Avraham ben Yaakov


At the height of the murderous famine in Shomron, with the king of Israel 's envoy standing at Elisha's door with instructions to kill him as if he was responsible, the prophet announces that by the same time tomorrow there will be a complete turnabout, with cheap flour in abundance for the people and even cheaper barley for their animals. On hearing this, the king's foremost aide cynically expresses total disbelief, at which Elisha prophecies that the aide will see it with his eyes but not eat (v 2). This is how God pays "measure for measure": since the king's officer did not believe that God had the power to send a miracle, he would not have any benefit from it, and indeed, as we learn at the end of the chapter, he was trampled to death by a stampede of starving people surging forward to get food (vv 17-20).

"And there were four men - lepers - at the entrance of the gate" (v 3). According to tradition, these were Gehazi, who had been cursed with leprosy by Elisha, together with his three sons, who were afflicted because they had complicity in their father's embezzlement since they knew about it (RaDaK on II Kings 5:27). They were at the gate, just outside the city, as it is written, "he [the leper] shall sit alone outside the camp" (Lev. 13:46; Rashi on v 3).

They realized that if they were to stay there by the besieged city they would die of starvation, whereas if they were to go over to the camp of the Aramean besiegers there was a chance they might survive. From this the rabbis learned that a person living in a city struck by famine should get up and leave even if it is not certain that he will survive elsewhere (Bava Kama 60b). When Gehazi and his sons came to the Aramean camp, they discovered that all the Aramean forces had fled, abandoning their tents, horses, donkeys and all their food and wealth. This was because God had "played with their minds", making them hear sounds of a great army, which they imagined must be Hittites and Egyptians hired by the Israelites against them.

King Jehoram could not believe that the Arameans had simply fled and feared that they wanted to lure his forces out of the city into an ambush. However, he was persuaded to send a small force to check, because even if the force were to be killed by the Arameans, they would be no worse off than those left in Shomron, who would in any case die of famine. The reconnaissance party discovered that the Arameans had indeed fled east of the Jordan in total disarray. The starving inhabitants were able to come out of Shomron to the Aramean camp and take food for themselves and their animals in unbelievable abundance, just as Elisha had prophesied, while the king's aide, who had expressed his disbelief, witnessed the miracle but lost his life in the rush for food.

Verses 3-20 of this chapter are the Haftara of Parshas Metzora (Lev. 14:1-15:33) dealing with the laws of purification from leprosy.


Even miracles of such an order did not persuade King Jehoram of Israel to change his path, and Elisha now prophesied that God had called for seven years of famine to chastise the hearts of the Israelites. Elisha sent the righteous Shunemite woman, whose son he had revived, together with her entire household to dwell in the territory of the Philistines. According to the rabbis, in the first year of the famine, the Israelites who remained in their own territories ate everything they had left in their homes. In the second year they ate everything left in their fields. In the third year they ate the meat of their kosher animals, in the fourth year, they ate the meat of their unkosher animals. In the fifth year they ate the meat of mice and rats and such like; in the sixth year, they ate their sons and daughters, and in the seventh year they ate the flesh of their own arms (Taanis 5a).

These chastisements obviously moved something in Jehoram's heart since after the seven years we find him asking Gehazi to tell him about the miracles performed by his master Elisha (v 4). Just as Gehazi started talking about how Elisha had revived the Shunemite woman's son, there she was with her son! She had come to the king to complain that in her absence, robbers had taken over her house and fields. The rabbis commented that her sudden appearance just as Gehazi started talking about her came to prevent him from saying any more, because God does not like to hear praise from the mouths of the wicked (Vayikra Rabbah). Gehazi was punished because he referred to Elisha by name (v 5) instead of respectfully saying "my master" (Sanhedrin 100a).

King Jehoram restored the woman's property, showing that he was fair-minded. But fair-mindedness alone was not sufficient for a king of Israel , who was supposed to lead his people to faith in the One God. This was why Elisha immediately went to Damascus , where his mission was to anoint a king over Aram who would be far more cruel to Israel than the present king, Ben Haddad. The rabbis say that another reason for Elisha's visit to Damascus was to try to bring Gehazi to repent. Gehazi had gone there to seek out Na'aman and ask him for some big favor in return for having taken on his leprosy. Far worse, Gehazi had "dropped out" of Torah, using the occult arts he must have learned in the school of Elisha to make Jeraboam's golden calf appear to hang in mid-air (through the use of some kind of magnet effect), and carving a sacred name in its mouth to make it say the first two of the Ten Commandments: "I am." and "You shall have no other gods besides Me." (Exodus 20:2-3). Gehazi told Elisha that he had heard from him that one who sins and makes others sin is not given the possibility of repenting, and he therefore declined his overtures (Sotah 47a).

It was because of such stubbornness on the part of the Israelites that Elisha had to appoint a new king over Aram who would be a far harsher "rod of chastisement". This was Haza-el, and his anointment by Elisha was in fulfillment of the prophecy sent to his master Elijah years earlier when the latter had begged God to revoke his ministry (I Kings 19:15). The present king of Aram , Ben-Haddad, was seriously ill, and on hearing of Elisha's presence in his capital, sent Haza-el to "consult the oracle" - Ben-Haddad well knew of Elisha's outstanding prophetic powers. In his cryptic prophecy to Haza-el, Elisha hinted that he himself would kill his master and take over the throne (RaDaK on v 10). Elisha wept over the evil that Haza-el would later perpetrate against Israel as their rod of chastisement. When Haza-el returned to the sick Ben Haddad, it would appear (although the text is somewhat ambiguous) that it was he who took a thick blanket steeped in cold water and placed it over the king's face - ostensibly to cool his fever but actually to chill him or suffocate him to death (RaDaK on v 15).

The war that Haza-el stirred up against Israel (v 28) was to prove the undoing not only of the House of Ahab but also of the king of Judah , as we shall see in the ensuing chapters. Thus our text now moves back to the House of Judah, telling of the reign of Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat (vv 16-24) and that of his son Ahaziahu (vv 25-29). Both of these two kings of Judah were literally married into the House of Ahab: Jehoshaphat had been married to the daughter of Omri king of Israel , Ahab's sister. Jehoshaphat had married his son Jehoram off to Ahab's wicked daughter Athalia (who is described in v 26 as the daughter of Omri but was actually his grand-daughter), and thus Ahaziahu king of Judah was Ahab's son-in-law and brother-in-law of Jehoram king of Israel .

The marriage alliance of the kings of Judah with the House of Ahab was originally intended as a form of "outreach" to bring the kingdom of the Ten Tribes back under the hegemony of the House of David, but it did not in fact bring the kings of Israel to repentance. [Similarly the "alliance" of the establishment rabbinate of Israel and the religious political parties with the secular Zionists who control the country has not brought the latter nearer to the Torah but if anything has served only to give them legitimacy without actually changing them.]

Judah was sliding deeper into sin, yet God did not want to destroy them for the sake of David His servant (v 19). Nevertheless more and more troubles were breaking out on every side. It was in the reign of Jehoram king of Judah that the Edomites rebelled after eight reigns in which they had remained subject to Judah (v 20, see Rashi). Jehoram's son King Ahaziahu together with his brother-in-law Jehoram king of Israel went out to war against the Arameans (v 28) and they got a heavy beating (v 29). It was Ahaziahu's sick visit to his wounded brother-in-law King Jehoram that led to his downfall together with the downfall of the House of Ahab, as we will read in the following chapters.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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