Haftarah – German Reparations and the Blessings of Tzaraat
The bitter debate between David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin over monetary reparations from Germany was one of the most divisive issues confronting the young State of Israel in the early 1950’s. Despite Begin’s strong opposition, the Knesset approved the deal with West Germany which ended up saving Israel from economic insolvency, enabled the absorption of hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants, financed the construction of the national water carrier, roads, telecommunication systems, electricity networks and more. By the mid-1950’s, Israel had the fastest growing economy in the world. German reparations proved to be of immense value to the Jewish State, despite the horrific origins.
Our haftara (II Melachim 7:3-20) is one of several examples in Tanach of the Jewish people receiving material benefit from their enemies.
As background, the king of Aram lay siege on the Jews of Shomron, which compounded the devastating effects of a severe famine. Conditions had deteriorated to the point that mothers had to cannibalize their children to survive (6:28-29). The king of Israel blamed Elisha, the great prophet and miracle worker—not Aram—for failing to pray sufficiently for the Jewish people, and sent a messenger to kill the prophet. Elisha assured the messenger that relief would come the following day, when there would be an unimaginable surplus of food, so much so that the price of food would fall dramatically. The king’s messenger mocked Elisha for his bold prediction.
Our haftara opens on this note, and describes four lepers sitting outside of the city gate in Shomron. They were isolated and starving, and in their desperation the Navi records, “they said to one another, ‘why should we sit here waiting for death?’” (v. 3). To survive, the four lepers deserted to the Aramean camp, which they knew to have food. What they found instead shocked them. The arch enemy Aram had “abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys, leaving the camp just as it was” (v. 7).
As a result, when the lepers arrived at the Aramean camp, they ate and drank, grabbing silver, gold, and clothing to take with them (v. 8). The group then returned to the Jewish camp to bring these tidings to the king. After determining that this was not a ruse, the Jewish people laid claim to the Aramean’s abandoned property. As a result of the sudden change in fortune, in a day Israel went from famine to a state of abundance where, “a se’ah of fine flour cost a shekel and two se’ahs of barley cost a shekel” just as Elisha had promised.
In a remarkable twist, the economic windfall and salvation of the Jewish people came through the cursed four men who were plagued with the shameful disease of Tzaraat. Additionally, the source of the great abundance was Aram itself, the evil nation that had besieged the Jews of Shomron to the point of starvation. This concept, that Tzaraat could be a blessing in disguise, appears in our parsha as well.
Regarding Tzaraat on one’s home, the Torah writes: “When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you (“NOTEN”) as a possession, and I will give you (“VENATATI”) the plague of Tzaraat upon a house in the land you possess” (Vayikra 14:34). Commentators are bothered by the Torah’s usage of the same, positive word “VENATATI” to describe the plague of Tzaraat, which would require destroying the home that is afflicted with this devastating plague. Rashi explains that in reality, “it was good news when they would receive this plague, for the Amorites had hidden gold in the walls of their homes during the forty years Israel was in the wilderness, and through this affliction, they destroyed their homes and found the treasure.” Once again, we see that the suffering of Tzaarat in the end led to an astonishing discovery of material blessing.
Unfortunately, Jewish history is replete with examples of suffering, isolation, and desperation, without accompanying prophecies specifying the direct path towards salvation. Although reparations were the source of great controversy and disagreement at the time, with the benefit of hindsight it appears that the economic support provided by Germany to the fledgling Jewish state led to a miraculous turn of events. As Rashi writes about the manna from heaven, “The Omnipresent has many emissaries to provide nourishment to those who fear Him.” To this day in the State of Israel, we are reminded that Hashem works in mysterious ways and often brings salvation through surprising intermediaries and seemingly impossible scenarios.
Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the director of Israel365 and editor of “The Israel Bible,” and Rabbi Dr. Ethan Eisen is a psychologist and a rebbe in Yeshivat Lev Hatorah. Please send comments to Haftarah@TheIsraelBible.com