in the book of Yona. Just as Yona despises his life, removes himself beyond the bounds of human settlement, and while he is resting under the gourd asks that his life be taken from him, Eliyahu similarly goes out into the wilderness, sits under a desert bush, and asks God to allow him to die. The wording of the two passages is amazingly similar:
And he requested for himself that he might die; and he said: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” (I Melakhim 19:4)
“Therefore now, O Lord, take, I You, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live”… And he requested for himself that he might die, and said: “It is better for me to die than to live.” (Yona 4:5-8)
The midrashim and commentators noted the similarity between the two situations and the two personalities. The Zohar expresses this point most clearly:
Yona came from the legion of Eliyahu; Eliyahu went up, while Yona went down; this one asked for himself that he might die, and that one asked for himself that he might die. This is why he [Yona] is called "ben Amitai" ["son of truth"], as it is written: "And that the word of God in your mouth is true!" (I Melakhim 17:24). (Zohar, Vayakhel 197a)[2]
This approach is found already in the midrash, which claims that Yona is the child whom Eliyahu resurrected and gave him of his spirit.[3]
The most important point for our purposes is that both prophets are overcome by despair based on their disappointment in man and his repentance. As we emphasized in our study of Maftir Yona, Yona's flights and the dispute between him and God throughout the book revolve around one basic axis – namely, the value of repentance that does not stem from deep inner conviction. Yona is not prepared to recognize superficial repentance that is based on distress and threats, and he therefore refuses to accept the repentance of the mariners and the changed ways of the people of Nineveh. He is unwilling to recognize governance of the world that accepts imperfect repentance, and he therefore insists on withdrawing from society.
Eliyahu is driven by a similar idea. He realizes that Israel's repentance on Mount Carmel lacked genuine spiritual meaning, and he therefore flees to the wilderness out of the same despair that characterized Yona ben Amitai. Both of them witnessed repentance, but they were not convinced of its value, and as a result they despaired of man and/or the world. Both are therefore identified with the attribute of truth ("Yona ben Amitai"/ and "that the word of God in your mouth is truth"), which refuses to make accommodations because of human weakness. 
The rest of Eliyahu's journey takes on a completely different character than that of Yona. The primary difference between the beginning of his journey and its continuation lies in the fact that the initial journey reflects a completely human reality, while the continuation reflects a reality that is not familiar to us, that comes from the heavenly worlds.
The first stage of Eliyahu's journey proceeds in a natural manner. He advances the usual distance ("a day's journey"), until he stops to rest. While he is on his way, he does not come into contact with an angel, nor does God respond to his appeal after he turns to Him in prayer. As a righteous man and as a prophet, Eliyahu is concerned about the fate of Israel, but he has despaired of them, and his actions reflect that despair. If we compare him to Yona, we clearly see that the shared perspective of Eliyahu and Yona is the human perspective. Indeed, the entire book of Yona contrasts the strict human perspective of Yona to the long-suffering and merciful attitude toward man that reflects the Divine position in the book.
