This week we began a new subject: Gechazi, the servant of Elisha.
As Elisha's servant, Gechazi lived during the monarchy of Yehoram, son of Achav. This places him about a century into the first Beis haMikdash.
Gechazi was involved in two events in Tanach: Reviving a dead child and curing Naaman's leprosy. In addition, Gechazi played a bit part in getting a woman back a field which had been stolen.
Reviving a dead child
[Melachim II 4] Elisha used to travel around Israel, with his students. At one point he passed through a place called "Shunem," and there he met an important woman who offered her house as a hostelry whenever he would pass through. She and her husband were childless.
During a stay there, Elisha asked Gechazi to summon this woman and ask her what he could do to reward her kindness. She responded that she had no need for any favors. Gechazi pointed out to Elisha that the woman was childless, and that her elderly husband would likely not be able to provide her with a child. Elisha told the woman that she would have a child to hug in one year. The woman responded that he shouldn't create disappointment for her.
Sure enough, she bore a son. Some time later, though, her son died. She set out to find Elisha, and when she found him she threw herself at his feet. Gechazi tried to push her away, but Elisha told him to stop. "Her soul is bitter," he declared. "Gd has hid this from me, and not informed me."
The woman asked Elisha, "Did I request a son from my master? Didn't I say, 'Don't create disappointment for me?'"
Elisha sent Gechazi to the dead child, giving Gechazi his walking stick and telling him to hurry and place it on the child's face. He told Gechazi not to stop to greet people, or respond to their greetings, en route.
Gechazi's attempt to revive the child was not successful, and he returned and informed Elisha, who then succeeded in reviving the child.
Curing Naaman of his leprosy
[Melachim II 5] Naaman was a general for the army of Aram, and he contracted a form of Tzaraas (loosely translated as "leprosy"). Word came back to him that there was a prophet in Israel who could cure him, and he passed this idea along to his king. The king sent a messenger to Yehoram, King of Israel, asking him to cure Naaman.
Yehoram was distraught, not having any clue how to cure Naaman, but Elisha volunteered that he could do it. When Naaman came, Elisha told him to immerse in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman ridiculed the advice, saying that he had his own rivers in Damascus! His servants persuaded him to immerse, though, and he did so. Naaman was cured, and he renounced his idolatry.
Naaman wanted to reward Elisha, but Elisha refused the reward. Naaman left, and Gechazi swore that he would get something from Naaman for himself. He approached Naaman's chariot and told him that two students of the prophets had just arrived, and were in need. He said that Elisha had told him to get help from Naaman. Naaman gave Gechazi silver and garments, which Gechazi hid.
When Gechazi came back to Elisha, Elisha asked where he had been; Gechazi said he hadn't gone anywhere. Elisha told him he knew very well where Gechazi had been; his heart had "gone along" with Gechazi. Elisha told Gechazi that he would now receive the Tzaraas of Naaman. Gechazi turned white with Tzaraas, and fled.
Returning a woman's field
[Melachim II 8] A bit later, we find that the woman from Shunem returned home from seven years of travel, and discovered that her field had been taken by someone else. She came to the king for help, and at that very time Gechazi was in the king's court, telling him stories about Elisha. Gechazi identified her as the woman whose son Elisha had resuscitated, and the king returned her field to her.
Next week, Gd-willing, we will learn more about who Gechazi was, and how the sages viewed him.
Have a good week,
Tanach Class: Gechazi - Part II
This week we took a general look at Gechazi and his flaws, and we read a few Midrashim regarding Gechazi's encounter with Naaman, the Arami general.
Gechazi and his flaws
The Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 10:2) says that Gechazi, as the student of Elisha, was a powerful (Gibor) Torah scholar, but he had three fundamental flaws:
1. Gechazi was stingy, in the sense that he did not want others to benefit. He used to block the entrance of the room when Elisha taught, so that others would not enter. We know this because immediately after Elisha expelled Gechazi, the students complained to Elisha that there wasn't enough room for them all (Melachim II 6:1). It is rather odd that one should leave and now there should be no space! It must be that Gechazi had been keeping them out.
We also find Gechazi's greed in the fact that he took Naaman's gift. The Gemara (Sotah 9b) links him with Kayin, Bilam, Doeg and others who wanted that which was not theirs, and so lost even what they had.
