The traditional haftara reading for this week’s parsha, Tazria, tells the story of Naaman, an Aramean general who suffered from a skin eruption known as tzaraat. He was told that the Jewish prophet, Elisha, possessed miraculous Godly powers and would be able to cure the affliction. And so he traveled to Elisha with a grand entourage and lavish gifts of gold and silver to request that Elisha bless him.
Elisha paid no heed to the pomp and the wealth, and he did not even leave his home to greet Naaman. Instead he sent him a message to immerse seven times in the waters of the Jordan River and he would be cured.
Naaman was incensed. He said, “Here I thought that he would come out to see me, and he would stand and call in the name of his God, and he would raise his hand toward the spot and cure the mezora!” Irritated, he traveled away.
Finally Naaman’s attendants convinced him to at least go through with the immersion. He grudgingly did so, and to his shock he discovered that he was cured.
Ostensibly this story is about tzaraat, and about the power of the prophetic word. But it teaches us something else as well: Sometimes Godliness, and holiness, are found in the small gestures.
Naaman had been sure that he would see God’s hand in some marvelous display of pageantry. What he learned was that God is found in the small things. A quiet word from the prophet, and God has sent His message. A dip in a river in Israel, and God has cleansed him.
We think that to make a difference, we need to achieve grand things — which, of course, most of us aren’t really capable of doing. But actually it is in the small things that God is found. A kind word to a spouse or a neighbor. A helping hand to someone in need. A friendly greeting.
Sure, there can be a unique moment when one accomplishes something grand. But the fulfilled life is really composed of the little gestures, the small interactions day by day. Those are the things that enrich our lives and those of others, and they make us who we are. PJC
Rabbi Levi Langer is the dean of the Kollel Jewish Learning Center. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.