II Kings – Chapter 5

Want to see something kind of cool?

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Naaman was a general in Aram, but he had tzaraas (a skin condition that for simplicity’s sake we’ll translate as leprosy, even though it’s not exactly the same). Naaman’s wife had a Jewish servant girl, who suggested that Elisha might be able to cure him. Naaman approached the king of Aram, who wrote Naaman a letter of introduction to Yehoram, king of Israel. Naaman brought with him silver, gold and clothes.

When Yehoram got the letter asking him to have Naaman cured, he was worried that Aram was merely seeking a pretext to go to war. Elisha heard about Naaman and sent word to the king that he should sent Naaman to him so that he’ll know there’s a prophet in Israel.

Elisha instructed Naaman to bathe seven times in the Jordan and he would be healed. Naaman scoffed at this. “We have better rivers in Damascus and they haven’t cured me!” Naaman’s servant said to him, “If the prophet told you to do a difficult thing, wouldn’t you have listened? This is so easy, it’s at least worth a shot!” So Naaman bathed in the Jordan. Not only was he cured of his leprosy, his skin was completely rejuvenated, like a young boy’s.

Naaman returned to Elisha and offered him the riches he had brought, but Elisha declined. Naaman pressed him to take a gift, but Elisha stood firm.

“Well, I’m asking YOU for a gift,” said Naaman. “Please let me load my caravan with the earth of the Holy Land so that I can build an altar. From now on, I will only worship Hashem and no other god.” (Naaman stipulated that, when the king of Aram would take him to worship his gods, he would have to let the king think he was doing so. Elisha told him not to worry about it; a Jew would not be permitted to do so, but it was okay for Naaman.)

Naaman departed. It was at this point that Gechazi revealed his true colors. He thought it was foolish of Elisha to let all that treasure get away and he resolved to get some of it. He ran after Naaman and said, “Elisha sent me. We just got some guests. Could you send a talent of silver and two sets of clothes?” (A talent is about 150 lbs.) “Please, take TWO talents of silver,” Naaman insisted, so Gechazi did. He hid his ill-gotten gain and sent his attendants away.

The problem with working for a prophet is that they know things. If you think you can sneak around behind their backs, forget about it! Elisha asked Gechazi where he had gone and Gechazi said, “Nowhere.” Elisha was livid. He had refused payment in order to sanctify G-d’s Name, which Gechazi had now desecrated. He cursed Gechazi and his descendants with Naaman’s leprosy.

After this incident, Gechazi only got worse; the Mishna in Sanhedrin (10:2) lists him as one of the people who forfeited their share in the World to Come. Nevertheless, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 107b) criticizes Elisha for rebuking Gechazi too harshly, discouraging repentance. This was the cause of the second illness Elisha had. (Refer back to the incident with the bears in chapter 2.)

Now, we promised to show you something kind of cool; here it is: We know that Torah is the blueprint of the universe. Everything that ever will be can be found somewhere in the Torah if one knows where to look. Allusions to future events, such as Chanukah and Purim, are famous examples of this phenomenon. So, where can we find an allusion to Naaman in the Torah?

In Hebrew, the name Naaman starts and ends with the letter Nun. There are only three verses in the Torah that start and end with Nun: Leviticus 13:9 (“If a person has leprosy, they should be brought to a Kohein”), Numbers 32:32 (“We will cross armed before G-d to Canaan and take our inheritance across the Jordan”), and Deuteronomy 18:15 (“G-d will raise a prophet like me from among you – to him you shall listen”). It’s interesting to note that the only three verses that start and end with the same letter as Naaman’s name refer to leprosy, the Jordan, and a prophet – all key features in the story of Naaman!

Make of that what you will…

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