Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Parshas Tazria-Metzorah 5777

The Fall of Gehazi, Servant of Elisha

In the beginning of the Mishneh Torah, the Rambam describes the line of transmission of the Oral Law. We find in that line the prophet Achijah the Shilonite, followed by Elijah, followed by Elisha and then followed by Yehoyada the Priest. However, we also know that Elisha had a servant named Gehazi and just like Elisha served Elijah and succeeded him, it stands to reason that  Gehazi would be the successor of Elisha. But what we find is that instead of being the successor of Elisha, he is listed the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:2) among four commoners who lost their share in the World to Come. How did that happen?

There are five places on the Book of Kings that we encounter Gehazi. The first place is in the Haftorah of Parshas Vayera (II Kings 4) in the context of the story of the woman from Shunam who had a son that died and was brought back to life by Elisha (the Zohar writes that this child became was the prophet Habbakuk). Gehazi played a pivotal role within this story by first letting Elisha know that she had no son so Elisha can ask for a her to have a son, and then when her son passed away, Elisha sent Gehazi with his staff to try to revive the child. That didn't work and Elisha ended up resurrecting the child by himself.

The second place where we find Gehazi is in the Haftorah of Parshas Tazria (II Kings 4:42-5:19) which describes the story of general of Aram named Naaman, who was sick with tzaraas and went to Elisha to get healed. After Elisha told Naaman to submerse himself in the Jordan seven times, he was healed and came back offering a gift to Elisha but Elisha refused his gifts. After Naaman left, Gehazi followed him and made up a story asking for silver and clothing which he hid. After he came back to Elisha, and denied what happened, Elisha cursed him and his children with tzaraas (his sons were cursed because they knew what their father did).

A third place where we find Gehazi is in the Haftorah of Parshas Tazria-Metzorah (II Kings 7:3-20) where a siege is laid against the city of Samaria. The story mentions four lepers who discover that the military camp besieging the city has suddenly left, and they start taking treasures from the abandoned camp and hiding them. They stop and decide to let the people in the city know about this instead. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 107b) explains that these four people were Gehazi and his three sons.

A fourth place where Gehazi is found again is in conversation with King Jehoram (see II Kings 8:4-5) where Gehazi shares various stories of Elisha including the story of the dead boy. While relating the story, the boy and his mother show up to speak to the king about a house they lost. The Meshech Chochmah (Metzorah 64) also mentions here that even though people with tzaaras are normally shunned, in this case King Jehoram was speaking with Gehazi even though he had tzaraas. This was because Gehazi and his three sons accomplished a great thing for the people of the city, seemingly indicating that what Gehazi did here was a good thing.

The fifth place where Gehazi is found is immediately following this episode (II Kings 8:7) where Elisha has just arrived in Damascus. The Talmud (Sotah 47a and Sanhedrin 107b) explains that Elisha was pursuing Gehazi in order to get him to repent. Gehazi refused to repent by telling Elisha that those who made the public sin don't get a chance to repent.

In addition to these five places, the Talmud (Sotah 47a and Sanhedrin 107b) criticizes Elisha for "pushing Gehazi away with two hands" - meaning speaking to him harshly after he asked for gifts from Naaman. The Talmud also adds that Elisha was punished with a sickness for this specific behaviour in regards to Gehazi. Sefer Nachlas Shimon (pp. 221) quotes four reasons why Elisha was punished:
  • Because he also cursed his sons (Ben Yehoadah)
  • Because he did not go back to Gehazi after a few days and try to get him to repent (Ben Yehoadah)
  • Because he cursed Gehazi with having tzaaras forever (Margilous haYam)
  • Because when he used the language "forever", it sounded to Gehazi like he will never be able to repent (Shtei Lechem)
What was the sin that Gehazi got tzaaras for?
  • The obvious reason for profaning G-ds name with his interactions with Naaman by taking money after Elisha swore in G-d name that he wouldn't take anything
  • The Talmud (Sanhedrin 100a) says that Gehazi was punished with leprosy because he used to refer to Elisha, his teacher, by his name as seen during the time he spoke to King Jehoram (see extensive discussion in Sefer Nachlas Shimon regarding this prohibition [siman 13, pp. 161])
  • Avos deRabbi Nathan (9:3) explains that he was punished because he spoke improperly about Elisha. As explained by Binyan Yehoshua based on the Talmud (Sanhedrin 100a), when Elisha sent him to revive the dead boy, he explicitly told him not to talk to anyone. However, Gehazi spoke to everyone he met on the way mocking Elisha and saying: "Guess where I'm going? I'm going to resurrect the dead".
What was the sin that caused Gehazi to lose his share in the World to Come?

