Latest update: May 19th, 2013
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Let us now address how to appropriately react to our fellow man in whom we perceive a weakness or possible wrongdoing. The Gemara (Sotah 47a) relates that Elisha the prophet suffered three illnesses in the course of his life. One was a direct punishment for having incited bears to attack the youths who mocked him (II Kings 2:23-24). (He received this punishment even though Rashi notes that Elisha was able to see that no descendant of worth was destined to come from these children.) The second illness was due to his having pushed away Gechazi, his trusted aide, with “two hands” (ibid., 5:27), i.e., Elisha totally rejected Gechazi. The third was the final illness from which Elisha died (ibid., 13:14).
The Gemara discusses in detail why Elisha’s treatment of Gechazi was improper, citing a baraisa that “l’olam tehe semol docheh v’yemin mekareves – the left hand should always ‘push away’ but the right hand should ‘draw close,’” – not like Elisha who pushed away Gechazi with both hands.
In II Kings (5:23) we learn, “Vayomer Na’aman ho’ail kach kikarim – And Na’aman [the general of the king of Aram’s army] said, ‘Please take two talents [of silver].’” Elisha had previously cured Na’aman of his tzora’as disease and had rejected any compensation for having done so. Gechazi, however, dismissed Elisha’s rejection of payment and went back to Na’aman and requested compensation.
Gechazi subsequently returned to Elisha and denied meeting with Na’aman. Elisha, however, knew the truth: “Vayomer eilav lo libi halach ka’asher hafach ish me’al merkavto likrasecha ha’et lakachat et hakesef velakachat begadim vezeitim u’keramim vetzon u’bakar va’avadim u’shephachot – And [Elisha] said to [Gechazi], ‘Did not my spirit accompany you when [Na’aman] turned from upon his chariot toward you? Is now the time to take money and buy clothes, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and oxen, slaves and maidservants?’”
The Gemara (Sotah 47a) states that Elisha then cursed him: “Wicked One! The time has come for you take the reward for studying Shemonah Sheratzim [a chapter of Mesechet Shabbat that Gechazi had apparently studied with Elisha]. May Na’aman’s tzara’as cleave to you and your children forever.” Indeed, this terrible curse took effect.
The Gemara, however, also relates how Elisha then regretted his action and sought to bring Gechazi back as the verse states (ibid., 8:7), “Vayavo Elisha Damesek – And Elisha came to Damascus.” Why did he go there? R. Yochanan explains that Elisha sought to convince Gechazi to repent but Gechazi did not do so. Indeed, he responded, “Did I not receive a tradition from you that whoever sins and whoever sins and causes others to sins is not given the opportunity to repent?”
The Gemara lists a few possibilities as to how Gechazi caused others to sin. One possibility is that he hung a calf and suspended it between heaven and earth (this alludes to his seeking to seduce the people who would see this wonder and attribute supernatural powers to this idol worship). Another possibility is that he engraved the Divine Name in the calf’s mouth, causing the calf to declare, “I am Hashem your god.” Others say that he caused the sages to depart from Elisha’s presence, as the verse (ibid., 6:1) states, “Vayomru bnei henevi’im el Elisha hina na hamakom asher anachnu yoshvim sham l’fanecha tzar – The disciples of the prophets said to Elisha, ‘Behold the place where we are staying before you is too cramped for us.’” The verse implies that until Gechazi left Elisha, there was sufficient room.
What we can learn from this story is the importance of the sages’ rule that “the left hand should push away but the right hand should draw close.” The left is the weaker of the two hands (in most people) and, thus, pushing away will be more difficult; the right hand, meanwhile, draws close. Consequently, a rebuke by a teacher or parent, even when warranted, will be tempered and easier to handle.
About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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