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Tazriah-Metzorah 5772

Haftarah Parshat Tazriah-Metzorah (Outside of Israel)
(2 Kings 7:3-20)
April 28, 2012
6 Iyyar 5772

Parshat Tazriah-Metzorah (Outside of Israel)
(2 Kings 7:3-20)

At the beginning of this week’s haftarah, the story’s heroes, four lepers, find themselves in a desperate situation. They are encamped outside of a besieged city whose residents are starving. The lepers can neither enter the city nor escape since the enemy camp stands opposite them. Faced with this implacable situation, they chose to try the mercy of the enemy: “If we decide to go into town, what with the famine in the town, we shall die there; and if we sit here, still we die. Come let us desert to the Aramean camp. If they let us live, we shall live; and if they put us to death, we shall but die.” (7:4)

When the lepers arrived at the enemy camp, they find it miraculously deserted: “For the Lord had caused the Aramean camp to hear the sound of chariots, a sound of horses – the din of a huge army. They said to one another, ‘The king of Israel must have hired the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to attack us.’” (7:6)

The rabbinical sages commonly sought explanations for miraculous events. Often they did this by associating later miracles with previous ones. We find an instance of this phenomenon in an attempt to explain the miraculous noise which caused the Aramean camp to flee by linking it to a plague brought on the Egyptians during the exodus. The plague of hail brought by Moses on the Egyptians was accompanied by terrifying thunder. When Pharaoh pleaded with Moses for an end to the thunder and hail, Moses acceded to his request: “Leaving Pharaoh, Moses went outside the city and spread out his hands to the Lord: the thunder and the hail ceased, and no rain came pouring down on the earth.” (Exodus 9:33)

The sages noted a redundancy in this verse. This verse states both that the thunder and hail ceased and that it (literally, the rain) stopped pouring down on the earth. Since either part of the sentence would have been self-sufficient, this verse was understood to mean that these unusual phenomena were held in check in the sky for God to use at other times as needed: “’And no rain came pouring on the earth’ – God held them [the miraculous hail, thunder and rain] in check in the air. When did they fall? … In the days of [the prophet] Elisha on the Aramean camp, as it says: ‘For the Lord caused the Aramean camp to hear the sound of chariots, a sound of horses – the din of a large army.’” (adapted from Tanhuma Vaera 16)

What is gained by this strange association between the thunder which accompanied a plague against the Egyptians and the miraculous noise in the story of the lepers? It may be that the sages wanted to be frugal in the number of miracles that God performs in the world. More likely though, is that the sages wanted to link together the episodes of redemption found in Jewish history and to see all of them as linked to the great paradigm of redemption – the Exodus from Egypt, reminding us always that its meaning reverberates throughout the ages.

About This Commentary

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.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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