Metzora - HALF-HEARTED FAITH
AN INTRIGUING story is told in the Bible concerning Naaman, Chief of the Syrian army. Naaman was an influential and courageous mail, held in high esteem by his king and countrymen. Suddenly he was overtaken by adversity. He became afflicted with the dread disease of leprosy. He tried many remedies and cures to rid himself of the disease, but to no avail. When his morale was at a low ebb, he heard of Elisha, the prophet of Israel, who was reputed to be able to perform wonders. So Naaman, together with a retinue of servants and chariots, made the journey to the land of Israel. Upon his arrival, he presented a letter from the king of Syria to the king of Israel in which the latter was ordered to heal the visiting general. The Jewish king became panicky with fear and rent his garments. What did he know about leprosy and how could he undertake to cure the Syrian? When the news reached Elisha, he sent a message to Naaman to bathe seven times in the Jordan river and he would become clear of the disease. The prescription was not acceptable to Naaman. We are told, "But Naaman was angry, and said, Behold, I thought he will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abarrah and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not bathe in them and be clean? So he turned and went away in a fury" (II Kings 4: 11-13). But the servants argued with him, "If the prophet had bid you do some great thing would you not have done it? How much rather then when he said to you, bathe and be clear!" (Ibid. 4:14). These words persuaded Naaman. He bathed seven times in the Jordan and regained his former health. His joy was boundless. He went to the prophet and acknowledged that only the God of Israel was the true Master of the world. He offered gifts to Elisha which the prophet refused to accept. Then Naaman said to Elisha, "In this thing the Lord pardon your servant, that when my lord goes into the house of Rimmon to prostrate himself there, and he leans on my hand, and I also prostrate myself in the house of Rimmon . . . . the Lord pardon your servant in these things. And he (Elisha) said unto him, go in peace" (Ibid. 4:18-19).
Two elements in this dramatic story beg for comment. One is the contorted ideas that Naaman had of religion in general, and the other is his misconception of Judaism in particular.
As for the first, think of it! He was willing to do almost anything to be rid of his leprosy. He came loaded with silver and gold to pay for a cure, but was angry when the cure was made easy. This is reminiscent of people who are impressed with a physician who orders a long and complicated regimen of treatments or surgery rather than the one who says, "There is really little that is wrong with you. All you need is rest, good food, and plenty of sunshine and fresh air." To this day, people have a weakness for the elaborate, and little confidence in the simple. 1~ere are still many thousands who prefer mysterious and magical formulae to common sense procedures. It is astounding to read of the widespread use of astrology and magic by literate individuals. There are students on the campuses of our land who join mystical cults, when all they really need is to follow the simple prescription of the ancient prophet, "to do justly and to walk humbly with God."
There are so-called Jewish intellectuals who think that elaborate ethical doctrines and profound philosophical systems will build a better social order and a finer Jewish life in America, when in truth, obedience to the time-hallowed and simple laws of the Torah is all that is needed to bring a Jew nearer to his neighbor and to his God.
Naaman's servants displayed wisdom and tact when they said to their master that if he was willing to try hard cures, would it not be prudent to try an easy one? When Naaman followed this advice he discovered, to his delight, the truth of their argument.
The second point of this sermon is Naaman's misconception of what adherence to Judaism entails. Having experienced the healing power of God, he requests from the prophet that in order to please his king, he be given a special dispensation "to bow in the house of Rimmon." It was just such spiritual softness and confusion that made the Jewish people through the ages wary of converts. They feared that while the newcomer to Judaism may believe in God, he may revert periodically to his former Faith and "bow in the house of Rimmon." It is this insistence on total and unqualified devotion to the God and the Torah of Israel that has kept our people alive and our religion pure.
Unfortunately there are those who, like Naaman, arrogate to themselves the prerogative "to bow in the house of Rimmon"; who profess beliefs but claim for themselves special dispensation to violate them when it is in their interest "to please the lung."
I know people who say they believe in kashrut, but when they go out with non-observant acquaintances will compromise their dietary standards in order to please their company. There are orthodox Jews who profess to follow the teachings of the Shulhan Arzuch, but still worship in Temples which do not conform to the requirements of halachah, in order to please a customer or a cousin. We say that we earnestly believe in the tenets of our religion, but we leave it to rabbis, Yeshiva students and klei-kodesh to practice them. We say that we are proud to see our children daven, make kiddush or recite the other berachot, but by remaining in the background as mere spectators, we discourage the continuation of these practices by our youth. We say that we subscribe to the doctrines of fairness, kindness, and all Other high-sounding ideals, but reserve the right to act differently when it is in our interest "to please the king."
Ir is against such well-meaning but half-hearted spiritual and moral commitments that the Bible speaks. In answer to Naaman's plea, the prophet responds politely but firmly, lech leshalom, "go in peace." Elisha felt that as one who was not brought up in the Jewish tradition, Naaman would find it extremely difficult to understand that beliefs with reservations and dispensations are neither meaningful nor effective; that sincere and deep-rooted convictions cannot brook "bowing in the house of Rimmon" for the sake of convenience or to please someone, even the king.
The clarion call of Judaism has ever been, "Hear 0 Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." Immediately after, there follows the verse, "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." There is, thus, no room for half-heartedness or special dispensations where the basic foundation of our Faith is concerned. This has always been so--in the days of Elisha and until this day.