LEPROSY OF THE HOLY LAND
“כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל-אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן…וְנָתַתִּי נֶגַע צָרַעַת” (ויקרא י”ד:ל”ד)
This week’s parshiot introduce us to the concept of צרעת, an affliction on the skin that only seems to come about while in the borders of ארץ ישראל. While this type of illness could be seen as natural, we are reminded, through the ways that צרעתcomes about, that the leprosy is far from natural. Rav Avraham Ibn Ezra teaches us that the fact that צרעת only occurs in ארץ ישראל could be a reminder to us from G-d that when we are living in the Promised Land we must keep high standards of behavior to keep with the holiness of the land- otherwise, G-d could send us a נגע to remind us to behave better, and eventually if we don’t listen, the land won’t tolerate this behavior and will spit us out.
This idea of צרעת’s unnaturalness is seen much more so further on in the פרשה where we learn that under certain circumstances, a house in ארץ ישראל can receive צרעת, in which case a person will have to leave their house and if the צרעת does not leave, the house may need to be destroyed. רמב”ן notes here that while צרעת on the body could’ve been natural, there is no way that this נגע on a house is remotely natural. Rather, it is a physical manifestation of a spiritual illness that could’ve come about when one sinned. However, this type of צרעת might not always be bad- רש”י teaches that many times when a house that has צרעת would be destroyed, they would unearth treasures hidden in the walls or under the house that had been left by the previous כנעני occupants. So, we see that while signs from G-d, such as צרעת, are not always pleasant, there is something very important that we can learn from them and they should not be ignored.
These lessons of צרעת are exemplified in the הפטרות for both of our פרשיות:
The הפטרה assigned to פרשת תזריע, read from the 4th פרק of מלכים ב’, while only read on a Jewish leap year when תזריע and מצורע are read separately, can teach us a very important lesson. In the times of the prophet Elisha, the neighboring kingdom of Aram (located in modern-day Syria) was threatening and persecuting the neighboring Jewish kingdom. But, the Aramean general נעמן, an “איש גדול לפני אדוניו ונשא פנים- an eminent person in his master’s presence and highly honored” was struck with צרעת and had to humble himself to ask אלישע הנביא to heal him. After he is healed, Na’aman acknowledges G-d’s power, then returns to ארם and it seems that things become better for the Jewish People. In this הפטרה, we see a prime example of G-d punishing a רשע who was tormenting the Jews in their land by giving him צרעת.
However, in the הפטרה that we will be reading this שבת (taken from the 7th פרק ofמלכים ב’), we see a different function of the נגע צרעת, something more in line with the lesson of רמב”ן on house צרעת. In הפטרת מצורע, we read of some מצורעים who were exiled from their city and forced to stay outside for a few days as described in our פרשה. While in the wilderness, they stumble upon an enemy camp of ארמים (who clearly hadn’t learned their lesson from פרק ד’) getting ready to attack the city. With G-d’s help, they scare off the soldiers and collect their booty, which helps the economy of the city get a point that a נביא had predicted earlier, only everyone had laughed at him when he said it then. Through the מצורעים, the so-called sinners, G-d caused a miracle to scare away the enemy and saved the day, showing that צרעת is clearly more than just a punishment for doing something wrong- it’s also a sign from G-d that can lead to נסים and נפלאות- if only we listen.
I believe that these lessons of צרעת are extremely relevant to a miracle that we will celebrate on Tuesday. Sixty five years ago, the Jewish State was declared and immediately staved off its surrounding enemies, through nothing less than open miracles and undeniable יד השם. If we look closely at the story of הקמת המדינה, some parallels emerge to the stories of the two הפטרות of our פרשיות:
In 1948, the Jews in the British Mandate of Palestine had enemies tormenting us both from nearby (the Arab countries) and afar (the British and the United Nations), much as the ארמים did in הפטרת תזריע. However, G-d struck them with נגעים, mainly through the Jewish underground forces (הגנה, פלמ”ח, לח”י), until they withdrew from Palestine. Then, as the enemy were gathering in their camps, preparing to attack, a group of “מצורעים”, exiled from their homes for the sin of being Jewish, scared away the enemy through open miracles from G-d and the Jewish People were at a place that years ago, if someone would’ve predicted it, people would’ve called him crazy, much as the נביא in הפטרת מצורע was. Like נעמן, our enemies initially acknowledged our success, but, like the Arameans of the second הפטרה, they quickly forgot about it and attacked again, with Israel once again being able to deflect the attacks with miraculous acts of G-d.
We can see that the הקמת המדינה is clearly hinted to in הפטרות תזריע and מצורע and thanks to G-d’s help, since 1948, the land has flourished under Jewish Rule, without a single seemingly natural נגע that one would expect if the Jews of Israel were doing something wrong by being there. Rather, all that we’ve faced are endless attacks from our enemies, as foreshadowed by the נביאים as the beginning of the גאולה. However, there are those among us who don’t believe this- they ignore the clear parallels between the תורה and the miraculous beginning of מדינת ישראל in favor of focusing on the metaphorical צרעת of the heroes who risked their lives to scare away our enemies and establish the אתחלתא דגאולה. To these anti-Zionists, the fact that the State of Israel was established by non-religious Jews means that we can disregard the miracles of its establishment and continued existence. Some extremists even commemorate the 5th of Iyar as Nakba, bemoaning the Jewish state with the very animals who killed our brothers trying to stop it from being established- these “צדיקים” would rather associate with reshaim than with the perceived “מצורעים.” These Jews need to learn from the lessons of our פרשיות and הקמת המדינה- that a מצורע is sometimes set aside by G-d for greatness, not just as a רשע, and that the continued flourishing of ארץ ישראל under control of the מדינה without the נגעים that struck it in its previous lives is a sign that in fact we are doing the right thing by living there. Once they begin to accept these signs from הקדוש ברוך הוא, then hopefully they will see the error of their ways so that by Tuesday, we will have seen the coming of the משיח so that יום העצמאות תשע”ג will be the last time that ה’ אייר will see part of עם ישראל celebrating the establishment of the אתחלתא דגאולה and the first time that it will celebrate the coming of the גאולה. Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.