Haftarah Parshat Metzora
(2 Kings 7:3-20)
April 9, 2011
5 Nisan 5771
In the verses preceding this week’s haftarah, the prophet Elisha announced the end of a long and bitter famine caused by an enemy siege. This famine had caused incredible hardship. The price of basic provisions had risen to a level where even the most basic commodities were impossible to procure. Elisha informed the people that the price of flour would miraculously fall to an affordable level. One of the king’s aides stood in the audience for Elisha’s pronouncement and cynically called out: “Even if the Lord were to make windows in the sky, could this come to pass.” Elisha responded: “You shall see it with your own eyes but you shall not eat of it.” (7:2) The end of the haftarah records that Elisha’s miracle does transpire. The famine ends, the price of food falls and the king’s aide suffers a tragic end: “Now the king had put the aide on whose arm he leaned in charge of the gate; and he was trampled to death in the gate by the people – just as the man of God had spoken…” (7:17)
This vignette is evidence of a religious literary device the sages called “middah kneged middah”, literally, “measure for measure”. In this case, the king’s adjutant asserts his cynical lack of faith in both Elisha’s decree and in God’s ability to carry it out. He is, in turn, punished by observing the fulfillment of the prophecy while dying during its actualization. The “poetic justice” in this turn of events is obvious, but its conclusion seems so harsh. One wonders what might have prompted this exaggerated outcome.
Perhaps, the intent of this story is to reckon with that most severe of human spiritual maladies – despair brought on by lack of hope. The reaction of the king’s aide could only have brought about disillusionment among the people. It certainly would not have been a morale booster. Such an attitude would ultimately have been destructive to the society as a whole. People who despair are incapable to working out their problems, let alone building something positive out of the tragic situation. Judaism has always been a beacon of optimism in the face of tragedy. This situation could be no different. The fate of the king’s aide was intended as a message that despair, not optimism and faith, is a destructive force and that no one should ever fall prey to it.