M’lochim II 4:5
This week’s haftorah reveals to us an incredible lesson about the favor of punishment. The story revolves around a pagan general who merited the experience of an open miracle from the hand of Hashem. Naaman, a high ranking officer of Aram was stricken with a severe case of leprosy. His young Jewish maid servant, abducted from her people, advised Naaman to visit the prophet Elisha for a cure. Naaman approached the king of Aram who dispatched a letter to the king of Israel requesting that he treat Naaman’s leprosy. The prophet Elisha was contacted who immediately summoned Naaman to appear before him.
When Naaman arrived he received a message regarding his remedy. He was shocked to discover the prophet’s prescription for leprosy, bathing seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman was insulted by the lack of respect shown to a general of his capacity and infuriated by the simplicity of the prophet’s suggestion. After emphatically deciding to return home he reluctantly followed the advice of his servants and consented to immerse himself in the Jordan waters. Miraculously, his flesh was healed and even returned to the texture of a youngster. Naaman went directly to the prophet and proclaimed that there is no power in the world outside of Hashem. Before parting, Naaman loaded his mules with earth from the land of Israel in order to construct in Aram an altar for Hashem.
It is quite interesting to follow this episode as we are left greatly perplexed by it. We ask ourselves, why did Naaman deserve this miracle and what lesson can we learn from it? To begin, we refer to the insight of the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 7:5) which explains the cause of Naaman’s leprosy. Chazal teach us that leprosy is sent in response to one’s haughtiness and cite Naaman as their proof. In support, they quote the following passage from this week’s haftorah, “And Naaman was a great man and highly recognized because through his efforts Hashem saved Aram.” (5:1) Chazal understand the title “great man” to refer to his haughtiness and explain that Naaman’s perception of himself was far out of proportion.
Hashem responded to this attitude and reduced Naaman’s ego through a plague of leprosy. He began his path of humility when he was compelled to follow the advice of his Jewish maid servant. Although, he consented to make the trip to the prophet for a remedy he anticipated a royal welcome, as the king’s general. He was further humbled after the prophet summoned him and didn’t even extend him the courtesy of a personal encounter. He found himself even further humbled when he followed the advice of his servants who pleaded with him to respect the prophet’s prescription of immersion. Finally, after repeatedly lowering himself into the water, he was totally humbled. and worthy of Hashem’s favor and miracle, the removal of his leprosy.
But the story doesn’t end here and we are intrigued by Naaman’s response to this experience. He bends down and collects the dirt under the prophet’s feet to erect a permanent altar to Hashem (see Abarbanel 5:17) We have now witnessed Naaman’s total reversal, from abhorrent haughtiness to total subjugation. Not surprisingly, we discover a most impressive result from this turnabout. The Baal Haturim (Shmos 28:9) relates that Naaman developed a very close relationship with Hashem and, in fact, merited that his offsprings embraced the Jewish religion, becoming leading Torah scholars. Naaman’s experience teaches us to appreciate Hashem’s punishment and to realize the hidden blessing inside of it. Naaman’s leprosy served its purpose well and became a powerful vehicle to teach him the value of humility. He followed his road signs properly and learned his lesson well. The result of his obedience, albeit reluctant, was an unbelievable recognition of Hashem which ultimately yielded the highly coveted privilege of true prominent Torah scholars as his offsprings.
This lesson is very helpful to us when reading about the plight of the leper. It helps us realize that the leper’s predicament is not a punishment, but rather an opportunity. In addition to forcing the leper to correct his ways, his predicament can actually become a catalyst for increased spiritual heights. From the leper we learn that Hashem’s punishment can ultimately serve to develop a stronger relationship with Him and bring us to unforeseen greatness.