Haftarah Parshat Tazriah-Metzroah
(2 Kings 7:3-20)
April 13, 2013
3 Iyar 5773
This week’s haftarah opens with the story of four anonymous leprous men (mitzoraim) who ultimately turn out to be the heroes of the story. The anonymity of these characters was not relevant to the biblical story but it apparently bothered some of the rabbinic sages who read this story, as indicated in a Talmudic passage which identifies these lepers with Gehazi, the servant of the prophet and miracle worker, Elisha. This association is an example of the rabbinic tendency to associate unknown characters with better known characters to better integrate them into the larger biblical saga as they saw it.
What precipitated this identification? In a previous story (2 Kings 5), Elisha had healed Naaman, an Aramean general, of leprosy. When Naaman offered payment for the miracle, Elisha refused to accept it. After Naaman had left, Gehazi ran after him and took payment for himself. When Elisha found out, he chastised and cursed Gehazi: “’Did not my spirit go along when a man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this a time to take money in order to buy clothing and olive groves and vineyards, sheep and oxen, and male and female slaves? Surely the leposy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever?’ And as [Gehazi] left, he was snow white with leprosy.” (25-26) From this story, Rabbi Yochanan derives that the anonymous lepers found in the story in our haftarah (chapter 7) are none other than Gehazi and his sons. (Adapted from Sotah 47a)
What became of Elisha on account of this episode? The Talmud records that Elisha was punished with illness for “pushing Gehazi away with both hands”. Why? Because this behavior contradicted the rabbinic principle that a sinner should never be totally rejected: “Always let the left hand push away and the right hand draw near.” Do not act like Elisha who pushed Gehazi away with both his hands.” (Ibid.)
The Talmud records that later on Elisha tried to correct his action and bring Gehazi to penitence but by this time it was too late: “’And Elisha came to Damascus’ (2 Kings 8:7) – why did he go there? – R. Johanan said: He went to induce Gehazi to repent but he refused. Elisha said to Gehazi: ‘Repent’; but he replied: ‘Didn’t I learn from you that whoever sinned and caused others to sin is incapable of penitence?’”. (Ibid.)
In this passage, the Talmud has managed to integrate the story from this week’s haftarah into the larger story of the prophet Elisha. In doing so, it managed not only to provide an identity for some previously anonymous characters, but also managed to teach us through the prophet Elisha, a very valuable lesson. We must always take great care in how we treat others, even wrongdoers, because we always want to leave open the opportunity to reestablish ties and for repentance. Too many souls have been lost to Elisha’s mistaken approach. The Talmud was aware of his errors and reproached him accordingly.