Avraham ben Yaakov
II KINGS CHAPTER 5
The last few verses of the previous chapter (I Kings 4:42-44) together with the first 18 verses of the present chapter are the Haftara of Parshas Tazria (Lev. 12:1-13:59), most of which deals with the laws of TZORA'AS ("leprosy").
The salvation that God had given to Aram through Na'aman was that he had been the archer who innocently shot King Ahab at the battle of Ramoth Gil'ad (I Kings 22:34; Rashi ad loc.). As a result of his military distinction, Na'aman became arrogant (Bamidbar Rabah 7) and was afflicted with TZORA'AS, a skin and hair affliction that is a manifestation on the surface of the body of the inner flaws of the soul. An Israelite girl taken captive by a band of Aramean marauders was telling her mistress that her husband could surely be cured by visiting the wonder-Rebbe miracle worker, Elisha the Prophet. (His name, EL YISHA, means "God will save").
The king of Aram now sends to Jehoram king of Israel saying "Heal my captain" - which is somewhat as if a present-day Iranian leader were to send a message to the Israeli prime minister saying, "We will nuclear bombard your country unless you heal Mr X". King Jehoram - a complex character who was perhaps nearer to source than the present-day Israeli prime minister - rent his very garments in despair: how could he personally turn to Elisha, even though he knew God did miracles for him? Jehoram was too ashamed to ask the prophet to pray, knowing that he himself would not listen to him and stop worshiping Jeraboam's golden calves (RaDaK on v 7).
Elisha now sanctified the Name of Heaven through the miraculous healing of Na'aman. The latter was expecting Elisha to come out like a white-robed guru and wave his hand to heal him. However the way the Tzaddik actually healed him was by giving him a simple piece of advice - to bathe seven times in the River Jordan. The advice of the Tzaddik is so easy but yet so hard!!! Na'aman was insulted, considering the Amanah and Parpar rivers much better. RaDaK (on v 12), cites a comment in the name of his father that Na'aman was saying he already washed every day. In modern terms, he felt he was scrupulously hygienic and couldn't understand how merely washing in the River Jordan had the power to remove the inner moral filth that lay behind the deceptive appearance of his impeccable exterior bodily cleanliness.
After the miracle, Na'aman wanted to "pay", but Elisha adamantly refused: to have accepted "payment" for God's miracle would have been a terrible HILLUL HASHEM, "Desecration of the Name", which would have undermined the entire KIDDUSH HASHEM Elisha had brought about. Na'aman asked to be given two mule-loads of holy earth from the Land of Israel in order to build an altar to God in his home city. (Although it is forbidden for an Israelite or sacrifice anywhere except on the Temple Altar in Jerusalem , it is permitted for a Noahite to offer animal sacrifice to God elsewhere if it is performed in the correct way according to Torah law.)
The negative side of Elisha's NA'AR - his "attendant" or, in modern terms, his GABBAI - has already appeared in ch 4 v 27, when he tried to push the Shunamite woman away from Elisha when she came to beg him to intercede on behalf of her son. It is said that when Elisha told him to hurry on ahead without talking to anyone in order to lay the prophet's staff on the boy, Gehazi showed the staff to all passers-by, cynically asking if it really had the power to resurrect the child.
Now the appetite for wealth overcame him, which unfortunately tends to happen among certain Gabba'im whose eyes pop out at the vast wealth they see in many pockets of the world outside of the Torah kingdom - wealth that owing to the selfishness of many of its owners rarely percolates within the Torah community to ease the economic plight of its Torah scholars. Taking money from Na'aman for Elisha's miracle under false pretences (v 22) and then hiding it away for himself (v 24) was an outrageous HILLUL HASHEM, which was the very opposite of what Elisha wanted, and this is why through the mystery of exchanges and payment for everything, he "transferred" the TZORA'AS of Na'aman on to Gehazi so that he would no longer be able to keep the blemishes of his soul hidden.
Chapter 6 continues narrating the miracles of Elisha. The occasion for the first one told here - making metal float on water (vv 1-7) - was the planned expansion of Elisha's Beis Midrash ("study hall"), which was necessary because Gehazi's way had been to drive students away, while after his rejection by Elisha many students arrived making the classroom cramped (Rashi on v 1). Some students had gone to the Jordan to cut down wood for the expansion project when the metal head of the borrowed axe of one of them fell off its handle into the water. This was a disaster for the impecunious student, who did not have the money to pay. Asking to see the place where it happened, Elisha cut a piece of wood and with supernatural ingenuity cast it under the water, where it entered into the hole in the axe-head where the handle fitted and thereafter floated up to the surface bringing the axe-head with it. The reason why Elisha could not use the existing wooden handle is that for miracles to happen, there has to be something new (RaDaK on v 6).
The next miracle (vv 8ff) took place when Elisha repeatedly gave King Jehoram advance information about planned Aramean marauder incursions into his territory without the use of satellite pictures, phone tapping, listening devices etc. but purely through prophetic clairvoyance to the point where, as one of his servants (Na'aman?) told the king of Aram, "Elisha the prophet that is in Israel will tell the king of Israel the things you say in your bedroom" (v 12). Examples of similar kinds of RU'AH HAKODESH, "holy spirit", are told in the case of outstanding Tzaddikim like Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai (in Zohar), the ARI (in Shevachey HaAri), the Baal Shem Tov (in Shevachey HaBesht) and Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (in Chayey Moharan/Tzaddik) etc. In our own generations many stories about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Baba Sali and other great Tzaddikim attest to their foreknowledge of dangers to individuals and communities as well as their ability to see things in other parts of this world and in many other worlds.
Elisha's "leaks" so infuriated the king of Aram that he sent troops to capture him. Seeing the Aramean forces surrounding the town of Dothan , where Elisha was visiting, terrified his attendant - until the prophet assured him that "more are they who are with us than those who are with them" (v 16). As in the case of stories of how the Baal Shem Tov and other Tzaddikim would sometimes open the eyes of some of those around them to the worlds they themselves could apprehend, Elisha asked God to open the attendant's eyes so that he could see the "horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (v 17).
Rather than praying that the Aramean squadron should just drop dead, Elisha asked that they should be struck with a "blindness" which enabled him to hypnotically direct them away from himself in the small town of Dothan until they came bang into the center of the capital city, Shomron, where they were naturally greatly outnumbered by the Israelite forces on their home territory. Seeing the captured Aramean squadron in his capital city, King Jehoram was ready to kill them, but Elisha would not allow this, telling him instead to feed and water the captives and send them home - so that they could tell everyone about the miracle.
This brought the period of mere Aramean marauding to a close (v 23), convincing them that more serious measures were called for against the stubborn Israelites. "And Ben-Haddad king of Aram gathered all his camp" - this was a major mobilization - "and laid siege to Shomron" (v 24). The terrible famine that ensued in Shomron brought things to the stage where the curses Moses had called down upon those who rebel against the Torah (Deut. 28:53) were actually fulfilled when the most refined of women were reduced to eating their own children (our chapter vv 28-9). Hearing this greatly shocked King Jehoram, who rent his garments and put on sackcloth (v 30) - and went on, like today's HILONIM ("the secular"), to blame all his problems on the Torah community as embodied in its leader, Elisha son of Shaphat (="he judged"). [In present-day Israel they blame everything on R. Eliashiv.] The furious king now sends a squadron to go and put a quick end to the prophet, but Elisha - who has perfect foreknowledge of the advancing contingent - tells his students to block their way, leaving us at the end of Chapter 6 with a "cliff-hanger" wondering what is going to happen next.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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