Long Arc of Justice: II Kings and the Wall

In Tazria-Metzora, this week’s Torah portion we read about tzara’at, a skin ailment caused by sins. Similarly in this week’s haftorah we lear about four men stricken by tzara’at.  The backdrop of the story is that King Ben-Hadad of Aram besieged the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The resulting famine was catastrophic, reducing many to cannibalism. These four men suffering from tzara’at dwelled in quarantine outside the city. Hungry due to the famine they decided to approach the enemy camp to beg for food. They arrived only to find a deserted camp. The enemy deserted their encampment because they thought they heard the sounds of an approaching army. Despite being excluded the four men went back to the city and reported their findings to the gatekeepers who, in turn, informed King Jehoram. Though originally thinking that this was an ambush planned by the enemy, the king sent messengers who confirmed the miracle. The people swarmed out of the city and looted the enemy camp, thus breaking the famine and fulfilling Elisha’s prophecy.

The officer who was in charge of the city gates was himself killed by the rampaging crowds. There we read, “The people trampled him to death in the gate.” ( II Kings 7:20) The Talmud in Sanhedrin 90b assumes that the officer died because he doubted the prophecy of Elisha, but maybe that is not the whole story.   It is too easy to depict the officer as civil servant like a TSA agent protecting the city.  I offer you another reading here.


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Theodore Parker was a Unitarian minister. In 1853 a collection of “Ten Sermons of Religion” by Parker was published in one of those sermons he wrote:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. (Of Justice and the Conscience)

In the name of keeping the inhabitants safe the officer kept the four men out of the city. He mistakenly thought that they represented a danger and completely missed the fact that they too had what to contribute. Yes people in the city were starving and afraid, but it did not help to keep these four men out just because they had tzara’at. Even if these men had sinned, it did not excuse the sin of the officer who kept them out. The officer was killed because the long arc of history bends toward justice.

Reading this haftorah makes you ask a number of questions about our current political situation. What is going on in our country? What are we so afraid of?  Who are we excluding? Will we be judged well if we build a wall with Mexico?


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