Melachim Bet

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

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!