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Tzara’at and Divine Providence

In the Midrash quoted earlier, the question is also asked why specifically Gehazi was afflicted with tzara'at, and this is the answer given there:
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Parshat Tazria 5784

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

This week’s Torah portion, “Tazria,” mainly deals with the laws regarding the Metzora – a person afflicted with a unique skin disease called Tzara’at, which appears as a result of certain sins, and the methods of examination and spiritual treatment he receives from the Kohen for this ailment.

The tzara’at in question is not a regular skin disease. It is merely a minor blemish on the skin. If the Torah had not singled out the metzora, he could have continued his normal life routine. The only reason the Torah refers to tzara’at as a disease is that it is considered a punishment for sin. In “Tosefta” (a compilation of early rabbinic teachings), it is said: “Tzara’at comes only to the arrogant.” If a person behaves with arrogance, pride, and corruption, he is symbolically punished with the affliction of tzara’at, which requires him to undergo spiritual-moral purification.

One of the cases described in the Bible regarding tzara’at is read in the Haftarah – a passage from the Prophets read in synagogue on Shabbat after the Torah reading. It is the story of Gehazi, the servant of the prophet Elisha.

In the Book of Kings, we read about a man named Naaman, who was the army commander of the kingdom of Aram, and in addition, he was a metzora. The sages in the Midrash “Bamidbar Rabbah” ask why Naaman was afflicted with tzara’at, and they answer: “Because he had a haughty spirit.”

Tzara’at troubled Naaman, but he had no way to deal with the problem. An Israelite girl who was captured by the Arameans was in his house and advised him to turn to the prophet in the city of Samaria, none other than Elisha the prophet. When Naaman came to Samaria, he turned to the king of Israel asking to be healed of his tzara’at, but the king was at a loss. He had no cure for Naaman’s tzara’at. When Elisha heard this, he sent for Naaman and instructed him to do something very simple: to immerse himself seven times in the Jordan River. By doing so, Elisha promised him, he would be healed of his tzara’at.

Naaman initially doubted Elisha’s words, but decided to try the advice, and to his great surprise, he was indeed healed of his tzara’at. Naaman returned to Elisha and wanted to give him gifts, but Elisha flatly refused. His purpose was for Naaman, the foreign army commander, to recognize the G-d of Israel and not think that the prophet was a sorcerer acting on his own. Indeed, Naaman accepted the message and declared to Elisha that from now on, he would worship only the G-d of Israel and not worship idols.

However, for Gehazi, who was Elisha’s servant, it was difficult to accept the renunciation of gifts. He chased after Naaman’s chariot and asked him – in Elisha’s name! – to give gifts, like silver and two changes of clothes, ostensibly for two young men who had just arrived at Elisha’s place. Naaman gave him twice what he asked for, and Gehazi put the items in his house. But Elisha understood what had happened, and he told Gehazi that the tzara’at that was on Naaman would come upon him, and indeed, Gehazi immediately became afflicted with tzara’at.

In the Midrash quoted earlier, the question is also asked why specifically Gehazi was afflicted with tzara’at, and this is the answer given there:

Elisha sanctified the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, as he did not want to take anything from Naaman, and Gehazi pursued him and swore falsely to him that he sent (- Elisha) to ask him for money – this is considered as desecrating the name of Heaven that Elisha sanctified.

Elisha refused to accept gifts from Naaman, thereby sanctifying the name of Heaven. He showed Naaman that he was not a sorcerer acting in exchange for payment, but a prophet of G-d. In doing so, he caused Naaman to believe in the G-d of Israel and to change his attitude towards the people of Israel. But Gehazi went and spoiled that. He told Naaman that Elisha wanted to receive payment from him, and therefore, he was afflicted with tzara’at.

When we read such a story or learn the laws of tzara’at in the Torah, it seems very distant from our daily reality. Nowadays, we are not familiar with the tzara’at mentioned in the Bible, and in general, we do not experience such direct Divine Providence. Nevertheless, reading such a story leads us to search for the hidden hints of Providence. Judaism believes that G-d does not abandon man, and even if Providence is not revealed, it exists in a hidden dimension and affects the course of a person’s life.

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