Haftarah Parshat Metzorah
(2 Kings 7:3-20)
April 5, 2014
5 Nisan 5774
The last two lines of this week’s haftarah refer back to an episode found in the two verses which precede the haftarah. In this episode, the land is suffering from a dire draught and famine is rampant. Elisha promises at the gate of the city that there will be rain and that the price of food will once again be affordable. An aid of the king cynically responds that such an occurrence is impossible even for God. Elisha responds that said miracle will happen but that the cynic will not reap its benefit. (See 7:1-2) This prophecy does indeed occur. The price of food drops but the king’s aid does not live to share in the miracle. (7:19-20)
The Talmud uses this episode to answer a provocative statement in the Mishnah. The opening Mishnah of the tenth chapter of Sanhedrin lists those who would be denied a place in the world to come. At the top of the list are those who deny the resurrection of the dead. The Talmud questions the harshness of this sentence and offers an explanation: “A Tanna (a sage from the period of the Mishnah) taught: Since he denied the resurrection of the dead, therefore he shall not share in that resurrection, for in all the measures [of punishment or reward] taken by the Holy One, blessed be He, the Divine act befits the [human] deed (literally: measure for measure – Midah k’neged midah).As it is written: ‘Then Elisha said: ‘Hear the word of the Lord. Thus said the Lord, This time tomorrow a measure of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gates of Samaria.’ (2 Kings 7:1) And it is written: ‘an aid on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God: Even if the Lord were to make windows in heaven, could this thing happen?’ And he said: ‘Behold, you shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.’ (ibid. 2) Later on it is written: ‘And this is exactly what happened. The people trampled him to death at the gate.’(Ibid. 20) But perhaps this was the result of Elisha’s curse, for Rav Judah said in Rav’s name: ‘The curse of a Sage, even if unmerited, is fulfilled?’ — If so, Scripture should have written: ‘they trampled him and he died.’ Why [did it say]: ‘trampled him in the gate’? [This was intended to link his punishment to the] matters pertaining to the [episode at the] gate. (Sanhedrin 90a-b)
What do the resurrection of the dead and the message of the story cited in the Talmud have in common? They both expect of human beings to express an abiding faith in God’s ability to redeem that which seems hopeless. They preach that life requires an affirmation of an unfailing positive attitude and a triumph over fatalism – The victory of life over death.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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