Melachim Bet

We just can't stop learning! ...The Bekiut Nach class of 5766 in a quest to complete Nevi'im Rishonim

Monday, July 31, 2006

Ch.9-10 – The Yehu Revolution

Without doubt any person who holds God at the center of their concern should view Yehu as one of the heroes of the Tanach. After a series of Kings dedicated to Baal worship, Yehu's first act is to kill the Kings that lead the nation astray, and to eradicate the Baal worship from Israel. Yehu is animated by a spirit of fury (shigaon) and in that sense he reminds us of the classic zealot – he is a Pinchas type figure. He avenges the place of monotheism at the heart of the nation.

A quick summary of the story should be of assistance. The story is fast paced and extremely dramatic. Make sure that you read the chapters "inside".


Yehu is a senior army officer. As we have mentioned there is a longstanding campaign, a war of attrition against Hazael, the Syrian (Aram) king. It would appear that Yehu's division are posted at the war front in Ramot ha-Gilad (the Golan?), and he is responsible for the troops. Most unexpectedly, a Navi arrives and calls Yehu into a side room. He anoints him as king and tells him to destroy the House of Achav, avenging the lives of all the Neviim killed under auspices of Izevel.

Losing no time, Yehu rides down and is greeted by both King of Israel (Yehoram) and King of Yehuda (Achazyahu) and he promptly kills both of them. In a sense of poetic justice, Yehoram is killed in the field of Navot. He then kills Izevel

Following this, he sends to the town officials of Shomron to kill all the royal family – all 70 brothers of Yehoram. The city leaders who are exceptionally fearful (10:4) of Yehu especially as he has managed to kill both Kings of Israel, comply with his orders. It would appear that God then arranges the "coincidence" of Yehu and his followers meeting the royal family of Yehuda as they make a visit to Yizrael. Yehu kills them too!

And so Yehu has pretty much destroyed BOTH royal houses. But it's not over yet! He organizes a great celebration of the Baal, and calls all the followers of the Baal to the celebration. (I imagine that the people thought that this coup was more political than religious at this stage.) There he has all of the idol-worshippers killed. And he proceeds to obliterate all the monuments and temples dedicated to the Baal deity.

So much for the summary. What can we say about this story?

1. Act of God:
Despite the fact that Yehu's appointment is unprecedented in Tanach in that it comes not at the hands of a bona fide prophet, but rather at by one of the "Bnei Nevi'im," it is clear that Yehu is chosen by God for this task. One can see this by following the pesukim themselves:

There is the command itself, which is an expression of God's will. See 9:7:

כֹּה אָמַר יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מְשַׁחְתִּיךָ לְמֶלֶךְ אֶל עַם יְדֹוָד אֶל יִשְׂרָאֵל: (ז) וְהִכִּיתָה אֶת בֵּית אַחְאָב אֲדֹנֶיךָ וְנִקַּמְתִּי דְּמֵי עֲבָדַי הַנְּבִיאִים וּדְמֵי כָּל עַבְדֵי יְדֹוָד מִיַּד אִיזָבֶל:

The verse begins with "So says Hashem!" and it continues as God speaks in the grammatical First Person "And I will take My revenge for the blood of My servants, the prophets etc."

In 9:25-26, we find that Yehu commands that Yehoram's body be deposited in Nabot's field as a sign that this killing is direct punishment for Achav's sin there:

...וַידֹוָד נָשָׂא עָלָיו אֶת הַמַּשָּׂא הַזֶּה: (כו) אִם לֹא אֶת דְּמֵי נָבוֹת וְאֶת דְּמֵי בָנָיו רָאִיתִי אֶמֶשׁ נְאֻם יְדֹוָד וְשִׁלַּמְתִּי לְךָ בַּחֶלְקָה הַזֹּאת נְאֻם יְדֹוָד ....

Similarly 9:36-37 describes the circumstances of Izevel's death "as the word of God which he spoke to his prophet Eliyahu." And after the killing of all the sons of Achav, Yehu pronounces (10:10 … and see also passuk 10:17):

דְּעוּ אֵפוֹא כִּי לֹא יִפֹּל מִדְּבַר יְדֹוָד אַרְצָה אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְדֹוָד עַל בֵּית אַחְאָב וַידֹוָד עָשָׂה אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר בְּיַד עַבְדּוֹ אֵלִיָּהוּ:

Last of all, the story ends with a closing line that demonstrates how Yehu's act was unquestionably a fulfillment of a Divine mandate:

(ל) וַיֹּאמֶר יְדֹוָד אֶל יֵהוּא יַעַן אֲשֶׁר הֱטִיבֹתָ לַעֲשׂוֹת הַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינַי כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבִי עָשִׂיתָ לְבֵית אַחְאָב בְּנֵי רְבִעִים יֵשְׁבוּ לְךָ עַל כִּסֵּא יִשְׂרָאֵל:

And so, our first point is simply to emphasise the manner in which Yehu functions as the vehicle, the instrument o God's retribution.

2. Madness
The style of Yehu – it would seem that this is his personality type, is one of "madness." When the sentry identifies Yehu's chariot, he knows it is Yehu because "he drives as a madman." Now this phrase needs some further definition. Is he a maverick who is unable to follow rules, an anarchic insubordinate? Or alternatively, he is the quintessential firebrand, an idealist, a person driven by the rage of truth and responsibility? Or maybe his craziness lies in his strength and speed; after all he is a military officer. I do not know the answer to this and I will let your imagination take the lead here. But certainly, everything here happens at lightening speed; the pace is overwhelming. Even at the start of the story, the apprentice Navi is depicted as running in and then out, and his appearance or possibly his behaviour were so strange that Yehu's associates saw him as "deranged." (9:11)

3. Justified Goal; Questionable methods.
Yehu's method's are unconventional, and frequently deceitful. We find the phrases: שקר, מרמה, עקבה in this story. Dr. Yisrael Rosenson (in Megadim #25) dedicated a lengthy article to this topic in which he suggested that despite the Godly nature of Yehu's mission, the Tanach disapproves of Yehu's means. He claimed that the unusual length and detail of the story, the depictions of the piling of skulls, the mass killings, the hurling Izevel from the window and many other features of the story, all lead to a subtext that is critical of Yehu. He could have achieved the same aims without that degree of cruelty, bloodshed and trickery.