2. Gechazi pursued women. We are told that when Gechazi pushed back the Shunamite woman who had come for Elisha, he actually was pushing her because he desired to touch her.
Elisha is identified as a "Kadosh," a holy person, and this term is specifically withheld from Gechazi. (See Berachos 10b, Jerusalem Talmud Yevamos 2:4.)
3. Gechazi did not admit that the dead could be brought back to life. When Elisha sent Gechazi to resuscitate the Shunamite's son, his efforts did not succeed. The Gemara here (and Pirkei deR' Eliezer 32) blames his lack of success on his own scorn for his job; he made light of it, thinking it impossible. (Contrast Midrash Tanchuma Beshalach 26; this is difficult.)
Another Gemara (Sanhedrin 100a) adds a flaw to Gechazi's list: He identified his master, Elisha, by name. We are taught that one may not refer to his Rebbe by name, and we find (Melachim II 8) that Gechazi explicitly did this.
Gechazi and Naaman
This event occurred in the 7th year of a 7-year famine, about 120 years into the first Beis haMikdash.
As we read last week, Naaman was an Arami general who contracted a disease identified as Tzaraas. He heard, from a Jewish captive, that there was a Jewish prophet who could cure him. The Arami king sent a message to the Jewish king requesting a cure, and Elisha stepped in to save Naaman by having him immerse in the Jordan river (albeit unwillingly) seven times.
Naaman offered a large reward, which Elisha refused. The Ralbag (Melachim II 12:18, Lesson 28) explains that a prophet may not take reward for a miracle, lest the miracle appear to be his own act rather than HaShem's intervention. Gechazi then ran after the departing Naaman and told him Elisha had changed his mind, for the sake of some visitors in need. Naaman gave him the gift, which Gechazi then hid.
Gechazi returned to Elisha, and Elisha asked where he had been. When Gechazi denied he had been anywhere, Elisha confronted him with his own prophetic knowledge of what had transpired. He cursed Gechazi with Naaman's Tzaraas, and banished him.
The Midrash (Tanchuma Metzora 1) finds a link between Bilam, Doeg, Achitofel (Avshalom's advisor in his rebellion against King David) and Gechazi, all of whom do not receive Olam HaBa (this punishment will be discussed next week, Gd-willing). All of them sinned with their speech.
The Midrash (Midrash Tannaim Devarim 6:6) also points out that Gechazi swore "Chei HaShem," "By Gd's Life," that he would get a reward from Naaman. The righteous swear by HaShem that they will not commit evil, as David did when he swore (Shemuel I 26:10-11) he would not kill King Shaul. Gechazi, on the other hand, swore that he would commit evil!
There is a problem, though; Elisha's curse of Gechazi actually seems to accuse him of more than he did! Elisha alleges that Gechazi took not only silver and garments, but also cattle and many other items! How can this be?
The Gemara (Sotah 47a, Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 10:2) concludes that this actually was not what Elisha was saying. Elisha was saying that Gechazi, in taking a gift from Naaman, had now taken his entire reward for all of his Torah learning - the equivalent of silver, garments, cattle, etc.
Ralbag (Melachim II 12:18 Lesson 29) points out that Elisha waited before punishing Gechazi. As HaShem did in dealing with Adam, and as Shemuel did in dealing with King Shaul, Elisha gave Gechazi a chance to admit his sin and repent. It was only when Gechazi denied he had done anything that Elisha punished him.
Gd-willing, next week we will wrap up our look at Gechazi by learning why Gechazi was punished with Tzaraas, whether Elisha was right to banish him, and what happened to Gechazi after he left Elisha.
Have a good week,
Tanach Class: Gechazi - Week Three
This week we wrapped up our look at Gechazi by discussing
1. Gechazi's leprosy,
2. Elisha's rejection of Gechazi, and
3. What happened to Gechazi after he left Elisha. Gechazi's Leprosy
The sages were bothered by the fact that Elisha was punished with Tzaraas (leprosy). The Midrash does point out that Gechazi said we take "Meumah (something)" from Naaman, and so he got a "Mum (blemish)" from him. Nonetheless, it is odd that Gechazi received this punishment; we ordinarily assume that Tzaraas is a punishment for slanderous speech, and Gechazi seems to be innocent of that crime!