The continuation of Eliyahu's journey, his "second journey," is completely different; it is entirely subject to the supernatural governance that accompanies it, starting with the angel that arouses him from his sleep and until the encounter with God in Chorev. The context for comparison regarding this part of the journey is Moshe's ascent to the top of Mount Chorev. If regarding the relationship between Yona and Eliyahu we can speak of heavy allusions in Scripture that direct us to draw a comparison, regarding Moshe, the correspondence cries out to us from the verses in a manner that cannot be ignored. The ascent to Mount Chorev after withdrawing from human society for forty days, the encounter with God in the cave, and the covering of his face because of the glory of the Shekhina strongly connect the two stories. Needless to say, the commentators, beginning with Chazal and down to our very day, note this at length. Thus, we find in the midrash:
You find that Moshe and Eliyahu are the same in all regards. Moshe is a prophet, and Eliyahu is a prophet. Moshe is called a man of God, and Eliyahu is called a man of God. Moshe went up, and Eliyahu went up, as it is stated: "And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Eliyahu" (II Melakhim 2:1). Moshe killed the Egyptian, and Eliyahu killed Chiel, [as it is stated:] "But when he became guilty through Baal, he died" (Hoshea 13:1). Moshe was maintained by a woman, by the daughter of Yitro, [as it is stated:] "Call him, that he may eat bread" (Shemot 2:20), and Eliyahu was maintained by the woman from Tzarafat, [as it is stated:] "Bring me, I pray you, a morsel of bread" (I Melakhim 17:11). Moshe fled from Pharaoh, and Eliyahu fled from Izevel. Moshe fled and arrived at a well, and Eliyahu fled and arrived at a well, as it is written: "He arose, and went… and came to Be'er-Sheva" (I Melakhim 19:3). Regarding Moshe, "the cloud covered him six days" (Shemot 24:16), and Eliyahu went up in a whirlwind, [as it is stated:] "And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Eliyahu [by a whirlwind]" (II Melakhim 2:1). Regarding Moshe, it is stated: "If these men die the common death of all men" (Bemidbar 16:29), and regarding Eliyahu, [it is stated:] "As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word" (I Melakhim 17:1). Regarding Moshe, [it is stated:] "And the Lord passed by before him" (Shemot 34:6), and regarding Eliyahu, [it is stated:] "And, behold, the Lord passed by" (I Melakhim 19:11). Regarding Moshe, [it is stated:] "And he heard the voice" (Bemidbar 7:89), and regarding Eliyahu, [it is stated:] "And, behold, there came a voice to him" (I Melakhim 19:13). Moshe assembled Israel at Mount Sinai, and Eliyahu assembled them at Mount Carmel. Moshe eradicated idolaters, [as it is stated:] "Put you every man his sword upon his thigh" (Shemot 32:27), and Eliyahu eradicated idolaters, seizing the prophets of the Baal and slaughtering them. Moshe was a zealot, [as it is stated:] "Who is on the Lord's side, let him come to me" (Shemot 32:26), and Eliyahu was a zealot, [as it is stated:] "And Eliyahu said to all the people: Come near to me" (I Melakhim 18:30). Moshe hid in a cave, [as it is stated:] "I will put you in a cleft of the rock" (Shemot 33:22), and Eliyahu hid in a cave and lodged there, as it is written: "And he came there to a cave and lodged there" (I Melakhim 19:9). Regarding Moshe, [it is stated:] "And he came to the mountain of God" (Shemot 3:1), and regarding Eliyahu, [it is stated:] "And he came to the mountain of God." Moshe went to the wilderness, and Eliyahu went to the wilderness. Regarding Moshe, He spoke to him by way of an angel, [as it is stated:] "And the angel of the Lord appeared to him" (Shemot 3:2), and regarding Eliyahu, he spoke to him by way of an angel, [as it is stated:] "And behold an angel" (I Melakhim 19:5). Moshe stayed there for forty days and forty nights, not eating or drinking, and similarly Eliyahu went by way of that eating for forty days. Moshe caused the sun to stand still, [as it is stated:] "This day will I begin to put your dread" (Devarim 2:25), and Eliyahu caused the sun to stand still, [as it is stated:] "Let it be known this day that You are God in Israel" (I Melakhim 18:36). Moshe prayed on behalf of Israel, [as it is stated:] "Destroy not Your people and Your inheritance" (Devarim 9:26), and Eliyahu prayed on behalf of Israel, [as it is stated:] "Hear me, O Lord, hear me… for you did turn their heart backward" (I Melakhim 18:37). When Moshe prayed on behalf of Israel, he mentioned the merit of the Patriarchs, [as it is stated:] "Remember Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yisrael" (Shemot 32:13), and similarly Eliyahu: "O Lord, the God of Avraham, of Yitzchak, and of Yisrael" (I Melakhim 18:36). Regarding Moshe, Israel received through him the love of God, [as it is stated:] "All that the Lord has spoken will we do, and obey" (Shemot 24:7), and regarding Eliyahu, they received through him the love of God, as it is stated: "The Lord is God"(I Melakhim 18:19). Moshe made a Mishkan in an area the size of a field that requires two se'ah of seed, and Eliyahu made a reservoir in an area the size of a field that requires two se'ah of seed.