Some argue precisely the opposite! That this story demonstrates the extent to which we must pursue idolatry and its practitioners, demonstrating zero compassion and tolerance, and even acting cruelly and cunningly in order to uproot the seeds of deviance.

Again, I will leave you to judge which view you take

4. Politics and Religion!
One question that might be raised here relates to politics. Why did the army follow Yehu? Why did the government so readily comply with his revolt. The government is an explicit passuk. They were motivated by fear. They were terrified after they saw the manner in which Yehu killed two kings,, they certainly were not about to cross Yehu. They feared their own lives. And here, this is important because we must realise that not everyone became Baalei Teshuva overnight.

But regarding the army, we should think about them politically. As we read (8:28-9, 9:15) the king is wounded in battle. He has suffered a defeat at the hands of Aram. To that end, we can certainly imagine discontent on the part of senior army figures as he has mismanaged the war campaign. In addition, and for the same reasons, we might figure that Yehoram's popularity pools are showing rather low figures. In short, Yehu realizes that the time is ripe for rebellion, not only prophetically but also politically.

5. Religious Integrity and Yehu

In #3 we asked whether the Yehu rebellion was ethical, even if it was justified. The story of Yehu ends on an extremely disappointing note. Yehu, despite his Divine instruction, despite his power and zeal, and notwithstanding his achievements in destroying the House of Achav, fails to have a pure commitment to God. This, to my mind is the deepest question that relates to Yehu's integrity. If Yehu is acting in a spirit of religious idealism, then he will not find himself transgressing, or contradicting God in the road ahead. The very fact that the Tanach testifies about him (10:31):

לא) וְיֵהוּא לֹא שָׁמַר לָלֶכֶת בְּתוֹרַת יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכָל לְבָבוֹ לֹא סָר מֵעַל חַטֹּאות יָרָבְעָם אֲשֶׁר הֶחֱטִיא אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל:

"Yehu was not careful to follow the Torah of Hashem the God of Israel whole heartedly; he failed to abandon the sins of Yerovam who lead Israel astray."

In other words, he removed the Baal, but still retained traces of images, and foreign sites of worship. His heart was not "whole" with God, not fully in tune to the sensitivities of God. How could a man like this who lacks religious integrity, find the justification to engage in widespread slaughter in the name of God. Does not such a person need to represent an impeccable Judaism?

In this sense, I feel that Yehu is a not a flawed hero; he is not a hero at all! He is a man who leaves us frustrated and disgruntled. Maybe we can console ourselves in the following way; a reframing of expectations. We might suggest that Yehu was never designated as the saviour of Israel. Rather he was the instrument of punishment for Beit Achav. At that task he succeeded admirably. The religious upturn will be left to others.

[Much of this class comes from the perek summary of Daat Mikra.]

Friday, July 28, 2006

ch.8 Yehoram, Achazyahu, Kings of Yehudah

The Names Get Complicated

Reading the end of ch.8, the names can get very complicated. Here is the list of kings:

Yehuda: Yehoshafat (25) – Yehoram (8) – Achazyahu (1)

Yisrael: Achav (22) – Achazyahu (2) – Yoram ben Achav (12)

Chapter 8 describes the two Judean kings who succeeded Yehoshafat. We have already "caught up" with Yisrael, as we described Yehoram ben Achav at war (against Moav) in ch.3. However we need to update the history of Yehuda now, by describing Achazyahu and Yoram.

Here, a few points are worth mentioning:

1. Spiritual : These are bad times in the kingdom of Yehuda. The family ties between Achav and the Judean royal House have influenced Judea detrimentally. Jerusalem now becomes yet another center for Baal worship. In the role of Izevel stands Izevel's daughter Athalia, and "like mother like daughter," she rules the roost! Yehoram "… walked the path of the Kings of Israel, like the House of Achav, for Achav's daughter was his wife, and he performed evil in God's eyes" (8:18)

The import of foreign norms manifests itself also in Yehoram's killing all his brothers! See Divrei Hayamim II 21:2 where all Yehoram's brothers are mentioned. Then see in 21:4 that he killed them all! (as Athalia does later – see 11:1)

2. Geopolitical : The extent of Israelite control in this period diminishes considerably. Here in Melachim, we hear that Edom rebel – the end of Judean hegemony that existed for the last generation – see Melachim I 22:28. But in Divrei Hayamim it is much worse. Divrei Hayamim describes a joint Pelishti-Kushite invasion that appears to have swept Jerusalem itself, and had virtually the entire royal family killed. This sudden fall from the heyday of Yehoshafat to the depths of Yehoram is reminiscent of the mighty fall from Shlomo to Rechavam (and the invasion of Shishak) many generations earlier.

3. Unity.
At the end of the chapter we see the Unity between Israel and Yehuda as the King of Yehuda - Achazyahu – pays a visit to his wounded cousin - Yehoram King of Israel - in Yizrael. This unity of family and spirit which would be so wonderful in other circumstances is a recipe for disaster here, as Yehuda becomes totally infected with the deviance of Yisrael. Maybe that is the reason that Hazal criticize Yehoshafat so severely for his association with Achav. Sometimes, "achdut" can carry a weighty price-tag!

