When I go to weekly Mishna Torah study at the PNC building, if I’m in a rush I go to the little store where they sell peanut butter crackers for a quick, easy lunch. I once went and noticed, to my chagrin, that the line was long until I realized that there were two lines: the long one for those buying lottery tickets and the almost non-existent one for everyone else, i.e. me. There are huge signs throughout the store advertising the winning tickets that were bought at that location. Sometimes I want to ask the proprieter whether he should also post the number of tickets sold during the same period.
When we buy lottery tickets, we always assume we will beat the odds. If we only slog through our prosaic, workaday lives, we’ll be rewarded if we simply buy that ticket.
Similarly, those who soldier on through the blood, skin disease and mold of the Torah portions from last week and today -- Tazria/Metzora -- might feel they’ve earned the miracle stories that follow in the prophetic readings that follow. Just wade through the slime, mold and pus and you’ll win the lottery of Elisha’s marvel narratives.
The Haftarah for Metzora focuses on four lepers confined between their starving besieged city and the Aramean army outside. They logically consider: If we go inside the walls we’ll die of starvation. If we stay here we’ll die of starvation. If we go to the Aramean camp, they might kill us but they might feed us too. They go into the camp and find something else entirely: The enemy army has fled. That’s one possibility they did not consider. They eat, hide valuables and eventually, at least partly out of guilt, notify the city’s starving inhabitants that they can safely leave.
The prophet Elisha, prior to the portion read, has promised the king’s assistant that the next day food will be cheap, implying plentiful, and the messenger scoffs. Elisha, who has a mean streak -- after all, once he cursed a bunch of kids for calling him baldy and they ended up mauled by bears -- says, You’ll see I’m right but you won’t enjoy the fruits of it. As the messenger announces the good news to the previously besieged city, they trample him to death on their way out.
The messenger of the king fell victim to the assumption every brokerage firm has to warn its investors not to put their faith in: Past Performance is No Guarantee of Future Results or as Wayne Gretzky said, “Go where the puck will be, not where it is.”
Every shabbat is a weekly potential miracle story, a time to consider the possibilties of life and be open to surprise.