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Tazria is not read very often; it is either read together with Metzora, or it’s Parshat HaChodesh, but when we do read it, it’s a great story of one of Elisha’s miracles:

Linear Annotated Translation of the Haftarah of Tazria

What we learn from Na’aman’s Tzaraat: Catalyst for Change

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Tazria – Catalyst for Change

The Parsha of Tazria spends the bulk of its text on the diagnosis of the Biblical disease, Tzaraat, “leprosy.” In his summation of the Laws of the Impurity of Leprosy (16:10), the Rambam points out that the term “Tzaraat” covers so many unrelated symptoms that it cannot possibly refer to a natural malady, but is rather a supernatural phenomenon whose purpose was to cause people to reevaluate their behavior. The particular behavior that the Rambam singles out as the cause of Tzaraat is Lashon Hara, speaking in a derogatory manner about other people. A person who makes a habit of doing so will first see signs of Tzaraat on the walls of his house. If he stops his behavior, the house can be purified; if not, the house will need to be destroyed and it will affect the furniture, then the clothes, and ultimately his own skin, and he will be isolated so that he is unable to speak with anyone about anything. The purpose of all this is to shock a person into changing his behavior and the dismissive attitude that underlies it.

Whereas the Rambam focuses on Lashon Hara as the behavior that Tzaraat is meant to reverse, the Midrash lists several other behaviors and character traits that cause it. One of them is the subject of the Haftorah of Tazria.

מכאן א”ר יהודה הלוי ב”ר שלום על י”א דברים הצרעת באה על קללת השם ועל גילוי עריות ועל שפיכות דמים ועל האומר על חבירו דבר שאינו בו ועל גסות הרוח ועל הנכנס בתחום שאינו שלו ועל לשון שקר ועל הגניבות ועל שבועת שקר ועל המחלל שם שמים ועל עבודת כוכבים … ועל גסות הרוח זה נעמן שנאמר (מלכים ב ה) (ונעמן) [שר צבא מלך ארם] היה איש גדול מהו גדול שהיתה רוחו גסה מפני שהיה גבור חיל ועל ידי כך נצטרע

R’ Yehuda HaLevi bar Shalom said: Tzaraat comes for 11 things: cursing Hashem, sexual immorality, murder, speaking lies against a friend, haughtiness, entering an area that is not for you, lying, stealing, swearing falsely, desecrating the Name of Heaven, and idolatry…. “Haughtiness:” that’s Naaman, as it says: “Naaman was a great man.” What is “great?” He was haughty and full of himself because he was a strong warrior, and for that he got Tzaraat (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbba 7:5)

The Haftorah introduces Na’aman thus:

וְנַעֲמָן שַׂר צְבָא מֶלֶךְ אֲרָם הָיָה אִישׁ גָּדוֹל לִפְנֵי אֲדֹנָיו וּנְשֻׂא פָנִים כִּי בוֹ נָתַן ה’ תְּשׁוּעָה לַאֲרָם וְהָאִישׁ הָיָה גִּבּוֹר חַיִל מְצֹרָע:
Na’aman, the general of the king of Aram, was a great man at court, and highly esteemed, for through him, Hashem had given victory to Aram. The man was a great warrior, a leper.
(Melachim II 5:1)

The Haftorah then describes how this great, famous, highly esteemed general of the Aramean court visits the prophet Elisha because he had been told that Elisha can cure him of his leprosy. He appears, as befitting a person of his rank and wealth, with an entourage of carriages and servants, in front of the hovel where Elisha lives in great poverty. Yet Elisha does not show him the slightest deference. Not only does he not fawn upon Na’aman, he does not even bother to come out to greet him. He simply sends a servant with instructions to immerse seven times in the Jordan River. The Haftorah records Naaman’s reaction to this treatment:

וַיִּקְצֹף נַעֲמָן וַיֵּלַךְ וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה אָמַרְתִּי אֵלַי יֵצֵא יָצוֹא וְעָמַד וְקָרָא בְּשֵׁם ה’ אֱ-לֹהָיו וְהֵנִיף יָדוֹ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם וְאָסַף הַמְּצֹרָע: הֲלֹא טוֹב אֲמָנָה וּפַרְפַּר נַהֲרוֹת דַּמֶּשֶׂק מִכֹּל מֵימֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֲלֹא אֶרְחַץ בָּהֶם וְטָהָרְתִּי וַיִּפֶן וַיֵּלֶךְ בְּחֵמָה:
Na’aman got angry and stormed off. He said, “I had said to myself, he’s going to come out, and stand, and call in the name of Hashem his God, wave his hand over the place and the leprosy would go away. Aren’t Amana and Pharpor, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Yisrael? Can’t I bathe in them and be pure?” He turned and walked off in fury.
(Melachim II 5:11-12)

