Tazri'a & Mezora
For the week of April 21, 2007 / 3 Iyar  5767
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 12:1 - 15:33
Haftarah: 2 Melachim / 2 Kings 7:3-20


Healthy Skepticism

Go and find out what has happened. (2 Melachim / 2 Kings 7:14)

It has been said that if something is too good to be true, it probably isn't. Well, thankfully that is not always the case. From time to time things do happen that are truly wonderful. When we first hear about things like this, they may seem literally unbelievable, but sometimes we just have to believe the unbelievable.

This is what happened during a most difficult time in the days of Elie-sha (English: Elisha), the successor to Elie-yahu (English: Elijah). The capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel was under siege resulting in severe famine. Elie-sha predicted by the word of God that prosperity would return to the city within one day - something that in the natural seemed completely impossible.

There were four men afflicted with leprosy who used to hang out by the city gate. They decided that since death was inevitable, they may as well surrender to the enemy in the slight hope that their lives would be spared. But when they arrived at the enemy camp, they discovered it completely deserted and all the enemy's belongings still there, including food, drink, animals, clothes, gold, and silver. At first the four men began to take things for themselves alone without telling anyone else, but we read,

Then they said to each other, "We're not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let's go at once and report this to the royal palace." (2 Melachim / 2 Kings 7:9)

So they went back to the city and announced their great discovery. When the news got to the king, he didn't believe it right away. He thought it was a trap. So one of his officers suggested that he send some men to go to check out the situation, which they did. Their investigation confirmed what the four men had said. As a result the city instantly went from disaster to prosperity.

I don't blame the king for his skepticism. His reaction was reasonable. The city had been completely crippled to the point of starvation by the enemy army. What responsible leader would immediately accept the report of four outcasts? Even if he fully respected Elie-sha's prediction from the day before, there had been no indication that this is how Elie-sha's words would be fulfilled. It is right and good for leaders to be cautious when confronted by fantastic reports such as the one he heard.

That's not the end of the story, however. The king was willing to check out the report even though it was unbelievable. Once the facts were in, the king didn't continue in his skepticism. The city was then able to enter into the miraculous turn of events.

I get the impression that some people think that true faith never includes intelligent skepticism. By intelligent skepticism, I mean a good and healthy understanding of life that prevents us from being drawn into foolishness and falsehood. The king understood the strategies of armies. He knew that just because their enemies seemed to be nowhere in sight, they may have been hiding in order to stage an attack.

But there is another kind of skepticism, which we might call philosophical skepticism. This is when we keep committed to our skepticism even when the evidence shows otherwise. Though the king had prejudged the situation at first, once the investigation had been made, he was willing to change his opinion.

We should never be scared to question the unbelievable. When we hear of something that goes against everything we understand to be true and right, there is nothing wrong about being hesitant to accept it. But it takes humility and honesty to adjust our opinion once the evidence is in.

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