Regarding one matter we find that Moshe was greater than Eliyahu, for to Moshe, [God] said: "But as for you, stand you here by Me" (Devarim 5:27), whereas to Eliyahu [He said]: "What do you here, Eliyahu?" (I Melakhim 19:9).
Moshe brought down fire, and Eliyahu brought down fire. When Moshe brought down fire, all of Israel stood and saw it, [as it is stated:] "And when all the people saw it, they shouted" (Vayikra 9:24), and regarding Eliyahu, [it is stated:] "And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces" (I Melakhim 18:39). Moshe built an altar, and Eliyahu built an altar. Moshe called the altar by the name of God, [as it is stated:] "The Lord is my miracle" (Shemot 17:15), and the name of Eliyahu's altar was the Lord, [as it is stated:] "And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord" (I Melakhim 18:32). When Moshe built his altar, he built it of twelve stones, [and similarly Eliyahu,] as it is stated: "And Eliyahu took twelve stones" (I Melakhim 18:31). (Yalkut Shimoni 209)
There are, however, many differences between Moshe's ascent of the mountain and the ascent of Eliyahu. The fundamental point that distinguishes between them is their relationship to the people. Eliyahu arrives at Mount Chorev despairing of the people and zealous for the glory of God. As Chazal formulated this in the Mekhilta: "Eliyahu demanded respect for the Father, but not for the son, as it is stated: 'I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts' (I Melakhim 19:10)" (Mekhilta Parashat Bo, massekhta de-pischa, 1). Moshe, on the other hand, came to the cleft of the rock after having defended the people of Israel and atoning for them. The purpose of his ascent on high and his encounter with the Shekhina was to protect the son from the wrath of the Father, as he informed them prior to his ascent: "And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I shall make atonement for your sin" (Shemot 32:30).
Furthermore, Moshe reaches that revelation in the wake of his readiness to appease God and atone for the people, and it would appear that Moshe merited that level because he became Israel's advocate and was ready to sacrifice his life for them. Thus, the respective ascents of Eliyahu and Moshe stem from different motives and express opposing directions: The one comes to the mountain detesting the world and the people, while the other is there to rescue the people and the land. The first turns his back on history and tries to run away from political life, whereas the second works with all his might to restore Israel to the world of historical activity. To a certain extent, these different approaches stem from different historical perspectives: Moshe sees a grave sin, but he argues that the failure does not reflect the fundamental spiritual state of Israel in that generation; rather, it is the result of the panic that took hold of them because of the dread of the wilderness, and therefore they may be judged leniently. In contrast, Eliyahu participated in an impressive assembly of repentance, but he understands that the change was in word only and that the statements of the participants do not reflect the true spiritual reality, which is rather gloomy.
In other words, the vision of both Moshe and Eliyahu penetrate beyond the surface. Moshe sees a reality that is more positive than the manifest sin, whereas Eliyahu sees a reality that is more negative than the superficial acceptance of God's kingdom.[4]
Let us now examine Eliyahu's encounter with God at Chorev. The most striking element in the story is the duplication in the encounter:
And he came there to a cave and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him: “What do you here, Eliyahu?” And he said: “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and slain Your prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” And He said: “Go forth and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” (I Melakhim 19:9-11) 
And it was so, when Eliyahu heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice to him, and said: “What do you here, Eliyahu?” And he said: “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and slain Your prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” (I Melakhim 19:13-14)
As is plainly evident, Eliyahu utters precisely the same words twice. What is the meaning of this repetition? Why was Eliyahu asked a second time about his presence on Mount Chorev? Why did he respond with the very same answer? And did anything change inside him between his first and second declarations?
