Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. — 2 Kings 5:1
The portion for this week is which means “to conceive,” from Leviticus 12:1–13:59, and the 2 Kings 4:42–5:19
This week’s Haftorah is the story of a proud man who was humbled. As it says in Proverbs 11:2When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
The story takes place just after Israel had suffered defeat at the hands of Aram. Ahab, the king of Israel, had been killed by an Aramean archer, Naaman, who scored a direct shot at Ahab’s heart. This success quickly catapulted Naaman to fame, and he became chief of the Aramean army. However, his victory was soon overshadowed by an acute personal problem. Naaman was afflicted with tzara’at, or leprosy, the very same defiling skin disease discussed in this week’s Torah reading.
The Jewish sages explain that the root cause of tzara’at is arrogance. Haughtiness often manifests itself in gossip, frequently cited as the sin that led to tzara’at. However, at the core, the spiritual malady is pride. In Naaman’s case, his success in killing the king of Israel led him to arrogance. He considered himself the greatest warrior in the world. But it was God who directed Naaman’s arrow into Ahab’s heart. The Haftorah we read at this time relates how God cured Naaman both of his pride and his skin disease.
This first step in breaking Naaman’s pride was afflicting him with tzara’at. Not many things are as humbling as being afflicted with an uncomfortable, ugly disease. Next, the solution to Naaman’s problem came from his slave – a young Israelite girl – who suggested that Naaman go to Israel to be cured, essentially forcing the great general to turn to his enemy for help.
Then, upon seeking out the Israelite prophet, Elisha, he was seen only by Elisha’s servant who advised Naaman to dip in the Jordan River seven times for a cure. At first, Naaman was angered by what he considered stupid advice. However, he eventually complied, dipped himself in the Jordan, and was indeed cured – not just of the skin disease, but also of his pride.
I once heard the following advice for putting pride in its place — take pleasure in our achievements instead of being prideful. If I gave you a check for a lot of money and you deposited it into the bank, would you be proud of yourself? Of course not! You had not earned it yourself, but you also would be foolish not to deposit it!
Similarly, God has gifted us all with talents and abilities. He has guided us toward our achievements. These are the things that we can take pleasure in without falling into the trap of arrogance when we recognize that everything has been given to us by God. It’s not us, but God who is deserving of glory. All we can ever do is “cash the check” He has given us and be grateful for His blessings.