The Midrash concludes that Gechazi's case indicates that Tzaraat may also be a punishment for other crimes; the Midrash lists four acts which may have caused his Tzaraat:
1. Otzar Midrashim (pg. 450), and other Midrashim - Gechazi swore falsely to Naaman, to convince Naaman that Elisha had sent him for the gift.
2. Vayikra Rabbah 16:1 - Gechazi ran in pursuit of evil, when he ran to catch Naaman's chariot
3. Vayikra Rabbah 17:3 - Gechazi desecrated Gd's Name. His evil act was not simply his own; he was a representative of Elisha the Prophet.
a. This is also seen in the fact that Elisha refused Naaman's gift in order to show that the miracle was from Gd, and was not his own (Ralbag Melachim II 12:18). Gechazi, in taking the gift, made it appear that the miracle was human-engineered, after all.
4. Otzar Midrashim (pg. 474) - Gechazi's greed led to his Tzaraas.
Elisha rejects Gechazi
The sages clearly believed that Elisha was not correct in banishing Gechazi. The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 268) describes a conversation between HaShem and Moshe in which HaShem tells Moshe that just as He accepted Yisro because Yisro was sincere, so Moshe should accept anyone who is sincere. The Midrash continues to say that one's right hand should be used to bring people in, and his left (the traditionally weaker hand) should be used to push people away. The Midrash (as well as Sotah 47a and Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 10:2) then cites Elisha's treatment of Gechazi as an example of improper expulsion; Elisha was too strong in his rejection of Gechazi.
(See also the "censored" Gemara from Sanhedrin 107b, dealing with another interesting case of a teacher's rejection of his student, and the historic ramifications.)
Our schools should be very careful in disciplining students.
The Gemara (Sotah 47a, Bava Metzia 87a, Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 10:2) goes further than this; the Gemara (based on Melachim II 13:14, according to the Radak) says that Elisha suffered a great illness because of his treatment of Gechazi.
Ultimately (Melachim II 8), Gechazi went to Damascus to try and win Gechazi back. Radak (Melachim II 8:7) suggests that Gechazi had gone to Damascus, a central Aramean city, to try and live off the fact that he had been involved in the cure of Naaman, the Aramean general. The Gemara (Sotah 47a) records a conversation between Elisha and Gechazi, in which Gechazi said it was too late for him to return; he had gone too far, because he had convinced others to sin.
The Gemara presents several possibilities for how Gechazi might have caused others to sin:
1. There was a "breakaway Beis haMikdash" in an area of Israel, and they had golden calves created by Yeravam ben Nevat to function as idols. Gechazi used magnets to levitate these calves, making them appear supernatural.
2. Gechazi used mystical means to make the calves appear to call out, "I am the Lord, your Gd," and "You shall not have any other gods."
3. Gechazi, in his days as a student of Elisha, would chase people away when they came to learn from Elisha. Gechazi post-Elisha
In Melachim II 7 we find a story involving four lepers who left a besieged Jewish city to wander into an Aramean encampment in search of food. The Gemara (Sotah 47a, Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 10:2) indicates that these lepers were Gechazi and his three sons.
Elisha's curse of Gechazi mentioned that Gechazi's children would also receive Tzaraas. Radak (Melachim II 5:27) explains that the children were aware of Gechazi's sins and did nothing to halt them, and so they were held responsible.
Gechazi in the "Next World"
The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:2) lists Gechazi in the group of people who did not make it into Olam HaBa, the "Next World" after death. As the Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 30:20) puts it, Gd gives people two alternatives - a path for good, and a path for bad. Those who do not see go the route of the wicked, as did Gechazi, and leave the world empty-handed.
Interestingly, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 100a) suggests Gechazi lost the "next world" because of a sin we mentioned briefly last week. In Melachim II 8, standing before the king, Gechazi referred to Elisha by name. One may not refer to his Rebbe by his name.
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 104b-105a) ends on an upbeat note, pointing out that HaShem ultimately accepts Gechazi back, giving him life in the "next world," after all.
There is no Tanach Class next week, as Caren/Amram/I will be in Atlanta, Gd-willing, from Tuesday through next Wednesday. We resume the following week, to study Naami.