4. The role of the Gevira, or "First Lady"
We see that at times the wife of the king held sway in the Palace in a most powerful manner. It would appear that this is the meaning of the title Gevira. To investigate this title see the following mekorot:

- Melachim I 11:19 – referring to the wife of Pharaoh
- Melachim I 15:2,13 – referring to Ma'acha, wife of Aviya(m) King of Yehuda. She influenced the nation , even years after she was queen, in the direction of Avoda Zara, and eventually here Grandson, Assah, rids Jerusalem of her "monster" (idol) and REMOVES her from her status of Gevira.
- See Divrei Hayamim II 22:3-5. Athalia holds a special advisory role in he country.
- Melachim II 10:13 arefers to Izevel as Gevira.

(See also Yirmiyahu 13:18, 32:2)

How does this role function exactly? From the evidence, it appears to be that an old queen, the "Queen Mother" functions in a disproportionately influential manner. Is this role a legislated "position" in other societies? (- after all, one example is in Egypt, another is Athalia whose influences are Phonecian.) One theory says that the Gevira functioned when there was a very young king who arose to the throne. In this case, effectively the mother took power. Alternatively, after her husband's death, she gains special status as the former Queen, or Queen Mother (as there once was in the UK!) This works pretty well with most of the cases in Tanach.

5. An All Time Low, North and South.
The weakness then, both spiritually and militarily is true both for the South AND the North. All the stories of Elisha describe the poverty and defenselessness of the Northern Kingdom. Now the South gets caught in the same trap. This should really make us understand that in almost every sense: religiously, economically and militarily, the country is at an all time low. The Wars Against Aram continue, now against Hazael instead of Ben Hadad. Yoram king of Yisrael (North) will be seriously wounded in this battle.

The defeat of Israel in battle at the hands of Aram and Achazyahu's visit to Yoram provides the backdrop for the next chapter.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

ch. 7 The Four Lepers - Haftara For Parashat Metzora

Can We Accept An Imperfect Geula?

I found this useful site with some articles on our perakim.

One contained a beautiful poem by Rachel, the famous modern Hebrew poet (She wrote "Hatishma Koli" and "Kinneret sheli" and she lived a very personally tragic life amidst the joy of the Second Aliya and Kibbutz Degania. She is buried at Kibbutz Kinneret and Nomi Shemer who put many of her poems into songs is buried close by.) She writes:

בשכבר הימים האויב הנורא
את שומרון הביא במצור
ארבעה מצורעים לה בשרו בשורה.

כשומרון במצור - כל הארץ כולה
וכבד הרעב מנשוא;
אך אני לא אובה בשורת גאולה
אם מפי מצורע היא תבוא.

הטהור יבשר, יגאל הטהור
אם ידו לא תמצא לגאול –
אז נבחר לי לנפול ממצוקת המצור
אור ליום בשורה הגדול".

For a long while the dreadful enemy
Brought Samaria to siege;
Four lepers to her brought tidings.
To her brought the tidings of freedom.

A Samaria under siege - the entire land,
The famine is too hard to bear.
But I will not want news of freedom,
If it comes from the mouth of a leper.

The pure will bring news and the pure will redeem,
And if his hand won’t be there to redeem
- Then I will choose to die from the suffering of the siege
On the eve of the day of the great tidings.

Now, what is she saying? Very clearly, she is relating to the connection between the means and the end. Rachel is a perfectionist. She would prefer to choose to die from the suffering of the siege rather than accept the tidings of redemption from one who is not worthy to do so.

Is this a Jewish perspective? Fascinatingly, the Gemara in one aggadic passage[1] suggests that the Mashiach is a leper! On this basis, I would say that Judaism does not always present Geula , salvation, as perfect. There is redemption EVEN by a leper!


This whole story is about precisely the opposite. The Lepers ironically are the tools of redemption. One wonders why? Interestingly as the story progresses, they undergo a transformation. At first, they are only looking out for themselves, and they eat and drink. Suddenly they turn and begin to think about the starving masses in the city, and they realise their sin.

From one angle, this is exactly the movement that we anticipate from the leper as he is ejected from the city. Obviously, the lepers are afflicted by God, and hence rejected from the community for some anti-social sin (Lashon Hara, haughtiness, stinginess etc.) Part of their "exile" as it were is that they sit outside the town and ponder their place in the collective.

But here is the unexpected part. Precisely their outside view allows them to see the redemption clearer than the masses! It is certainly ironic that their distance allows them to see God's salvation more clearly. Interestingly, there is another story in Massechet Berachot (54a-b) where the lepers realise God's miracle, whereas the people fail to see it. Are we saying that sometimes the problem is IN society and not outside it? Or are we simply saying that even the outsider, the sinner might be the hrbinger of teh Geula? Many questions are opened up here.


Rav Ahron Soloviechik, the Rav's brother, referred to this chapter in an article entitled "Israel's Independence Day: Reflections in Halachah and Hashkafa." Here he reads our Perek along the same lines that we have presented:

"We thus see that the miracle of the deliverance of all the inhabitants of Samaria was carried out through the medium of four lepers: physical lepers, yes, but above all, spiritual lepers. (According to our Sages, these four outcasts were none other than Gechazi and his three sons, who were afflicted with leprosy as a penalty for their spiritual heresy. The Rambam in his Commentary to the Mishnah in the last chapter of Sanhedrin describes them as cynics and scoffers.)

The first argument, as to how any relief for the Jewish people could be realized through the medium of apikorsim (non-believers), can easily be rebutted by the precedent of the deliverance accorded the people of Samaria through the medium of the four lepers. This episode shows that no Jew can be excluded from the grace of God, that Yisrael af al pi shechata, Yisrael hu - a Jew, even though he has sinned, remains a Jew, and that there is an innate tendency towards altruism even in the heart of spiritual lepers.

