Haftarah Parshat Tazria-Metzorah (2 Kings 7:3-20)
According to the Torah Reading Outside of Israel
April 25, 2015 / 6 Iyar 5775
Four lepers are caught outside of the fence of the city. Inside the city, there is famine and outside of the city, the Aramean army is laying siege. Without any real good alternative, the lepers decide among themselves to fall on the mercy of the besieging army. In the dark of the night, they approach the enemy camp only to find it abandoned, yet filled with food and booty. After spending some time eating, drinking and looting the camp, the lepers take a conscious look at their deeds and note for themselves: “We are not doing right. This is a day of good news, and we are keeping silent! If we wait until the light of morning, we shall incur guilt. Come let us inform the king’s palace.” (verse 9)
What was the lepers wrongdoing in this situation? According to Targum Yonathan, the Jewish Aramaic translation of the Prophets, they considered their deeds plainly “lo kasher – not acceptable” without further elaboration. Rashi marks them as disloyal to the king, while Rabbi Levi ben Gershon notes that their behavior is unfitting and that they will be liable for punishment once they are found out. Rabbi Joseph Kara posits that they fear punishment from the king since they may be presumed to be the enemy once they are discovered. Rabbi Yithak Abrabanel presumes their sin to be that since the day is one of “good news”, the king will be angry because they looted the camp.
Rabbi Meir Malbim offers us a different approach. Where the other commentators focus on the lepers’ concern for their liability and consequent punishment, Malbim notes: “They said: ‘It is not right and that their deeds are not appropriate since they do not revive those in the midst of famine’, and regarding this they said: ‘This day when we have already sinned in their lust for money which we took from Naaman, why should we add one sin after another…’” What compelled the lepers to change how they were behaving? It was their realization that their acts disregarded the welfare of others. It was not fear of punishment but rather a desire to do what was right. They shared concern beyond their own narrow needs.
What propels us to do what is right? Maimonides recognized two human impulses acting in us when we make decisions on how to act. The less mature impulse has us conducting our lives with constant regard to reward and punishment. If I do this this will I get a prize or will I avoid getting reprimanded. The more mature response would be – what is the right thing to do? (See Introduction to Perek Hahelek) For Malbim, this is the thought process which ultimately inspired the lepers. It is the mindset that should inspire our actions as well.