Divrei Torah


In this week’s Haftara we read about a famine in the northern part of the land of Israel, known as Shomron. The army of the nation of Aram besieged the capital city of Shomron. There were four men afflicted with a skin disease who were not permitted into the city of Shomron because they were spiritually impure. However, they needed food or faced the consequence of starvation. So, they decided to enter the army camp of Aram. To their amazement, they found that the army had deserted and left behind all of their belongings, including food. The four lepers informed the king of Israel of the good news. The king suspected a trap, but after careful investigation, he discovered that it was no trap. G-d had miraculously caused the army of Aram to flee, leaving behind everything. So, all of a sudden, there was plenty of food for the citizens of Shomron and the famine was broken.

Now, all of this had been prophesied by the prophet Elisha. However, naturally, there are always doubters. After the prophet Elisha prophesied that the famine would be broken and food would be plenty, one of the king’s officers mockingly asked, “Is G-d going to make windows in heaven? Will there be such a thing?” So, Elisha told this officer, “You will see it but you won’t eat from it.” And just as the prophet Elisha prophesied, so it happened. The officer saw the mad rush for the food. However, he failed to get out of the way of the crowd and was trampled to death.

So, in this incident in Tanach, who saved the Jewish people of the Northern Kingdom? The four lepers saved them – probably the most unlikely source of salvation that we could expect. However, throughout Jewish history we have seen this pattern – the Jewish people are saved in a manner that we least expect and we have leaders - whom in our wildest dreams - should not have led the Jewish people. Here are several examples: 

The Pharaoh was determined to exterminate the Jewish people. Yet, it was his daughter who pulled Moshe from the Nile River and raised in the palace – right under the nose of the Pharaoh.

When the Prophet Shmuel was sent by G-d to anoint a new king who would rule after Shaul, nobody even thought that David was the one chosen by G-d. Yet, he founded the Judean Dynasty and Mashiach will be descended from him.

Sancheiriv – the king of Assyria – destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Afterwards, he traveled south to Jerusalem in order to also conquer and destroy it. G-d wiped out Sancheiriv’s army on Pesach night outside the walls of Jerusalem. As odd as it sounds, the Talmud teaches us that the heads of the Sanhedrin hundreds of years later - Shemaya and Avtalyon, the teachers of Hillel and Shammai – were descended from Sancheiriv. How unlikely is that?

Rabbi Akiva had non-Jewish ancestry and was an ignoramus until the age of forty. In fact, he had a hatred for Torah scholars. Yet, he became the great teacher of the Jewish people. Most of the Mishna is his teaching as reported by his students. Rabbi Meir was descended from the family of the Roman Emperor, as was the translator of Chumash into Aramaic – Onkelus.

There is clearly a trend in Jewish history of beneficial contributions – if not even vital contributions – coming from people whom we ourselves would never have chosen to perform those tasks.

Thursday is Yom Ha’atzmaut, which marks the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel.  The reformation of Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel in the 20th century – after 1900 years of exile – is one of history’s most unlikely events. We could say that there are no comebacks in history. The British most probably won’t get back India. But, the Jewish people did come back and that comeback was inspired by some of history’s most unlikely people. 

Theodore Herzl would probably not be high on our list of people who we would expect to lead a return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. He did not wear a black hat . . . he did not study the Talmud . . . for most of his life he had little connection to the Jewish people – his own son was not even circumcised. Yet, he was the one who inspired the Zionist movement. 

David Ben Gurion – the first Prime Minister - was not a fan of religious Jews. Yet, he brought religious parties into his first government and ordered that kosher food be served in the army. Some of his party members objected to giving into the religious parties. However, he felt that it was needless to worry about the religious parties because religious Jewry would disappear in a generation or two. He was obviously wrong. 

One of the complaints against the State of Israel is that the founders of the Zionist movement were not religious Jews. They came from outside the main stream of Jewish leadership. So, who were these people to found the Jewish State? However, we see from today’s haftara of the four lepers that G-d arranges salvation for the Jewish people in ways we would never dream – in a manner that we would never write a script and look what we have! As King David wrote, “Look at the good of Jerusalem.” We have a Jewish country and on account of its existence, there is more Torah being studied now than at any time probably since the time of King Hezekiyahu during the period of the 1st Bais Hamikdash. There is a large Jewish community in the Land of Israel – approaching 50% of the world Jewish population. There are shuls, mikvaos and other Jewish institutions.

There are all kinds of advanced technologies in Israel – much of which has been exported to the rest of the world – cell phones, laptop computers, drip technology, many medical advances and medicines, etc. There is so much for which we can be proud.

The State of Israel is an unbelievable gathering of the exiles.  It is a blessing that G-d has given us and we must pray for its continued growth and prosperity.