Na'aman's Tzara'at

This week's Haftara tells us the story of Na'aman, brigadier general of Aram, who was cured of Tzara'at by immersing himself seven times in the Jordan River, as commanded by the prophet Elisha (II Kings 5:1-19). However, in this week's Torah reading, Tazria, we read of the process by which Tzara'at is "diagnosed" and "treated" by the Cohen, a process completely d

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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
This week's Haftara tells us the story of Na'aman, brigadier general of Aram, who was cured of Tzara'at by immersing himself seven times in the Jordan River, as commanded by the prophet Elisha (II Kings 5:1-19). However, in this week's Torah reading, Tazria, we read of the process by which Tzara'at is "diagnosed" and "treated" by the Cohen, a process completely different than that which Na'aman underwent.

In addition, the Mishna (Nega'im 3:1) and the Rambam (Tum'at Tzara'at 9:1) teach us that a non-Jew cannot become impure with Tzara'at. Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch and others have gone to great lengths to explain why Tzara'at cannot be considered a contagious disease nor identified with leprosy....

Tzara'at is a spiritual disease which cannot affect a non-Jew, just as a non-Jew is not affected by other types of tum'ah (spiritual impurity). Similarly, "Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai said to them: 'Why, we see that the bones of a donkey have no tum'ah, while the bones of Yochanan the High Priest do? This shows that susceptibility to tum'ah is directly related to a higher spiritual status.'" (Mishna Yadayim 4:1). Thus, both Na'aman's affliction and the process by which he was cured are extraordinary.

[....]

Our next question relates to the statement by our sages, "Where there is no sin, there is no suffering" (Shabbat 55a; and see Moreh Nevuchim 3:24). What was Na'aman's sin? Our sages explained the text, "And the man was a great warrior, with Tzara'at," (op. cit. 5:1) as hinting that he was afflicted with Tzara'at because of his arrogance in being a military hero (Bamidbar Rabba 7:5). While lashon hara (speaking evil) is the most well-known cause of Tzara'at, the Talmud cites six other sins that also cause Tzara'at, including arrogance (see Arakhin 15b, Sefer HaChinuch 169, and the Chafetz Chaim's Introduction to the Laws of Lashon Hara).

Actually, lashon hara is the outcome of arrogance. A humble person does not look down at or speak disparagingly about others. Na'aman took credit for having killed King Achab, whereas in reality, it was a chance hit on his part (Midrash Shocher Tov, Tehillim 60). Although it was Divine Providence that guided his hand, Na'aman's victory made him so arrogant that he took captive "from Eretz Israel, a little girl, and she served Na'aman's wife." (II Kings 5:2) According to the Midrash, Na'aman was punished for not treating the Jewish Nation with respect and for making that little girl his wife's slave (Tanchuma, end of parshat Tazria; Yalkut Shimoni 127).

The Midrash goes on to compare this to what will come to pass "at the end of days, as is written, 'and this is the plague which G-d shall afflict upon all the nations.' (Zecharia 14:12) Why? Because they treated Israel arrogantly, as the verse continues, 'that have fought against Jerusalem.' (ibid.)" They dared to claim Jerusalem as theirs and tried to take it away from us.

Elisha the Prophet humbles Na'aman as he cures him. First, he commands, "Let him come to me and know that the Nation of Israel has a prophet!" (II Kings 5:8) When Na'aman comes, Elisha doesn't even come out to greet him. He merely sends him a messenger to tell him to immerse in the Jordan River. This makes Na'aman angry: "I said to myself, 'He will come out to me, and stand there and call out to G-d.'" (II Kings 5:10)

Na'aman is arrogant enough to expect Elisha to treat him with great honor. He also thinks "Amana and Parpar, rivers of Damascus, are better than all the rivers of Israel." (II Kings 5:12) He cannot understand the difference between Eretz Israel and other countries, a difference highlighted in the laws of Tzara'at, which determines that only houses in Eretz Israel can be afflicted by Tzara'at (Leviticus13:47, and commentary of Ramban). Na'aman apparently cannot understand why Elisha commands him to immerse in the Jordan, instead of praying for him, which would seem to be a more spiritual act.

Why is the Jordan different from all other rivers? (Shabbat 60b) Because it is the Jordan that determines where the border of Eretz Israel lies. If the river changes course, the borders of Eretz Israel also change regarding mitzvot hatluyot ba'aretz (the agricultural mitzvot, which pertain only in Eretz Israel - see Yerushalmi Chala 4:4)....

On the face of it, the Jordan River doesn't look any different than the rivers of Damascus. In fact, it is smaller and less impressive than most rivers. Nevertheless, it has unique spiritual qualities, and these find expression in the following strange "geographical" Midrash: "The Jordan begins at the Cave of Banias, continues on to the Sea of Sabchi, and the Sea of Tiberias, and from there it flows down into the Great Sea (the Mediterranean), and from there it flows down into the mouth of the Leviathan." (Baba Bathra 74b) The Maharal explains: The attribution of the Jordan's source to the Cave of Banias, a concealed source, hints at special mystic, spiritual qualities. It ends up in the mouth of the Leviathan, which also indicates a mysterious Divine connection. Now the rule is that only that which is external can become impure, but not that which is concealed. The Jordan River, whose extremities remain hidden, cannot be defiled. Therefore, it is fitting that Na'aman immerse in the Jordan (see Maharal, Chidushei Aggadot Al HaShas). When one connects to the inner, concealed essence, impurity disappears.

When Na'aman immerses in the Jordan, it is as if he becomes one with the river: According to Sefer HaChinuch, 173, when one immerses himself to become purified, it is as if he is reborn. "And his skin was restored, like the skin of a young boy." (II Kings 5:14) Spiritually, Na'aman was also transformed (see Gittin 57b). Our sages even considered Na'aman to be of higher spiritual status than Yitro, for Yitro said, "Now I know that G-d is greater than all other gods," (Exodus 18:11) while Na'aman said, "Now I know that there is no G-d in all the earth, but in Israel." (II Kings 5:15) He even requests permission to take home some of the earth of Eretz Israel, to build an altar and worship G-d in his own land (II Kings 5:18).We pray that soon the whole world will realize that the Divine Presence rests only upon the Nation of Israel and upon the Land of Israel.

© 1997 Ateret Cohanim - The Jerusalem Reclamation Project; All rights reserved.


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