Na’aman feels that he knows what the treatment for his leprosy should be like, and what will and will not work. As a “great and highly esteemed” personage, he is sure that he knows everything there is to know, and deserves every attention and consideration, and if someone who is so clearly beneath him violates his expectations, he loses his temper and storms off.
Fortunately for Na’aman, his servants convince him that he has nothing to lose in following the prophet’s prescription, and he does immerse in the Jordan River. This concession to the possibility that there is a Greater Power is enough for his Tzaraat to be cured. Na’aman goes back to Elisha to thank him and offers him a generous honorarium. Elisha categorically refuses to accept a penny from Na’aman. One might have thought that Na’aman would be insulted by this refusal and that it would be further provocation to anger, but instead we see a remarkable shift in Na’aman’s attitude:

וַיֹּאמֶר נַעֲמָן וָלֹא יֻתַּן נָא לְעַבְדְּךָ מַשָּׂא צֶמֶד פְּרָדִים אֲדָמָה כִּי לוֹא יַעֲשֶׂה עוֹד עַבְדְּךָ עֹלָה וָזֶבַח לֵאלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים כִּי אִם לַה’
Na’aman said, “If not, then let your servant be given some earth that a pair of mules could carry. For your servant will no longer make sacrifices to other gods, except to Hashem. (Melachim II 5:18)

Na’aman, who was introduced as a “great man at court, highly respected,” who sneered at the suggestion that the Jordan River would effect a cure when the rivers of his own country would not, ends up begging for some dirt from Eretz Yisrael.
The Haftorah shows us that Tzaraat is meant to serve as a catalyst for change. If someone as proud and prejudiced as Na’aman had been can learn to see past his ego, then so can we. When we look down at other people, or seek to raise ourselves in the eyes of our friends by taking down those around us, we are guilty of haughtiness as Na’aman had been. We might not even be aware that we are being led astray by our egos. Tzaraat is a supernatural wake-up call to examine ourselves, to alter our behavior and revise our attitude before things get even worse. Tzaraat is reversible, and so are our character flaws.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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The Haftarah of Metzora is a fascinating story from Melachim, taking place during the time of the prophet Elisha

Linear Annotated Translation of the Haftarah of Metzora

As for connection to the Parsha, beyond the obvious appearance of a Metzora in both cases, we can learn one of the purposes of Tzora’at here: Outward Sign

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Metzora – Outward Sign

The Haftarah of Metzora describes the end of Aram[1]‘s siege against Shomron, the capital city of Israel. The siege had been long and cruel; right before the Haftarah begins, we learn that not only were people dying of starvation, they were fighting over who would get to eat the corpses of the children. This siege was miraculously lifted when the army of Aram suddenly ran away, leaving behind the contents of the camp and all the provisions. The Haftarah tells us that it was a group of four Metzoraim[2] who discovered that the camp was abandoned. It then goes on at length about their actions when they made this discovery:

וַיָּבֹאוּ הַמְצֹרָעִים הָאֵלֶּה עַד קְצֵה הַמַּחֲנֶה וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל אֹהֶל אֶחָד וַיֹּאכְלוּ וַיִּשְׁתּוּ וַיִּשְׂאוּ מִשָּׁם כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב וּבְגָדִים וַיֵּלְכוּ וַיַּטְמִנוּ וַיָּשֻׁבוּ וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל אֹהֶל אַחֵר וַיִּשְׂאוּ מִשָּׁם וַיֵּלְכוּ וַיַּטְמִנוּ:
These lepers came to the edge of the camp. They came into one tent; they ate and drank.
They carried away from there gold and silver and garments. They went and they hid them.
They returned and went into a different tent. They carried away from there, they went and hid them. (Melachim II 7:8)

Understandably, the first thing they do is eat the food that they find in the abandoned tents. But then, when we would have expected them to run to the city and tell everyone that the siege is over, it turns out that they have other priorities. They spend most of the night acquiring and hiding a significant hoard of valuables. Only then does it dawn upon them that it might be a good idea to pass the news of the end of the siege on to the king and to the starving people.