It also shows that God does not exclude any Jew from salvation and He may therefore designate even spiritual outcasts as the messengers of relief and deliverance for the people of Israel. Consequently, we cannot ignore the significance of the establishment of the State of Israel simply because Jews who stand a substantial distance from any form of observance of mitzvos were at the forefront of founding the State. Perhaps the fact that nonobservant Jews are in the forefront today is a penalty for Orthodox Jewry's failure to play the most important part in the formation of the State."

(Thanks, Ezra, for the reference.)


I believe that it is exactly the notion of a flawed Geula that lies at the heart of this story. It is precisely a salvation for a lepered nation. As I mention in my last post, the nation are being punished for the sins of the generation of Achav. To this end, the entire nation is in a state of prolonged suffering. Elisha's miracles are more of an inspiration than a salvation. This story fits exactly into the rhythm of these years of "hester panim" in which even our major victories, however miraculous, fail to raise us. Maybe the lesson that Am Yisrael have to learn is to turn their society around and learn the lessons of OUR affliction, allowing ourselves to act differently and change the national priorities.

A flawed Geula fits a flawed reality. Rav Amital once said that after the Holocaust we are prepared to accept even a Geula that is not a Geula Shelema, as long as the Galut comes to an end! He is a Holocaust survivor, and to that end feels that sense of desperation that is described in this chapter.

And yet, I feel that OUR generation, born amongst comfort and hope, want to see a perfect Geula, just as the poet Rachel writes!

[1] The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) tells the following story. It relates how R. Joshua b. Levi, a scholar of second century C.E., meets the Prophet Eliyahu. He asks Eliyahu when the Messiah will come, to which he replies, "Ask him." "But where is he?" says R. Joshua. "He is at the entrance," is the reply. And how shall I recognize him?". To which Elijah responds, "He is the man who is bandaging the wounds of the lepers one by one." (As Rashi ad loc. explains, the significance of this unusual way of operating is that the Messiah must be ready at any moment to respond to a call from on high.) So R. Joshua goes over and asks that man, "When is it that the Master will come?" He replies, "Today!" R. Joshua returns to Elijah and told him, "He lies: he said 'today' but he does not come." Elijah answers him that it is indeed today "if you would indeed heed His charge this day." (Psalms 95:7).

Friday, July 21, 2006

Questions - ch.8-10

פרק ח'
#1-2 To where does the Shunamite woman move house in the wake of the seven year famine? What does she find after she returns home?
#2-6 What can we deduce as to the king’s role from this perek and the previous one?

Elisha appoints Haza’el king over Aram
#7-8 How does Ben-Hadad relate to Elisha? How did he know him? What does Haza’el take as a מנחה to Elisha. See passuk 9. cf.5:5
#8 Compare 8:8 with 1:2

#13 Look back to מלכ"א י"ט:ט"ו .
Is Elisha fulfilling Eliyahu’s role here? Why did Eliyahu pass the task on to Elisha? In addition, note the other task given to Eliyahu in perek 19 there. This will be fulfilled in our next perek. See 9:1. So it is all coming together!
· To investigate this, see Daat Mikra on 8:7 and Radak and Ralbag on מלכ"א י"ט:ט"ו
8:16 Who is this king? Length of his reign? Who was his wife?
#21 A difficult passuk. Who won the war here? (Radak)

To fill in certain details about his reign, see Divrei Hayamim Bet 21:12-20. (If you are puzzled as to how Eliyahu could send a letter at this point, see the mepharshim there.)

8:25 Who is this king? Length of his reign? Who was his mother? (Is there a problem here with the description בת עמרי? – Radak)
· In which war does he join together with the king of Israel? Who is wounded? Where does he go to recover from his war wounds?
· What does this story tell us about the relationship between Yisrael and Yehuda at this time?

פרק ט'
Where is Ramot Gilad? What is happening there? – see the previous perek passuk 28. Where have we seen this location before in Sefer Melachim?

פרק י'
#1 Why does Elisha not perform this mission himself?
#2 "חדר בחדר" Where have we seen this phrase before? See מל"א כ':ל'. Identify the connection between the two.
#3 "ופתחת הדלת ונסת ולא תחכה" Why?
#13-14 Who "crowns" יהוא at this stage?
#15 Who was יזרעאל in at this time? Why?

Pay attention to the following words and their usage in the Perek:
i. שלום ; ii. שגעון

פרק ט'-י'
יהוא wages a series of killings and massacres.
· Note down a. the route that he takes; b. The groups/individuals that he eliminates?
· Where is it emphasized that Yehu acts as an agent of God?
· By which method does Yehu kill the 70 children of Achav?
· Who is יונדב בן רכב? (See the end of the Perek.) What "trick" does he play on the inhabitants of Shomron?
י':ל'-ל"ו What is the final assessment of Yehu's actions?

See the summary here from Daat Mikra. Does the Daat Mikra commentary view מרד יהוא in a positive or a negative light?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Chapter 6-8
– The Big Overview

I have spent a great deal of time thinking as to how to "teach" i.e. write these chapters. Rather than dealing with them BeIyun – after all, the stories of each are rather simple – I have decided to look at these stories from a wider angle, giving some shape to the Elisha stories in general.

We have 3 major stories about Elisha ahead of us:

6:8-23 Elisha captures the Aramean army and leads them to Shomron
6:24-7:20 The siege on Shomron, the famine, the four lepers and the miracle
[8:1-6 – The king, Gechazi and the Shunnamite woman … not about Elisha]
8:7-15 Elisha travels to Damascus – Assasination of Ben Hadad – rise of Hazael.