  • The obvious reason for profaning G-ds name with his interactions with Naaman by taking money after Elisha swore in G-d name that he wouldn't take anything
  •  The Talmud (Sanhedrin 100a) answers that:
    • either he magnetized the idol of Jeroboam and made it float in the air,
    • or he made the idol of Jeroboam speak. Either way, this caused more people to worship it.
    • Some add a third opinion, that he pushed away other Sages from coming to Elisha this preventing their learning
  • The Talmud (Jerusalem Sanhedrin 10:2, Berachos 10a and Berachos 17b) also mention that he acted immorally and inappropriately towards the boy's mother, a married woman.
  • The Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 10:2) also adds that while Gehazi was a great Torah scholar, he had three flaws:
    • he was stingy by not allowing other Sages to come,
    • he behaved with women immorally and specifically he approached the woman from Shunam inappropriately (also see Berachos 17b),
    • and he denied the resurrection of the dead by mocking Elisha when carrying out his mission to resurrect the dead boy.
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Friday, April 14, 2017

Passover 5777

Gradual Steps of Redemption

Starting from Shabbos haGadol there were several steps in redemption:
  1. The Israelites as commanded by Moshe each picked a lamb in front of a populace that worshipped them. There was a hidden miracle that they were not attacked but first they had to show via their action that they were ready to serve G-d.
  2. On the 14th of Nissan, they brought the lambs as a sacrifice, once again extending themselves to do something that was being commanded by G-d even though they feared retribution from the animal-worshipping populace around them.
  3. On the night of Passover, G-d skipped over the houses painted with the blood of lambs while killing the firstborn people and animals elsewhere. Through this visible miracle, G-d separated out the Israelites as a separate nation.
  4. On the morning of Passover, the people left Egypt thus completing the process of being separated into a nation as it is stated (Deuteronomy 4:32-34): "has anything as grand as this ever happened, or has its like ever been known? Has any people heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have, and survived? Or has any god ventured to go and take for himself one nation from the midst of another by prodigious acts, by signs and portents, by war, by a mighty and an outstretched arm and awesome power, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?"
Thus the Jewish people extended themselves to do something for G-d and He responded first with a hidden miracle, and then with open miracles and took them out as a nation. This is similar to how lightning works - even though we see the lightning extending from the heavens to earth, there is an almost invisible channel that goes up from earth first. The Passover miracle of "skipping over" is the essential lesson of the holiday - this is when G-d separated them into a nation after they reached out to fulfill His commands.

Passover and Time

One of the things often lost during the bustle and hustle of the holidays is the immense span of time between where we are today and the original date of Passover. It has been 3,329 years since the original night of Passover and that immense amount of time is longer than almost everything we encounter around us including the foundations of Western civilization such as the Greek and Roman cultures. Even in other parts of the world things such as the origin of the Japanese monarchy, the origin of the Chinese state, birth of Buddhism, are all at least 1,000 years younger than Passover.

This also creates a sense of displacement since many things we encounter in the Torah and our observance do not mash with things around us. Things like the host being responsible for guests (story of Lot), animal sacrifices, how business transactions are done with shoes (story of Ruth), slavery, casting out impure people outside the city walls, etc. are all strange to us since the original frame of reference was thousands of years ago while today's civilization that we encounter no longer has these aspects.

There are two possible reasons why the Jewish people have been around for such long time:
  • To fulfill the original Divine plan that was intended for the entire world (as described in Sefer Derech Hashem)
  • To serve as an example for the rest of the world (Ohr LaGoyim) for a world without the presence of people who serve G-d may end up being a world without any morals or ethics at all, but one where the strongest rule
Those two aspects directly grow out of the holiday of Passover. Out of the all the holidays, Passover serves as the foundational holiday of the nation since the action of "skipping over" was the one that  created the nation in the first place, even prior to them leaving Egypt. And that is where two two parallel aspects of time started - the newly created nation took on the responsibilities of both serving G-d and the rest of the world.

Three Aspects of Yom Tov

There are three aspects to Yom Tov:
  1. The prohibition of not working, however unlike the one for Sabbath, the purpose of not working during the Yom Tov is not a remembrance about G-d resting on Sabbath, but rather a way to allow the people time of celebrate properly. This is also why certain things like cooking are allowed since they serve to enhance the holiday.
  2. There is also an aspect of happiness and celebration since Yom Tov is often called a chag. This is related to the words used during the episode of the Golden Calf - "a chag for G-d tomorrow". We also find a reflection of this in a special commandment to be happy on Yom Tov which we don't find elsewhere. Because the three main Yomim Tovim align with agricultural celebrations as well and with special "New Years" for things like water, fruit and grain, that is also channelled in the happiness that is experienced during the holidays.
  3. Another aspect that we find is one of "meeting" reflected in the term "Chol haMoed" - "Moed", and "Atzeres". That refers to several types of meetings: us meeting with our family and friends, us meeting with the rest of the Jewish people to celebrate, us meeting with the holiness of the Temple in Jerusalem, and us meeting with G-d for during these times He reaches closer to His people.