The starting point for discussing these questions is God's response to Eliyahu's statement, "I have been very jealous for the Lord," in which He commands the prophet to go forth and stand outside.
During his first conversation with God, Eliyahu is found inside the cave, and he sleeps there. This reminds us of Yona, who falls asleep in the innermost parts of the ship, this being an escape within his escape from the human world. Eliyahu's sleeping in the cave may be understood in similar fashion. Sleep involves a withdrawal from the world, and his presence in the closed cave rules out and cancels any possible contact with the outside world.[5] One prophet falls asleep in the innermost part of the ship, in a place where he cannot be seen and where he cannot see others, and his colleague sleeps deep within a cave, totally cut off from those around him. In both case, the response is the same: Removing the prophet from his place of hiding and standing him before the world. Yona is removed from the hull of the ship by the mariners, who are guided by Divine providence, and Eliyahu is commanded by God Himself to go out from the cave and stand outside. In this sense, his situation is similar to Moshe's encounter with God at the burning bush. In both cases, a prophet secludes himself and flees to the wilderness in order to meet God far from civilization, and then he reaches Mount Chorev (the very name of which, chorev = destruction, expresses its inappropriateness for permanent settlement), but is told that the encounter will not take place until he emerges from his seclusion in the wilderness and returns to the people.
Eliyahu exits the cave and repeats the very same words that he had uttered before he went out. On the face of it, he has not undergone any change. How are we to understand this?
There seem to be two exegetical possibilities to explain the continuation of the story. The reader may decide between them.
According to one reading of the chapter, Eliyahu does not change his position, but rather adheres to his original stance that there is no hope for a people immersed in idolatry and involved in the persecution of the true prophets who try to stop them. Therefore, he repeats his words precisely. Even outside the cave, the world does not look any better to him or in any way different from how he had previously understood it, and he once again informs God that owing to his jealousy for the honor of the Father, he can no longer be a prophet for His sons. God accepts his argument and tells him that he must first appoint kings and a prophet, and then he may leave the arena, as he wishes.
According to this approach, God acknowledges Eliyahu's assessment that most of the people of Israel are immersed in idolatry, that there are only seven thousand men whose knees "did not bow down to the Baal" and whose mouths "did not kiss him" (I Melakhim 19:18), and that only the righteous will merit to live.
This approach, which assumes that Eliyahu holds fast to his negative position, sees the appointment of Elisha as Eliyahu's successor as the central component of the series of appointments of the next generation's leaders. The appointment of the kings would allow Israel to be punished, but Elisha's appointment as a prophet allows Eliyahu to resign from his position, because he has been replaced. As soon as Elisha joins Eliyahu, follows him, and readies himself for prophecy, Eliyahu will be able to leave the world. Indeed, immediately after Elisha's appointment, Eliyahu goes up to heaven in a whirlwind, leaving this world behind him. Using the terms of the comparison that was made above, it may be argued that Eliyahu remains in Yona's camp and continues with the policy of strict justice, without changing his position.
Alternatively, we can offer another reading, which sees Eliyahu's second answer in an entirely different light and places him in Moshe Rabbeinu's camp in relation to the future. Moshe changed his approach in the wake of the first encounter at Chorev and returned to the world of action in order to redeem Israel, and in this way he merited the second encounter in the cleft of the rock. The path taken by Eliyahu may be seen in a similar light. He too undergoes a transformation in his first and solipsistic encounter at Chorev, in the wake of which he recognizes the need to act on behalf of the people of Israel. It is true that the words that Eliyahu utters in the two encounters are the same, but their meaning changes radically from one extreme to the other in light of the changing circumstances. In his initial state of disconnection from the world and the people while asleep in the cave, God does not reveal Himself to him, but merely instructs him to go outside and connect with the world. Afterwards, when he emerges from the cave, understanding what he did as an adoption of a new approach that is directed toward the people, the spirit of God passes over him. When he is standing outside, his answer has a different meaning, even if the words themselves are the same. When uttered outside, his answer can be seen as a request for the repair of the people made by a prophet who is turning to his God. Eliyahu standing at Chorev can be seen as a prophet entreating God about Israel's impaired state. In this respect, his standing outside the cave and mentioning of Israel's sins brings him closer to Moshe, who ascended the mountain in order to intervene on behalf of the people, and distinguishes him from Yona, who fell asleep in the innermost parts of the ship. 