I will start from the last story. But before we begin, let us note some of the features of all our stories here from ch.5-8.


First, these perakim are characterized by a backdrop of constant military harassment and attack by Aram lead by their king, Ben Haddad.
To explain; Aram and Israel have been entangled since the days of Achav, in Melachim Aleph ch.20. It is clear that Yisrael has been the underdog in this fight. In Melachim Aleph ch.22 Ben Haddad is the king that kills Achav in battle. In ch.5 Naaman is his army officer who regularly raids Israel. Ch.7 describes his constant war of attrition against Israel, and ch.8 describes hi siege upon the capital city of Shomron. In other words, We have been suffering at the hands of Aram for many years.

Second, these are times of famine and poverty.
To elaborate - 8:1,3 talk about a 7 year famine. Ch.7 talks about a siege that reflects the worse prognosis of the Tochachot – mothers eating children. The stories of the Bnei Neviim reflect abject poverty: A crisis because there is no money to pay for a lost axe-head (6:5), children at risk because of the debt of their parents (4:1), people so short of food that they have to use unknown wild fruits to make food (4:39) – another sign of famine.

Third, the name of the king is not mentioned throughout these chapters, despite his being very active in the stories. (In addition, the King is always depicted as helpless and confused.) We do not even know what king we are dealing with. This is particularly uncharacteristic for Sefer Melachim which keeps a close track of the historical details.

Fourth, the salvation always comes from one of Elisha's miracles, acts that are not spectacles, but frequently predict events (like the location of the Syrian army, the reassurance of the end of the siege.) Elisha is the "hidden weapon" of Israel. However ironically, this is not because Elisha gives victory to ISrael, but because he averts total disaster and defeat!

What might we make of all this?


We shall start our examination by looking at the last of these stories, Elisha in Damascus.

Elisha is greeted by Hazael who is apparently Ben Hadad's assistant.( It would appear that the Arameans have enormous respect for Elisha - the effect of ch.5 and ch.7.) Elisha sees Hazael and bursts into tears. Hazael doesn't understand his reaction. Elisha tells him that he is crying because he sees how he – Hazael - will viciously kill, pillage and ruin Israel. Hazael seems shocked and says "Who am I – but a dog (a servant who follows the call of his master) – that I may do these things?" Elisha tells him that he sees that Hazael will become king. And in the next scene, Hazael assassinates Ben Haddad and takes over as king.

From a prophetic perspective, this story is unprecedented in Tanach. When have we seen our Neviim involving themselves in the affairs of other countries? Why is Elisha traveling to Damascus?

A beginning of an answer may be found in Melachim Aleph 19:15-17. If you recall, in ch.19 Eliyahu confronts God at Mt. Horeb and effectively resigns. He tells God that he cannot carry on with the task of being a Navi. God responds in the following manner:

(טו) וַיֹּאמֶר יְדֹוָד אֵלָיו לֵךְ שׁוּב לְדַרְכְּךָ מִדְבַּרָה דַמָּשֶׂק וּבָאתָ וּמָשַׁחְתָּ אֶת חֲזָאֵל לְמֶלֶךְ עַל אֲרָם: (טז) וְאֵת יֵהוּא בֶן נִמְשִׁי תִּמְשַׁח לְמֶלֶךְ עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאֶת אֱלִישָׁע בֶּן שָׁפָט מֵאָבֵל מְחוֹלָה תִּמְשַׁח לְנָבִיא תַּחְתֶּיךָ: (יז) וְהָיָה הַנִּמְלָט מֵחֶרֶב חֲזָאֵל יָמִית יֵהוּא וְהַנִּמְלָט מֵחֶרֶב יֵהוּא יָמִית אֱלִישָׁע: )מלכים א פרק יט(

Three tasks are specified here:
1. To anoint Hazael as king over Aram
2. To anoint Yehu as king over Israel
3. To appoint Elisha as the prophet in place of Eliyahu.

What is the purpose of all of this? - It is to punish Israel!

"He who escapes the sword of Aram will be killed by the sword of Yehu, and he that escapes from the sword of Yehu will be killed by Elisha."

SO God tells Eliyahu, and in fact, this is an answer to Eliyahu's concerns - that there is no justice and that the forces that oppose God have the upper hand – God says that there will be retribution, and Eliyahu is supposed to activate all the forces of punishment: Hazael, Yehu and Elisha. God is announcing an era of punishment for Israel.

Strangely, things did not turn out in the manner that God designed. Eliyahu performs only the LAST of the 3 tasks – he finds Elisha. What of the other two tasks? They are left for Elisha to perform, and it would seem that even Elisha delays these acts for rather a long period.

We asked why Elisha visits Damascus? It is to "anoint" Hazael, to appoint him as king, to fulfil the instruction of God to Eliyahu. Hazael will unleash great destruction against Israel. Likewise in ch.9 Elisha will have Yehu annointed as king and indeed Yehu will exact a clear battle against the Baal and its perpetrators – most specifically, he kills the king of Israel and the evil Izevel.


Now it should be understood that the killing of Izevel pinpoints the precise reason for al this destruction, punishment and retribution. It is direct punishment for the actions of ACHAV. Indeed Achav's son, Yehoram is killed in the FIELD OF NAVOT, and see 9:7-9 in which Yehu's role is precisely to avenge the evils of Achav; 9:36 sees the manner of Izevel's death as concordant with Eliyahu's prophecies.

So what we are saying is this. Eliyahu resigned. At the moment of his resignation, God issued certain acts that were to take place in order to be a punishment for the generation of Achav - for his sins.

Now, these happen with a certain delay, and yet, the period that follows Achav is clearly a period of punishment. How so? Look at the features that we have delineated above? The famine, the military attrition, the poverty etc. all are classic symptoms of national punishment for Idolatry.


