The Power of SpeechApril 28, 2017 - 12:00 am
It happened as the man of God had said to the king: “About this time tomorrow, a seah of the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.” — 2 Kings 7:18
The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Tazria-Metzora, from Leviticus 12:1—15:33. Tazria means “conceived,” and Metzora means “diseased.” The Haftorah is from 2 Kings 7:3–20.
The Haftorah reading provides us with an interesting biblical tale that involves four men with the disease discussed in the Torah reading; it also involves the prophet Elisha, the Aramean army, and the people of Israel. Looking deeply into the story, there is a lesson about speech – the main topic of this week’s Torah reading. As we look at the story, bear in mind the contrast between the four diseased people and Elisha, the man of God.
First, some background information: How did the diseased men become that way?
Earlier, Elisha had healed a man from leprosy, but had refused to take payment for it. Then, Elisha’s chief servant and his three sons chased after the man and lied to him saying that Elisha did want payment: some silver and a few garments.
When Elisha found out about his servant’s deception, he cursed the men that they would be afflicted with the same disease as the man Elisha had healed. Immediately, the servant and his sons were afflicted, and as the law required, they were sent to live in isolation.
At that same time, the Israelites were dying of starvation because they had been besieged by the Aramean army. Elisha promised the Aramean king that in one day everything would change and God would bring abundance. The king’s captain expressed doubt that such a thing could happen, but Elisha was confident that his words would come true.
This is where the Haftorah begins. The diseased men were also starving, and as a last resort, they decided to surrender to the Arameans. When they got to the Aramean camp, however, they found it deserted. God had caused the Arameans to hear a great noise which they thought was a large invading army, so they fled in terror.
The diseased men discovered an abundance of treasures and food, which they took and hid for themselves. Eventually, they thought about their starving brethren and decided to share the good news. As the reading ends, the Israelites all benefited from the deserted bounty and the abundance promised by Elisha had come to pass.
What parallels can we draw between the diseased men and Elisha?
The four men represent people who use their speech to spread hate and lies. Their words were self-serving at the expense of others, they were short-lived, and while their words brought about temporary material gain, they also brought spiritual harm upon the speakers. In contrast, Elisha symbolizes those who use their speech properly. His words were helpful and encouraging, true and enduring, and they brought blessings to everyone.
As the Jewish sages teach, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” We would do well to remember to use our words to bring blessings into the lives of others.