Torah Study Notes 4-13-13

April 13, 2013
Second Kings p. 747
In the ancient world there were Elisha stories and Elijah stories. The related Torah portion deals with issues of ritual purity – eruptions on the skin.
4:42 This is probably the source of the text for the marriage at Canaan from the NT. The parable of loaves and fishes. The intent here is magical. Consider the Hasidic tale of travel to escape a pogrom and there is one cart jammed full of people and people along the road. There is always room if we are willing to love one another a bit more. Here, with a sense of sharing, the bread could suffice. Consider the birkat hamazone – the blessing after the meal – which assumes there is enough food in the world for everyone. “When you have eaten and are satisfied you shall bless the lord your God for the good land he has given you.” Remember that “Haftarah” is the departure reading – read at the end of the meal and when you leave for the synagogue. These are communal prayers as contrasted to individual prayers. Note also that the Reform movement changed the departure blessing by making it shorter by deleting several paragraphs in the nature of encores.
5:1 A valiant Aramean soldier who had a skin disease. The name Naaman is very close in sound to the Hebrew word that means faithful. Note the trope marks for vocalization developed by the Masoretes. An Israelite girl suggest that he see a prophet in Samaria who will cure his skin.
5:4 Naaman gets permission from his king to go to Israel and takes a considerable sum of money with him to see the Israeli king. The king of Israel, upon being called upon to cure Naaman, tears his clothes and accused the Arameans of picking a quarrel with him. Which may be correct. Or the girls message became terribly garbled. There are elements of comedy here.
5:8 Elisha sends a message to the king and asks that Naaman be sent to him.
5:9 Elisha suggest that Naaman bathe in the Jordon but this annoys and upsets Naaman who expects a magical cure with a show. He compares the Jordan to the greater rivers of Damascus. “So he walked off in a fury.” Recall again the more elaborate procedures for cure of skin dieseases set forth in the Torah portion. The reference to the number seven may refer to the observed movable objects in the sky – sun, moon and five planets. There are other cycles in the ancient world but the Israelites’ used seven – which was adopted by the Greeks and then the Romans.
5:13 Naaman follows the instruction and his flesh becomes purified. This is a very simple solution compared to that the Israelites had to follow to be purified after the tenth plague which was very complex. Sometimes complexity is an indication of importance. It suggests that the people had to be tested to evaluate their will to be free.
5:16 Elisha refuses any gift for the cure. Naaman hopes that he will be forgiven when he goes home and is forced to enter the Temple of Rimmon and bow down. LL: Compare this to the feelings of the Marranos and Conversos in Spain ( who were forced to convert during the inquisition. This Haftarah must have given them some solace. Issues of idolatry are treated with nuance here. It is interesting to consider the various vignettes in this account – the scene before the king and before the tent of Elisha. What defines a folk tale is that there is no definitive form for the story. Note that it is the waters of the Jordan that works and that Naaman takes away with him some of the earth of the soil of Israel. This points to Israel as a sacred place – particularly to a community in exile. There is also the notion here that a skin disease can be reflective of stress or other disturbance within an individual – which is erased by belief. Consider the Christian belief in taking the waters at Lourdes.
PG: The first real Zionists were Protestants who returned to the Old Testament and found there a path to redemption via the Jews returning to the land. This is still a powerful force today with evangelical Christians. Zionism among Jews did not become a powerful force until the 20th C.

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