But why the delay? In the original instruction, Elisha was designated as part of the punishing force, as an instrument of God's wrath and retribution. In fact, Elisha took a very different role. Elisha – during a time of phenomenal difficulty for the Kingdom of Israel, while the winds of war were blowing and the nation was suffering – served as something of an antidote, a counterbalance. Elisha is the light in the darkness. During the years of occupation and attack, Elisha uses all his God given powers to keep faith in God alive – very much like the situation in which the king asks Gechazi to tell him "Elisha stories". In a generation in which faith might be lost, Elisha is a beacon that says God is with you, even in your suffering. Elisha doesn't defeat the enemy. He doesn't stop the siege. But he befriends the king and commoner alike, allowing them to understand that despite the adversity, God is still the God of Israel. We might be in a state of punishment, but God has not abandoned His people.

Amazingly, Elisha escorts Am Yisrael through this entire period. And his FINAL ACT as Navi is to announce that the period of punishment, of Aramean domination is coming to a close (excuse the English translation!):

"14 Now Elisha had fallen sick of the sickness of which he was to die; and Joash the king of Israel came down unto him, and wept over him, and said: 'My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof!' 15 And Elisha said unto him: 'Take bow and arrows'; and he took unto him bow and arrows. 16 And he said to the king of Israel: 'Put thy hand upon the bow'; and he put his hand upon it. And Elisha laid his hands upon the king's hands. 17 And he said: 'Open the window eastward'; and he opened it. Then Elisha said: 'Shoot'; and he shot. And he said: 'The LORD'S arrow of victory, even the arrow of victory against Aram; for thou shalt smite the Arameans in Aphek, till thou have consumed them.' (13:14-17)

And so, Elisha far from being the instrument of God's anger, is the element which is to support and comfort Israel during their time of distress.

Maybe this explains the elements that we have mentioned above. The bad times DO contrast with Elisha's unusual miracles. This is the function of Elisha! As for the anonymous kings, maybe we can put that down to the fact that the king was from Beit Achav, and as such was persona non grata. Maybe you can think fo another theory. Maybe it is because the significance of this is not that it happened in the reign of so and so and in year XYZ but rather that Am Yisrael are going through a prolonged period of suffering. The event in its own right bears little national significance, but the overall effect is to be one of national collapse and depression, for 3 generations following Achav.

Monday, July 17, 2006


Ch.6 begins with yet another story of the Bnei Nevi'im in which someone gets into trouble, and then Elisha solves their problem via miraculous means. Elisha is very clearly the leader of the group. They plead with him to accompany them on a simple wood-cutting trip. When they suffer a simple problem of a lost axe, Elisha is the address to whom they turn automatically.

I will make two comments here.

1. The perek begins with the fact that the community is expanding. Their numbers have burgeoned to a degree that they need to build. One might suggest that they were growing as a community due to Elisha's leadership, however Chazal made a different connection. In the Gemara in Sanhedrin 107a, they connect the start of this Perek to the end of the last chapter in which Gechazi gets leprosy and is removed from his role as Elisha's assistant. The Gemara suggests that it was Gechazi's personality and actions that deterred potential Neviim from following Elisha. Now that Gechazi is gone, people are happy to join.

What was it about Gechazi that was so off-putting? If we take the last story as our cue, we can see that Gechazi saw Elisha as a means for personal prestige and material gain. He seems to have enjoyed the limelight that Elsiha offered him. Even year's later he is still telling the king "all the great things that Elisha did." ( in other words, he makes his name in society by selling the biography of Elisha on the Oprah Winfrey show!)

A person who is in the business of religion for his own ego or personal gain will eventually give a sour image to Torah and deter people from religion. Avodat Hashem needs people who are dedicated "Lishma."

2. The Navi loses his axe. He immediately cries out to Elisha for assistance in a state of deep distress. Is he so bothered by a lost axe? So it could be that the guy is very poor and has no money for a new one. But apparently it is worse than that: "It is borrowed" He is concerned that he will not be able to return a borrowed object. It is not a FINANCIAL concern but rather a MORAL one that makes him yelp. How many times do we find ourselves agitated more by potential monetary loss way more than by moral infidelity? Food for thought!!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Chavruta Questions
Ch. 6-7

פרק ו'
#1 Why do the B’nei Neviim need to begin to build homes (or maybe a new Beit Midrash?) If homes need to be added to the group of Neviim, that would indicate that they are "recruiting" additional people? Might this demonstrate a burst of interest in spiritual matters?
· In the light of the previous perek, who would appear to be responsible for this renewed spiritual interest?

#8-11 The background to both this perek and the previous perek is the military actions of Malchut Aram. How would you describe what is going on here militarily?
· In what other ways does our story resemble that of פרק ה'?

#17 Chariots of fire - where else have we seen these chariots?
Do these chariots surround the town or just Elisha? - What does this mean?

#21 How does the king refer to Elisha? What might this tell us about their relationship?

#22 Why should one free the enemy troops? Why did they feed them?

This is the Haftara for Parshat Metzora.

#24-28 What national situation is described here? What details does the Navi give us so that we know just how serious the situation is?
#31Why does the king see Elisha as in some way responsible here? – see Rashi, Radak and contrast with Ralbag. Note passuk 8:1

7:1 Compare the prices of food in this passuk, with those in 6:25

· What miracle saves the city of Shomron here?
· Are the metzora’im depicted as morally positive characters?
· How does the king react to the dramatic news that the metzora’im report?
· How does the Tanakh describe Elisha's prophecy as coming true.
What happens to the person who ridiculed Elisha’s ability? (Interesting. Was his comments – passuk 2– different from those of the king in passuk 6:27?)

ch.5 - Naaman - Part 2

Apologies that I have been out of things for a week or two. Things have been very busy… lots of teaching at Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi, and Matan (and lots of preparation!) Hopefully now we will resume our routine.

