The haftarah1 for parshat Tazria is rarely read, since, in most years, the portions of Tazria and Metzora are read together. When that occurs, only the haftarah for Metzora is read. Interestingly, even in a leap year, when Tazria is read by itself, it is often also parshat Hachodesh, and the haftarah for Hachodesh is read.

The Haftarah tells of two miracles of our prophet Elisha.

In the first miracle, a man brought Elisha 20 bread rolls made of the barley flour that had recently ripened. Elisha told his assistant to give it to his students, whom he supported. His helper asked him, "How can I give this to a hundred men? [It's simply not enough!]"2 Elisha responded, "Give it to the people to eat, for G‑d said, 'They will eat and have left over.' "3 He gave it to them, they ate, and there was leftover, just as G‑d said.

The second miracle was how Elisha cured Naaman from Tzaraat (leprosy). Naaman was the commander of the king of Aram's army. He was very well respected because G‑d gave him many victories, but now he couldn't go out to war because he was afflicted with tzaraat.

One of Aram's raiding parties captured a young girl from Israel, and she became a servant to Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, "If my master's request will be brought before the prophet in Shomron [Elisha], then he will cure him of his tzaraat."4 We see here the true power of a young Jewish girl's simple faith in the tzadik of her time which brought about such a beautiful miracle and positive political ramifications as well, as we will soon see.

Naaman went and told the king what the young girl said. The king told him to go to the prophet and that he would send a letter to the king of Israel, telling him to instruct the prophet to cure Naaman.

Naaman took along a tremendous amount of silver, gold and garments as a gift for the prophet. He then brought the letter to the king of Israel. When the king read the letter he tore his garments as he was afraid that it was a trick, and that the king of Aram was using this as a pretext to go to war. Aram was the superpower of the region at that time, so the mere thought of going to war with them was terrifying.

When Elisha heard that the king tore his garments, he sent a message to him, "Why did you tear your garments? Let him come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel."5

Naaman came with a whole entourage to Elisha's house and stood at the door. Elisha didn't come out to meet him but sent a messenger to tell him to wash in the Jordan seven times, and his skin would be cured and he would become pure.

Naaman got angry and left. He had expected Elisha to honor him by coming out to greet him, call out to G‑d, wave his hand over the tzaraat, and it would miraculously go away. Instead, Elisha had merely told him to bathe in the Jordan. He said that the rivers in Damascus are better than any of the waters in Israel, and in fact, he often bathed in them, and it didn't help him.

His servants approached him and respectfully suggested that if the prophet would have told him to do something difficult, he would surely have listened to him. Now that he said to do something easy, shouldn't he try it? He took their advice and bathed in the Jordan seven times as Elisha said, and his skin became supple like that of a child.

Naaman and his entourage returned to Elisha. Naaman stood before him and said, "Now I know that there isn't any G‑d in the whole world other than in Israel. Please accept a gift from your servant."6 But Elisha refused to take anything, he said, "By the Living G‑d before Whom I stood [as a soul in the higher realms, before entering into the body], I can't accept [any gift]."7 Naaman begged him to take something, but he refused. Then he asked for two mule-loads of earth from Israel, so that he could make it into an altar for G‑d, and he proclaimed, "For your servant will no longer offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to other gods, but only to G‑d!"8

Naaman proceeded to ask for forgiveness in advance, because his official duties included accompanying the king of Aram when he would serve his idols, and he knew that he would have to bow to the deity along with his master.

Naaman said, "May G‑d please forgive your servant for this."9 And Elisha said to him, "Go in peace."10

From here we learn, that a gentile who accepted on himself to serve only G‑d and to keep the Seven Laws that were given to the Children of Noah11 is not obligated to sacrifice his life to sanctify G‑d.12 If he would be obligated, Elisha would have told him so, and that he could not bow. Instead he just told him to "go in peace."

This, of course, was a great political victory for the Jewish people, because now Naaman, the commander of the most powerful army in the region, became an ally to Israel. Also, I am sure that the story of the miracle reverberated throughout the region, creating a great sanctification of G‑d's name.

The Seasonal Connection

The second miracle seems to connect well with the parshah. Parshas Tazria speaks mostly of the laws of the metzora, who is afflicted with tzaraat. But how does the first episode, the miracle of the loaves of bread, connect to our parshah?

Rashi and the Radak provide the explanation. Rashi13 says that it took place "during Pesach, when grain ripens." The Radak14 says, "It was from the first barely that was harvested, at the time of the barley harvest." The Ralbag, Metzudat David and Metzudat Tzion15 all say similar things. In this instance, the haftarah is also connected with the time of year.

Whenever Tazria is read as a stand-alone haftarah, it is read in the month of Nissan, before Pesach, or on the Shabbat before, when we bless the month of Nissan. The month of Nissan is a time of miracles, at the time when the barley ripens and is harvested. This connects to the holiday, because on Pesach, the barley Omer offering was brought in the Temple.16

This also adds more meaning to the second miracle, since Tazria has no connection to a open miracle. How then does the miracle aspect connect to the parshah? It does not necessarily connect, but it is connected to the time of year, Nissan, a time of miracles.

I use the term "open miracles," because, of course, Tazria speaks about pregnancy and birth, which are miracles, ones that G‑d hid within nature. Also, tzaraat was not a natural ailment. It was not leprosy, but a spiritual condition, one that came as a repercussion from one’s spiritual failures. So, in a way, it was a miracle as well. But, since it was more common in those days, it was not an open miracle. However, though these kind of miracles are more common, they are still miracles, and perhaps the haftarah is highlighting the point of miracles. It is to let us appreciate and be cognizant of the miracles in nature and the “small miracles” we experience every single day.17

Back to Elisha

We are left with a question, though. Why did Elisha refuse Naaman's gift? We have rules about when one may accept charity from an idol worshipper.18 (The rule is that, in general, we are forbidden, but there are certain situations where we can accept gifts, albeit discreetly. And in certain dire situations, one is permitted to accept presents openly.) However, Naaman wasn't an idol worshipper, as he proclaimed openly that he would only serve G‑d. The Rambam19 says that from such of person, one could accept charity and distribute it even to Jewish needy. So why did Elisha refuse to accept the gifts?

From the Rambam's words, "If ... He gave, we accept it," we understand that only after the fact may one accept a gift from an gentile, but initially, we are prohibited from accepting any such gift. The Rambam also says there, "If he wants to do a mitzvah ... in order to receive merit, we don't stop him." Again, we don't prevent him, but it is not something to be encouraged or something we should allow to become a regular occurrence for it would be tantamount to creating a new religion, and the Rambam20 say that this is not allowed.21

Perhaps the miracle that occurred and the entire series of events were all the more powerful, and a greater sanctification of G‑d's name since Elisha chose not to accept the gift. And therefore, his actions had a greater effect on Naaman and all who heard what transpired.22

May we experience and value the miracles in our daily lives. And may we merit to experience the greatest miracle of all, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.