Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Men of Men

                             Parashas Naaman [Tazria; Haftorah]
                                     The Great Man of Peace
                                          Rabbi David Katz

Elijah the Prophet led an amazingly powerful life, and concordantly, he was associated with many powerful people, many of whom achieved tremendously powerful deeds. Many are familiar with Elisha the Prophet and his miracles – for he was the primary student/servant of Elijah, and there were others as well. Yet perhaps the most powerful moments in Elijah's life were those spent running away from power, for he fled from his famous adversary Jezebel, and her husband Ahab. Many are perplexed why the Man of God didn't just bring down hell and fury on this witch of a woman, something similar to his supernatural victory over the prophets of the Baal, to which Elijah executed them all. The Zohar teaches that this was not an option for Elijah, for it would sacrilegious to profane an open hand of God, such that was not destined in the sacred name of Elijah. Thus he fled, he remained with his fiery soul and passion for God – all the way to heaven; and it is precisely only after Elijah disappears do we find his greatest invisible contemporary – The Great Man Naaman. For all that Elijah could do, and for all that was given over to his hand, it would be Ahab, the King of Israel, husband to Jezebel [she who solely lived as it seems to desire Elijah's death] who was the most elusive; only to Naaman – he was divinely delivered, and destiny was born. Elijah may not have witnessed the deeds of his greatest [distant] student knowingly, but Elisha was privy, and Elisha served as the Prophet of God, to deliver into Israel, one of the Greatest Gerim who ever lived – Naaman, he who completed the mission of Elijah, through the execution of the King of Israel. Naaman then by definition, is – was – will be the paradigm of a servant of God.

To bring greater light into this story, first lets introduce the Naaman that we all know, then send him on his marry way; only in the end can we understand his beginning – the mysterious man who killed Ahab – an open act from God, through the agency called Naaman.
Naaman is the subject of chapter 5 of Kings 1 and we meet him as a great man according to scripture; he is a general in the army, he has people very close to him, and exactly like the content of our Parasha Tazria – he suffers mysteriously from Tzaaras. The story quickly transfers from introducing Naaman and his relationship to wars and Kings, and soon in we find out that he desires to engage a Prophet of God, in order to properly treat his ailment of Tzaaras. It is then that we are introduced to Elisha the Prophet – the great servant of Elijah, and one of history's greatest moments begins to occur through the budding brotherhood of Elisha and Naaman.

Once Elisha finally finds his way to Naaman and his Tzaaras [which was the cause of Naaman's pursuit of Elisha – to heal his malady], Elisha receives miraculous counsel from Hashem, and the order is to dunk Naaman into to the Jordan River seven [***think Ger code here] times, such that this act will become miraculous, and fully restore Naaman. They did so, and upon completion of the immersion, we are quickly thrust into bearing witness to Naaman becoming a proper Ger [Toshav]. In these moments, we all become like Naaman, a sort of Red Heifer; the more we desire to become pure, the impurities surface, until ultimately, we are cleansed and delivered with a new status as a returnee to God. The analogy could not be any more perfect, for immediately after he is cleansed it would "appear" that he is about to embrace idolatry, with requests to bring back elements of the Land to his place, and align with his king who will bow to a foreign God in close approximation to Naaman!

The Torah however knows Naaman very well and his intentions, i.e. what his heart is saying, and that is the innocence not only of a Ger proper, but the Ger in all of us. Naaman is returning, and he is being real and speaking of reality; there will be challenges in his life, as plunges forward to learn to live a life with God; it doesn’t happen overnight. Thank God for Elisha, for he hears the heart of Naaman talking [as opposed to Gechazi, the servant of Elisha, who heard Naaman and thus thought to exploit Naaman] and guided him as a true brother, realizing the impurity was just the necessary means of the return to God!

Naaman went on his way, alit with the fire of the Ger, and this is the last we see or hear of Naaman and his journey. We don't know what became of him; did he stay the way? Did he make Gerim, i.e. his family, the King, etc.? Interestingly enough, there is a thread of light from this story, in that not only did Naaman stay the way, but he even elevated into a Ger Tzedek – he and his offspring. The connotation of being a Ger Tzedek on this level, as one who progresses into the Mitzvot, and has either connections to the Land or undertakes Brit Mila.