In this respect, God's response, instructing him to return to the world, appoint kings, and influence Israel, comes in the wake of the changes in Eliyahu's perception and shows him how to integrate into the world and influence what is happening around him. Before he can leave the world, he must involve himself in the historical process. The command: "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when you come, you shall anoint Chazael to be king over Aram" (I Melakhim 19:15), is not intended to allow his personal departure, but rather it is a directive regarding action in this world, similar to that which was given to Moshe at the burning bush: "Come now therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh" (Shemot 3:10). There too, the prophet who had tried to run away from the world out of despair was forced by the Divine command to return and stand before the king. Similarly, Eliyahu must return to the historical path and take action against one of the kings of the nations that will affect Israel. The outcome of the move will be different because Israel's situation in the days of Eliyahu differs from its situation in Egypt, but the principle is the same.
At this point, it is appropriate to examine the role of Eliyahu as the future redeemer. This role is based, of course, on the verse in Malakhi that speaks of Eliyahu's mission before the coming of the “great and terrible day of the Lord.” Nevertheless, it is strengthened by the parallel between him and Moshe. Eliyahu's standing outside is analogous to Moshe's standing in the cleft of the rock, but one important point distinguishes between them – namely, that Moshe encounters God after having defended Israel and saving them from destruction, whereas Eliyahu denounces them. God brings Eliyahu to recognize the importance of his involvement in the world, but Eliyahu does not merit to bring about Israel's redemption when God reveals Himself to him. It may be surmised that the role of the future redeemer will include repairing this matter. Eliyahu's future defense of the honor of the son will complete the transformation that God guides him to when he instructs him to leave the cave.
(Translated by David Strauss)

[1] This passage is read as the haftara of Parashat Pinchas only when Parashat Pinchas falls out before the Seventeeth of Tammuz. It is then read in connection with the parasha and the story of Pinchas' zealotry. It is therefore read relatively rarely, as in most years Parashat Pinchas falls out during the Three Weeks. In that case, the haftara is taken from the book of Yirmeyahu, inaugurating the series of haftarot of calamity and consolation that cover most of the summer. 
[2] Cited in Y. Bacharach, Yona ben Amitai Ve-Eliyahu, p. 165.
[3] See Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer, chap. 32, and Yalkut Shimoni 209. Following this logic, certain more marginal midrashim assert that Yona was a disciple of Eliyahu (see Eisenstein's Otzar Midrashim, pp. 173, 510) or that he was his equal (Mishnat R. Eliezer, p. 153).
[4] Moshe encountered God alone in Chorev on two occasions, one at the beginning of his career at the burning bush and once in the cleft of the rock. For our purposes, the main difference between the two encounters is that at the burning bush, Moshe had, out of despair, abandoned Israel's historic destiny and man in general, and secluded himself with his flock in the wilderness as a way to run away from the human world of action, whereas at the cleft in the rock, he appears as Israel's defender and as an advocate for existential reality within history. We are concerned here with the second encounter, where he is invited to the cleft in the rock, just as Eliyahu is found in the cave. In my book, Tzir Ve-Tzon (Alon Shevut, 2002), I expanded on these two encounters and the difference between them. See pp. 23-41 (a description of the crisis in Egypt) and pp. 81-86 (a description of Moshe's self-sacrifice after the sin of the golden calf).  
[5] It should be noted that Iyov, one of the most important despairing figures in Scripture, speaks in the first, deep, and difficult stage of his despair of his yearning to die and of escape from life as sleep that liberates him from the tensions and suffering in the world: "For now should I have lain still and been quiet; I should have slept; then had I been at rest" (Iyov 3:13).