Melachim Bet

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

Friday, July 14, 2006

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!