Today, I'd like to finish with Ch.5, the story of Naaman.

The opening pesukim

The opening verses introduce the personality of Naaman, and yet, as Yair Zakovitch writes in his book, the introduction is carefully crafted. (Yair Zakovitch is a Professor of Bible at Hebrew U specializing in literary approaches. He published an entire 150 pg book on this perek, a passuk by passuk commentary. It is published by עם עובד and is called גבה מעל גבה and is definitely worth getting your hands on.) Here is the opening passuk

Naaman, the captain of the army of the king of Aram,
was a great man before his master,
and held in esteem, because HaShem had given victory unto Aram;
he was also a mighty man of valour, a leper.

Zakovitch points out that each phrase is in TWO PARTS. The first section gives a positive statement about Naaman, and then the second clause regulates, even minimises the original first statement.

* Naaman is the head of the army – but it isn't his army – it is the army of the King of Aram.
* He is an "ish gadol" – a man of enormous stature. But he is subservient – "before his master." Hi greatness is channelled to his king. His skills do not serve himself. His greatness then, is unable to serve his own interests.
* "Held in great esteem" … why? Because of his own achievements? No! His great accomplishments are only by virtue of God's intervention, of God's assistance. So, once again, even this is not to Naaman's credit.
* He is "mighty" BUT his leprosy is obviously a mitigating factor in his own status.

So for everything here, there are limits. Zakovitch suggests that this already introduces a running theme in the chapter. The issue, the central theme of the perek, revolves around the question; to whom are you subservient.

In these opening lines, we present Naaman as a man who has a significant military record and yet is restricted and controlled by his king. Moreover, his success is only by license of God. And then there is the question of the Tzara'at.

Here we shall see two words that are key words in the Perek: They are לפני (7 times!) and אדון. Both express the issue of who stands before whom, who is subservient to the next person and who is in control.

A great example is פסוק ב'

"וישבו מארץ ישראל נערה קטנה ותהי לפני אשת אדוניו"

Now, of course there is some irony here , and this irony lies at the very heart of this Perek. This little girl is קטנה as opposed to Naaman the איש גדול. She is also at the bottom of the pack! She is לפני Naaman's wife who by that very description is second to Naaman, who in turn is answerable to the king! And yet, it is from this little slave girl that the salvation shall emerge.

This reversal of the power equation, this denial of the authoritarian hierarchy is one of the central messages of the perek.

Maybe this is encapsulated by the fact that Naaman's skin emerges as a נער קטן in passuk 14. And obviously he then in some manner resembles the נערה קטנה. His healing is due to her. He now shares here perspective viz. Elisha etc. etc.


In the next "scene" the King of Aram sends a message to the King of Israel. The letter itself seems terse and concise. There are no polite introductions or reverent overtures as one might expect between two kings. Why not? One might suggest that the letter is cut, and that only the central request is presented here. However, archaeologists have demonstrated that this is precisely the language found in a letter from a controlling authority to a person who is subservient to him. The King of Israel is effectively subservient to the King of Aram! And that is the reason that the king is so startled. The King sees his stronger neighbour send him a letter that says: I am sending my army chief to you. Cure him of his leprosy. Clearly, the King of Israel reads this as a call to war. How can he, how might he ever cure this man. And thus he imagines that this is simply a ruse, a trick in order to attack, when he will not – because he cannot – comply with the order of the King of Aram. This is the reason that he tears his clothes. He is convinced that the letter that he received is a call to war. He knows nothing of the captive maid-girl who has been praising Elisha.

Once again, the entire scene is a product of the power hierarchy. Due to the fact that the King of Israel is controlled by Aram, this letter is a threat.


Enter Elisha. He placates the king, and expresses the true aim here: "Let him know that there is a prophet in Israel." (BTW, once again we see Elisha "helping out" the king.) This he does.

Naaman arrives at his residence, and Elisha does not even come out to greet him. He simply sends a messenger. Naaman is infuriated. He says.

"I thought
To me, he would come out expediently (יצא יצוא!)
He would stand and call in the name of Hashem his God and wave his hand over the place, and the Leper would be healed.
Are not Ammana and Parpar, the rivers of Damascus superior than all the waters of Israel?…"

Note the attitude.
* The first word "To me he will come etc. Naaman puts himself in the center.
* Moreover he envisaged Elisha as rushing out to him!
* Furthermore, Naaman anticipated that he would have to do nothing personally… that Elisha would perform some action and it would all be over. Why does Naaman have to do that act? Elisha should perform some action!
* And then last of all, he objects to the connection with the Jordan river. For Naaman, there is no connection between God and land. He simply wishes to bathe in a grand river. I guess that a powerful person should bathe in an impressive river!

All of this anticipates that the religious gesture, the prophet's act, should be dignified, glorious, imposing. And even more, that Naaman is at the center and the prophet, secondary to him.

Elisha goes against all this thinking. He wants to uproot these attitudes from Naaman's head.

Let us view the manner in which Naaman returns to Elisha after he is cured.

"15 - And he returned to the Man of God – he and all his entourage.
He came and stood before him"

Last time (#9), Naaman only comes to the "entrance to the house" of Elisha. Naaman stands outside waiting for Elsiha. He didn't even walk up the garden path! That is why Elsiha sent a messenger to him. And now, Naaman stands BEFORE HIM. He stands before (and remember what we said earlier about the word לפני) Eliaha and it is Naaman who approaches Elisha. There has been a significant shift!

"15 - He said: Now I know that there is no God in the world except in Israel.
And now, please take a gift (ברכה) from your servant."

