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BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

Friday, 28 April, 2017 - 12:00 pm

What is the difference between a 20-year old, a 40 year old and a 60 year old? The 20-year old is self conscious and wants to make a good impression. The 40 year old declares: “I don't care what others think of me; I must be true to myself.” The 60- year old realizes that no one ever looked at him….

The Haftorah of this week's Torah portion—Tazria-Metzora—tells a fascinating narrative about the “four lepers.” In the First Temple era, the Syrian Army laid siege to the Jewish city of Samaria. The siege lasted so long that the Samaritans became desperate enough to resort to cannibalism.

The king of Israel, Jehoram, was not righteous, but seeing the plight of the Jews broke him. He illogically blamed the prophet of the time, Elisha (the disciple of Elijah the prophet), for Israel’s troubles, and decreed his death. He followed his soldier to ensure the deed was done. When they arrived, however, Elisha prophesied that the very next day, G-d would save Israel and "a seah (measure of weight) of fine flour [would cost] a shekel" as opposed to several silver coins.

One officer near the king asked, "Even if the Lord would make windows in heaven [for rain to come down], could this thing be?"

Elisha responded to him, "In fact, you shall see it with your eyes, but you shall not eat of it.’"

This week's Haftorah begins at this point, when the story shifts to four lepers who were quarantined outside the city. They, too, were starving, and realized they had three options: They could try to get back inside the city walls, but there was no food there, so they would not gain anything; they could stay where they were and just die from starvation; or they could march forward to where the Syrian army was camped. The Syrians had plenty of food, but would likely kill the lepers—and enemy—on sight. However, knowing that the first two options would mean certain death, they chose to march directly to the camp of the Syrian army.

The Haftorah relates that the Syrian troops heard chariots, the pounding of hundreds of horses' hooves, and the clashing of thousands of swords. They panicked and abandoned their camp, leaving their tents, armor, horses, chariots, and food all behind. They [falsely] perceived that the Jews had hired other armies to attack them, and they fled.

The lepers entered their camp and partook of the bounty, but then they realized: "Today is a day of good news, and we are being quiet. If we wait until morning we will have sinned. Let us go and tell what we have learned at the king’s household.”

The lepers notified the guard at the city gate of the news. The king sent several soldiers to find out if the news was true, and when he heard it was, the word spread quickly. There was a mad rush. The people ran to fetch the food and goods of the Syrians. Elisha's prophecy was fulfilled: A seah of fine flower was sold for a minimal shekel.

The officer who had mocked Elisha was assigned to patrol the gates. He was trampled to death by the people rushing to buy food at unbelievably low prices. Elisha’s words to him, “You will see it, but you shall not eat of it,” came to fruition.

The lepers teach us a very important lesson: Do not be afraid to move forward.

Sometimes you feel stuck in life, caught between a rock and a hard place. In such situations, the worst thing to do is stay. You must make a change, move forward. Don’t remain in place; don’t go backward. Even if you think that by moving forward you are subjecting yourself to disaster, that move can transform your reality, and you may discover what you have been looking for. Open yourself up to new types of projects, people and experiences. Whatever you choose, ensure it is something new and different.

When we change our familiar patterns we open new pathways in our brains, and we generate new energy around us—and that can create new opportunities that were unimaginable before.

Often we are afraid to initiate new projects, to undertake new ventures, or to ask someone for major assistance, since we are scared of what the response will be. If we march ahead, we might experience rejection, and that does not feel good; psychologically, it is a form of “death,” especially if you are by nature soft and sensitive. Some people never live out their dreams because they are too afraid of the response and feedback.

The lepers envisioned an entire Syrian army prepared to attack them. However, when they did at last move forward, the coast was clear... there was no danger to them.

When you are doing the right thing, and fulfilling G-d’s plan, do not worry about the perception of others and how they will respond; no one else is really looking all that hard. Just keep marching ahead, and you will find that He is protecting you.

In ancient times, lepers were outcasts of society. They were quarantined and isolated. Yet, the Torah dedicated two complete portions to them—to their symptoms, their fate, their healing process and their return to society. Why?

We each have a leper within—that dimension of ourselves that feels isolated, beaten, bruised, and ugly. We each have our own struggles and repulsive qualities. The powerful message of Judaism is that it was the four lepers outside the city who brought the news of redemption to the entire Jewish community. If we ignore the lepers around us, we deprive ourselves from our own redemption; and if we ignore the leper within, we deny ourselves our own redemptions.

It is precisely the “darker” parts of the psyche and personality that provide us with the most penetrating insights into our mission. If we acknowledge these parts of ourselves with full honesty and vulnerability, and work with them, we can then utilize them as a spring board for our own moral, emotional and spiritual growth.

The late Jewish philanthropist Irving Stone spent a lifetime studying greatness, writing novelized biographies of such men as Michelangelo, Vincent van Gogh, Sigmund Freud, and others. Stone was once asked if he had found a thread that runs through the lives of all these exceptional people. He said, "I write about people who sometime in their life have a vision or dream of something that should be accomplished and they go to work.

May we all have the strength to continually move forward and accomplish what we were set on earth to do.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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