The Lesson of the Lepers by Benjamin Lankin


The Haftarah of Parashat Metzora tells the story of the Arba’ah Metzora’im, four lepers who stumbled upon a great situation. Perek Zayin of Melachim Bet details the story. The entire country of Yisrael was in a famine due to the Aramean siege of its capital city, Shomron. Four starving Metzora’im, banished from the city (but still inside the siege) because of their condition, realized that they had no chance of survival, neither inside the city nor even in their current limbo location. They had so lost hope that they went to the Aramean camp besieging the area. However, Hashem created a miracle in which the Aramean army believed a pair of great armies was approaching, and they quickly fled the camp, fearing for their lives. The lepers, looking for food, arrived at an abandoned camp, full with all the equipment the army had there. When they wandered into the enemy camp and realized that the camp was empty before them, they plundered the empty camp for food and clothing. They felt guilty, however, and decided to inform the King of Yisrael of their findings, and as a result, the Israelites had enough food to overcome the siege.

What puzzles many about this story is Hashem’s decision to use the four Metzora’im to save Bnei Yisrael. Why would Hashem go out of his way to send four lepers? If they were being punished for slander, were they not sinners? How were they worthy of this great miracle?

Rav Ahron Soloveichik’s article “Israel's Independence Day: Reflections in Halachah and Hashkafa” explains that the reason Hashem chose these four Metzora’im to save Bnei Yisrael was to teach that even a sinning Jew is still considered part of the Jewish people and still can play an integral role in Jewish life. By acknowledging them as the heroes in our story, Yirmiyahu (in his writing of Seifer Melachim) highlighted this very point for us.

It is reasonable that these lepers would be angry at Bnei Yisrael for forcing them to live outside the camp. (After all, with the various Aveirot being violated at that time, why would banishment be the one Mitzvah they decided to observe?!) But even though they were sinners, it is a credit to them as members of the Jewish people that they acknowledged and accepted their responsibility to save their brethren. It is most significant to note that the situation is not black and white – even though they were being punished by Hashem with Tzara’at, the Metzora’im realized that they had not been exempted from personal and communal responsibilities. Also, from the perspective of the other Jews, even though these people may have been labeled as sinners in one aspect of their lives, the surrounding community still had to consider them as part of the community. So too today, if a person is identified as a sinner, we still have the obligation to bring him back into the community, as we say in Kol Nidrei, “Anu Matirin Lehitpaleil Im HaAvaryanim,” “We permit the criminals to pray with us.” This lesson has tremendous implications for our proper understanding of Klal Yisrael as a Klal, a community; we must conduct proper relations and interactions with all segments of our Jewish community.

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