(2 Kings 7:3 – 20)
April 17, 2010
3 Iyar 5770
This week\’s haftarah is really two stories of adversity woven into one. It is a story of a city under siege suffering from famine, where the price of food is beyond the reach of the city\’s people. Integrated into this scenario is a story of four hopeless lepers dwelling in the city gate, apart from the other inhabitants of the city, caught between the starving citizenry and the camp of soldiers laying siege to the city. The story opens two verses before the beginning of the haftarah where the prophet Elisha announced that in the near future the price of flour would again become reasonable. The captain of the gate reproaches Elisha, cynically rejecting his prophecy of hope.
The lepers, on the other hand, approach their options pragmatically. They ask themselves: Should we die of starvation along with our fellow citizens inside the walls of the city, remain in the city gate and wait for death to overtake us or fall on the mercy of the invading troops who will either show us mercy or kill us. The lepers chose this last option since it is the only one which offered them hope of survival.
One story has a happy ending, the other tragic. The lepers approach the enemy camp and find it empty, the enemy having been scared away. They plunder the camp for themselves and then thinking of their neighbors return to the city to inform them of the city\’s changed fortune. When the city realized its changed fate, the market price of flour fell to a reasonable level. The people rushed to buy flour and, in the upheaval, the very guard who had criticized Elisha was trampled to death before he could take advantage of the fulfilled prophecy.
This study in contrasts has a clear message. The defeatist attitude of the captain of the guard represents a clear attitude toward life. He was not just a man without faith. He was a man without hope. Adversity had caused him to become despondent. The lepers had no less reason for despair, perhaps even more and yet they had hope in their adversity. Hope gave them the ability to act and it was their actions which saved the day. Faith is the essence of hope and hope is the essence of faith.