Now Naaman is Elisha's servant!

But further and higher, he recognizes God! And he recognizes Israel is the instrument of God's presence in this world. This is a familiar theme in many miracle stories – from the Ten Plagues, to Eliyahu's demonstration on Mt. Carmel – there is an objective of proving that that Hashem is the true and only God. In addition the Mekhilta (Yitro #1) compares Yitro, the convert that saw God's miracles and was drawn to belief in God with Naaman. Naaman becomes a paradigm for the non—Jew who "sees the light."

The giving of a gift expresses subservience as well (see the story of Yaakov and Esav in Bereshit ch.32-3.) Why does Elisha refuse the gift so adamantly? Very simple :

"As God lives BEFORE WHOM (לפניו) I HAVE STOOD I will not take."

Elisha stands before God. His miracle is God's miracle. He will not take anything, because the honour belongs to God alone. There can be no confusion on this point.

Now see how Naaman wants to take of the very soil of the land. He sees God as rooted in the very soil of the land. Remember how he was reluctant to bathe in Israel's river. He sees God as tied to the very landscape of the land. This is a familiar Aramean view – see Melachim I 20:23,28. Why does Naaman want soil? Most mepharshim say that this soil was meant to be the basis for a ritual altar (– see Shemot 20:20 "Make for me an earth altar…")

The subservience theme returns as Naaman apologises that when he bows in Beit Rimon – a pagan Temple – he is bowing ONLY as a sign of his dedication to the king, but NOT to another deity. Now, Naaman's ultimate commitment, allegiance is to God!

Naaman has been transformed, not just physically , but spiritually.



Gechazi actes in a deceitful and subversive manner. It is also clear here that Gechazi depite his closeness to the master Elisha, totally misses the point. Elisha thinks that acts of God should be a source of personal gain. He seems to feel that Elisha's actions are his own, they are his own personal expertise, and hence he deserves the fruits of his own efforts. (In fact see the article of Rav Sabato on ch.4 which expresses exactly this point with regards to Gechazi.)

Who stands before whom? For Gechazi man does not stand before God. God stands at the service of man. For this reason, as he expresses the infected warped values that Naaman had, he himself is infected by the illness of which Naaman had just been cured. Poetic Justice indeed!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Chapter 5 Part 1
The Curing of Naaman.

The background.
It is clear from this story that Aram is growing in its strength in the region. If Naaman can engage in regular raiding operations into Israelite territory, then Aram has the upper hand. Likewise, the King of Israel is struck by terror to hear that Naaman is on his way. That is the response of a weaker country fearing an attack by a stronger nation.

This military threat by Aram will continue throughout the next 50 years. (In the terms set by Sefer Melachim – we are talking about all the way to ch.14.) The result of this will be a weak Israelite kingdom, with frequent foreign domination/siege wars and the like; in general a situation of struggle and ongoing distress..


The storyline here is rather straightforward. Naaman – the chief of Staff of the Syrian army – has leprosy. His maid girl who is Jewish suggests that he approach Elisha in order to be healed. This he does, first gaining the permission of the king of Israel. Elisha recommends that he wash 7 times in the Jordan river. Initially Naaman hesitates, seeing this act as beneath his personal and national dignity. But after his aides urge him on, he indeed washes in the Jordan and is totally healed. He returns to Elisha in a spirit of immense respect for Elisha and for God and promises to be loyal to the God of Israel. Elisha refuses any payment or gif. However, his assistant Gechazi follows Naaman and requests – in the name of Elisha – a few gifts. In response to this scheming act, Elisha afflicts Gechazi with Naaman's leprosy.

The question is, what the message of the story might be? Is this story yet another showpiece for Elisha's amazing powers? Maybe. But is that really the focus of Tanach?

Sometimes, I feel that the focus is upon the difference between the approach of Avoda Zara, and that of Avodat Hashem. Naaman approached Elisha expecting that:

11 'Behold, I thought: He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of HaShem his G-d, and wave his hand over the place, and recover the leper. 12 Are not Amanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean?'

Now, in truth there are TWO points here:

a. Namman says that he didn't expect that he would have to perform any act, certainly not the act of indignity of bathing in the Jordan – a small insignificant river. Where is the dignity of a Man of God who will stand and pronounce him healed in a respectable and elevated manner? Naaman anticipated an impressive spectacle, a ceremonial ritual moment. And yet he is asked to do something which appears to be far from the world of religious ceremony.
b. If it is a question of waters, rivers; then the rivers of Damascus outweigh the rivers of Israel.

If we may home in the first point for a minute, Rav Hirsch makes a poignant observation in his Torah Commentary.

"Judaism and Paganism go in diametrically opposite directions. The Pagan brings his offering in an attempt to make the god subservient to his wishes. The Jew, with his offering wishes to place himself in the service of God; by his offering he wishes to make himself subservient to the wishes of his God."

Naaman's attitude represents an unJewish approach in that it requires nothing of the person that seeks purification. In Judaism, the person seeking Teshuva must always perform an action that goes to the essence of sin, demanding a change, a transformation on behalf of he who seeks healing from God. It is not simply about aritual that purifies, but about Teshuva.

Here too Elisha's demand that Naaman bathe in the Jordan means a lowering of dignity for Naaman. Maybe it is precisely this false pride that lead to his Tzaraat, as the Gemara picks up:

במדבר רבה פרשה ז ד"ה ה מכאן א"ר
ועל גסות הרוח זה נעמן שנאמר (מלכים ב ה) (ונעמן) [שר צבא מלך ארם] היה איש גדול מהו גדול שהיתה רוחו גסה מפני שהיה גבור חיל ועל ידי כך נצטרע

More later in the week….
Shavua Tov!