This story is a continuation of the Haftarah of the previous Parsha, Tazria[3] . The Haftarah of Tazria tells the following story:

A general in the army of Aram, Na’aman, has Tzara’at, and is advised to go to the prophet Elisha to be cured. Na’aman follows his instructions and is healed. He comes back to Elisha and offers him gifts to express his gratitude. Elisha refuses categorically, no matter how much Na’aman insists, no matter what he offers. In light of Elisha’s obvious poverty, this display of selflessness impresses the general, and he promises that from now on, he will worship only Hashem. This is where the Haftarah of Tazria ends, but the story, unfortunately, does not end there.
Gechazi, Elisha’s servant, cannot accept that his master let this wealthy general go away without giving them a penny. He chases down Na’aman, and tells him that his master needs just a few loaves of bread and some clothes to feed some apprentice prophets that showed up unexpectedly. Na’aman is delighted to oblige, sending two of his servants along to carry the gifts. Gechazi has the gifts brought to his house, where he hides them in a place where no one would think to look for them. Elisha confronts Gechazi, but he tells the prophet of Hashem that he didn’t go anywhere or do anything. Elisha then decrees that Gechazi will be a Metzora like the general Na’aman, along with his sons, forever[4] .

Gechazi took what he should not have taken and hid it so no one would see. In the Haftarah of Metzora, the Metzoraim ran around grabbing gold and silver and hid it so no one would see. They displayed the same self-centered, materialistic, money-grabbing attitude as Gechazi had before, and they bore the same affliction, Tzara’at. For this reason, the Midrash identifies the Metzoraim as Gechazi and his sons.

Tzara’at, the topic of Parshot Tazria and Metzora, is an outward sign of G-d’s displeasure with our actions. This particular punishment, a visible blemish on our skin, creates a situation where everyone sees that we have done something wrong. But it is not a punishment for just any sin; it is not earned by eating non kosher food or driving on Shabbat. The Midrash lists the types of behavior that the Tanach records as having been punished with Tzara’at:

על עשרה דברים נגעים באים על ע”ז ועל גילוי עריות ועל שפיכות דמים ועל חילול השם ועל ברכת השם ועל הגוזל את הרבים ועל גוזל את שאינו שלו ועל גסי הרוח ועל לשון הרע ועל עין רע,
These diseases come for ten things: for idolatry, for forbidden relations, for murder, for desecrating G-d’s Name, for cursing G-d, for embezzling from public funds, for stealing a position he does not deserve, for haughtiness, for Lashon Hara, and for refusing to let other people benefit from your possessions. (Midrash Vayikra Rabba Metzora 17:3)

The sins on this list[5] share a theme. These are actions that express an attitude of selfishness and entitlement. Moreover, the people who do these things pretend that they will not be caught. They expect that no one will ever know the source of their immoral gains. But G-d knows, and the punishment of Tzara’at exposes their corruption to the world.
Gechazi had been the servant of the prophet Elisha, called “the Man of G-d” by the Tanach and by the people of Israel. He was himself a prophet in training, next in line to bear that title and represent G-d to the people. One can imagine that he acted and dressed and spoke like his master, and that people assumed that he himself was a holy Man of G-d. His actions with Na’aman showed that he was none of those things. For years, Gechazi had been able to hide his character under a cloak of holiness and piety, but no longer. Elisha’s curse of Tzora’at exposed him as the self-centered crook that he was.

The Parsha of Metzora teaches us that Tzara’at is potentially a short-term condition. There is a purification process, and one goes back to life. Thus, Tzara’at is meant to serve as a lesson to the individual, to allow him to adjust his character to be in line with his outward appearance of holiness and piety.

Gechazi’s Tzara’at was different; it would not go away and would not heal. We see from his selfish behavior at the camp of Aram that Tzara’at did not motivate him to change his character. Had it done so, had he learned to not put himself first at the expense of other people, then perhaps it would have faded in time. But as long as it remains, at least people would no longer expect him to be a person they could trust or admire.

Tzara’at serves as an outward sign, a visible mark that says: “Do not be misled; this person is not what he appears. He does not serve G-d; he serves himself.”

PDF for printing, 2 pages A4

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

[1] At this time, Israel and Aram, its neighbor to the north, are in a state of ongoing conflict, and Aram has the upper hand.

[2] Since it is not exactly medical leprosy, but a spiritual disease with similar symptoms, we will call it by its Torah name. The disease is “Tzara’at”, and a person afflicted with it is a “Metzora”; plural, “Metzoraim”.

[3] Tazria is usually either Shabbat HaChodesh or combined with Metzora, and is read very rarely.

[4] Elisha has a reputation for being a warmer, more accessible version of his master Eliyahu, but frankly, based on the majority of his stories, he is not a person you would want to make angry.

[5] The first 3 do not seem to belong on this list, as they are cardinal sins and have much bigger punishments. It would be very interesting to analyze the sources given as proofs by the Midrash and figure out why they are even on this list, but it is outside the scope of this work.

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