Tazria – Extremes Under Distress

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Important note: This week’s haftorah is read for Shabbos HaChodesh but the dvar Torah is taken from the normal haftorah for the Torah portion of Tazria.
This week’s Haftorah has an obvious connection to the Torah portion of Tazria, which discusses the spiritual ailment of tzaraas The haftorah discusses Na’aman, the general of Aram, who according to the Ralbag had the physical ailment of leprosy, as it says, “Now Naaman, the general of the king of Aram, was a prominent man before his lord and respected, for through him had the Lord given victory to Aram; and the man was a great warrior, and he was a leper… And the letter came to the king of Israel, saying, ‘And now, when this letter comes to you, behold I have sent Naaman my servant to you, and you shall cure him of his leprosy’” (Melachim Beis 5:1, 6). The Ralbag on pasuk 6 describes the ailment of Na’aman as a physical disorder that can have many etiologies, for example heat which irritates the skin in a very severe way causing leprosy to form which is quite painful.

Elisha the man of G-D, a student of Eliyahu HaNavi, heard that the King of Aram sent a letter to the King of Israel to heal Na’aman and he volunteered to heal him. Na’aman went to Elisha’s house. “And Elisha dispatched a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go and immerse yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored to you, and you will become clean.’ Now Naaman became incensed, and he went away, and he said, ‘Here I thought that he would come out to see me, and he would stand and call in the name of Hashem his God, and he would raise his hand to The Place and cure the leper.’ Are not Amanah and Parpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Will I not immerse myself in them and become clean?” And he turned and went away in anger. And his servants approached and spoke to him and said, ‘Master, if the prophet spoke to you to do a difficult thing, would you not do it? And surely since he said to you, immerse yourself and become clean’” (Pesukim 10-13 there.) Na’aman finally listened to the advice of Elisha and was healed; his skin was as smooth as that of a young child. He was so impressed that he repented from his previous way of life and committed himself to the belief and faith of Hashem, The Almighty!

The Ralbag explains Na’aman’s original disbelief and how he was swayed. Elisha told him to dip in the Jordan River 7 times, but Na’aman thought that Elisha would just raise his hands towards Hashem, make some sort of supplication, and he would be cured. Na’aman thought that what Elisha asked him to do was ridiculous because he bathed in other rivers like Amanah and Parpar, the rivers of Damascus, and had not yet been cured. Only after his servants gently approached him with respect and pointed out that if the prophet would have told you to do some major thing you would have done it to be healed, so now that he is telling you to do some minor thing to be healed, like this, just washing in the Jordan 7 times, then you should just listen to his words. He did, and the rest is history; he was healed and became a strong supporter of Hashem. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Why didn’t Na’aman obey Elisha’s simple guidance to begin with? Based on his servant’s analysis, which seems to have been true, he would have done something a lot more complex, like elect to have intricate surgery or do whatever would have to be done to find a cure. Even if it would mean milking a lioness, going to some other far off and dangerous place to find a certain herb, throw in some other bitter or spicy ingredients and drink it, he would have still done that; so why did he refuse to just listen to Elisha’s advice, what would it hurt? He even made up an excuse that it would not work. If he thought that just praying to Hashem and Elisha waving his hands would poof, just work to cure his illness, then maybe Elisha knew that the Jordan River had special healing waters or would trigger some miracle from Hashem. Why doubt it just because other waters didn’t work, even if he felt they were better?

It would seem though that when a person is in distress as Na’aman was it is human psychology to think in extremes, and even to go so far as to make up excuses to not listen to the obvious advice people give, until someone can focus him/her and show him/her that sometimes the simple, middle of the road solution is the best way to go.

Na’aman was only willing to accept two extremes, either he do absolutely nothing and Elisha would do all the work to elicit Hashem to cure him, or he would have to do something complex to be cured. It didn’t dawn on him that it could be anything else, even when he was instructed to do something as simple as just dip seven times in the Jordan River. And when he was told to, the idea sounded so foreign to him hat he even made up seemingly logical justifications as to why it should not work. Only after his servants gently pointed out that there was no harm in trying to do what the prophet said to do, then everything clicked, and it was worth giving a try.

It’s important to be aware that it’s basic human psychology to think in extremes when under duress, so that we can act accordingly and help others focus to resolve an issue with clarity of mind and be more willing to entertain the advice that others offer which seem to be a compromise of the two extremes.

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