The End.

And now we can understand how this story started, and gain a bit of insight as to where Hashem is in Naaman's life. If we look at Kings I 22:34 it states, "A man of Aram drew his bow aimlessly, yet hit the King of Israel between the joints of his armor." Shortly afterwards we learn that the King of Israel died, and the archer thus had killed him. But before we become familiar with the archer, the first endeavor is to find out why Hashem allowed the hit in the first place.
Enter Elijah.

Elijah as we know had to deal with the prophets of the Baal, Jezebel, and Ahab her husband, the King, to cite a few of Elijah's biggest antagonists during his days on Earth. He succeeded with the Baal incident, God took care of Jezebel – intentionally not through the agency of Elijah, for Elijah was to take care of the Baal issue, not Jezebel. And with Ahab, Hashem told Elijah what would be post – Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah would not be given Ahab or Jezebel, for he would be summoned on high, but not until he gained a few friends, namely Elisha the Prophet. It is around this time that an archer shot a bow aimlessly into enemy territory, and miraculously struck down the King of Israel. The archer was Naaman, and he had no idea how this had just happened; but Hashem knew, and He knew the caliber of what was within Naaman.

Elijah is about to depart, and the plan of God is taking shape; Elisha is doing his part, Jezebel's number is going to be called [as she is taken out by the principles of what was laid down by God in Kings I 19:15] and Ahab is laid to rest by a renegade arrow fired by Naaman. The Torah uses the word "innocently" [Naaman shot his bow] to describe Naaman's action, and there is a principle that when using this word [Tumo in Hebrew] comes to imply that no wrong could possibly be done. One can clearly see that Hashem had big plans for Naaman and that he is a man of destiny. To conclude the prophetic series of events, Elijah's desires were brought to culmination with Ahab's death, and his efforts to restore some order in the Northern Kingdom could now commence with Ahab and Jezebel gone; fate would have it that Elijah and Naaman were forever bound by a miracle from God.

And now we know the full character of Naaman; he came and went, interacted with the Prophet of Israel, and became a Ger Toshav/Tzedek. The most interesting element however is we always assume just that – he came and went. Once we plug in Elijah and the story with Ahab – the mysterious archer comes to light, and as we know, this was a divine appointment for Naaman. We know now just a bit, as to who he was before we meet him as a man with tzaaras; an archer he may have been – but most importantly, he is a man on God's radar.

God selected Naaman before the Haftorah ever did. If we look at him not from the lens of the archer, but through the actions of God, we see that Naaman led a life of mazal and divine providence. Some would say that this was bitter sweet, for now he needs to work out the equation of how he could kill a Jew, and moreover the King of Israel. Yet on the flip side he has a deep relationship with God, and he rises to its challenge. In truth, we don't know all that much about Naaman, nor do we really have to. If we just read his character in the Torah as a mandatory and source of inspiration about Gerim [in the very least], we will probably lose interest on some level, for quickly the mind realizes "I" am Naaman, and my story entertains me more than him by default!

We are Naaman. We are returnees to God, and with Naaman we all can relate to him, his story, his journey, his life, etc. We feel the impurity as we seek purity; but most important, we all have drawn that arrow, fired it, and perceived where it has struck. Our task is to live with our providence, accept it, and realize that our path to God comes to us only from God. It is called Divine appointment, and sooner or later we fall to the hand of God; what we learn from Naaman, is that this a mission of Peace, and that is why he is associated with the mission of Elijah, for Pinchas is Elijah, and nobody knows what it is to act for God better than Pinchas [the man with the spear]. Actually, correct that, maybe Naaman did, and that is why he is a Ger Tzedek – a message that could only come from someone like Naaman, he who is defined by the Torah as a Great Man.

Shiur on Article In-Depth 11 P.M. Saturday Night Tzfat Time [we changed our clocks! - 4/5/14]

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Anonymous said...

Beautiful. Enjoyed very much.

Anonymous said...

This particular verse stands out: ||And Naaman came with his horses and with his chariots, and he stood at the doorway of Elisha's house.||

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