This week’s haftarah portrays the miraculous rescue of four lepers trapped between the invading army of Aram and the besieged inhabitants of the city of Samaria. We are privy to the thoughts of these lepers as they contemplate their possible actions, whether to join their brethren inside the city or to fall on the mercy of the attacking army. In the end, they chose the latter option and were miraculously saved: “And the Lord had made the sound of chariots, the sound of horses made in the camp of Aram, the sound of a great force, and every man said to his comrade, ‘Look the king of Israel has hired against us the Hittite kings and the kings of Egypt to come against us.’ And they rose and fled…” (6-7) The lepers found the enemy camp abandoned on account of a totally imagined threat. The imposed famine on the city was now over.
How is one to account for these “imagined threats”? Where did the noises come from? The text of the biblical story leaves that to our imaginations. The rabbinic sages, who were textual virtuosi with an incredible ability to make wondrous associations between one biblical text and another, however, searched for answers elsewhere in Scripture to answer this question. One particular midrash noted a peculiarity in the description of the cessation of the plague of hail that Moses imposed upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians: “And Moses went out from Pharaoh’s presence out of the city and spread out his hands to the Lord, and the thunder stopped and the hail ceased and no rain came pouring down up on the earth.” (Exodus 9:33) The midrash presumes that the plague was halted, left hanging mid-plague, waiting for God’s later use: “When did they (the hail and the thunder) fall? In the days of Elisha (the prophet) on the camp of Aram.” (Tanhuma Vaerea 15) God saved the lepers by reutilizing a plague store up since the redemption from Egypt.
This “crazy” refashioning of one miraculous event to explain another comes to underscore the special nature of what happened to the lepers and to anchor it in one of God’s truly great acts of redemption. The redemption from Egypt is transformed into a miracle for four helpless individuals who, in turn, become the agents of redemption for their entire city. This chain of events, as envisioned by these sages, illustrates the power of faith to transform the individual, the community and the nation. This is a lesson for every day on every level of our lives. It is also a not-so-subtle reminder to see and feel the miraculous nature of having a homeland after two thousand years of exile as we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut – Israel Independence Day.