The haftarah for Shabbat Metzora’ tells the story of a besieged Samaria, in economic crisis and on the verge of famine so extreme that cannibalism was an appealing option for some. Just before we pick up the narrative in II Kings 7:3, the prophet Elisha has announced great news: the market will recover immediately. But the king’s aide doesn’t believe the prophecy.
Sure enough, Elisha is proven correct. But it takes an unlikely motley crew to confirm the prophecy. Four metzora’im, “lepers,” are outside the Samarian camp, in no-man’s land between the community from which they have been quarantined and the enemy. They, too, are starving, and they decide that their only hope for survival is to defect to the enemy Arameans. But they are unable to give themselves up as prisoners, because upon arriving at the camp, the enemy has deserted. They begin to plunder for food and treasure, but then realize that they must share the news and spoils with their fellow Samarians. Though cautious at first, the Samarians soon descend on the camp, and the increase in supply drives down prices, just as Elisha predicted.
Parshat Metzora’ addresses the need for the afflicted to be marginalized outside the community. The haftarah, though, is a powerful counterpoint to this ancient (and still existent) social and religious world view: the capacity of the outsider to bring about redemption cannot be ignored. Were they not excluded from the community, these four men would not have been in a position to discover their enemy’s sudden disappearance. Their very decision to choose defection enabled them to come back to their own city walls, bearers of good tidings.
Too often, we assume that those who are “outside the camp,” marginalized for whatever reason, have nothing to offer us. To them, the other’s camp is more welcoming than their own community; they think that alternatives to Judaism, its institutions and leaders give them a better shot at survival. It took a quartet of lepers to save Samaria, but it either happened by accident or with Divine Providence. We cannot leave it to chance. Our city walls must be as open as possible, because we can’t afford to leave people outside the camp.