Humility and Submissiveness are a Heritage of the Children of Israel
It is written, “This shall be [zot] the law [torat] of the leper on the day of his purification: He shall be brought to the priest” (Leviticus 14:2).
We may say by allusion that the Torah is called zot (Menachot 53b), as it is written: “And this is [ve’zot] the Torah” (Deuteronomy 4:44), which also applies to the verse in our parsha. It is only through Torah – which is called zot – that the leper can purify himself for having lost time by not studying Torah, and from the pride that is within him. However this purification is still not enough; it is only complete after he offers his sacrifice, when he submits before G-d.
This constitutes a response to a current opinion which states that there are also non-Jews who submit themselves to G-d and help their fellowman (see Leviticus 19:18) with great devotion and humility. This is simply not true. Even when we see a non-Jew who is considered to be righteous by his friends – one who loves peace and seeks it with everything he has – he is only acting with humility for everyone to honor him. G-d certainly does not deprive a person of his reward, even the reward for saying a good word (Nazir 23b), and even if he said this good word just to gain honor.
True humility is only found among those who study Torah and know how to appreciate it. By the fact that they are conscious of G-d’s greatness, their hearts break within them and they come to submitting themselves to Him, as the Rambam writes (Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 4:12). We also find manifestations of humility among non-Jews, for there is a concept of “the righteous of the nations.” G-d probes their hearts and minds, and He knows who are truly righteous. He gives them a full and complete reward in the form of wealth and honor in this world, unless they also have a part in the World to Come, as the Sages have said (Tosefta Sanhedrin 13). However it is obvious that their humility has no real depth.
So while Nadav and Avihu, who offered a strange fire, acted with great devotion – a characteristic that does not exist among non-Jews, for it serves them no immediate practical benefit – they did so only for a love of G-d and in order to elevate themselves in coming closer to Him (see Leviticus 16:1). As Moses said to his brother Aaron, “I know that they [Nadav and Avihu] are greater than myself or you” (Vayikra Rabba 12:2; Rashi ibid.). They simply wanted to bring the Children of Israel closer to G-d, which for them represented great devotion, as we explained in Parsha Shemini.
To explain the passage, “This shall be [zot] the law [torat] of the leper,” we may even say that the law of the Torah is humility. Even if this leper is great in Torah and filled with good deeds, he is brought to the priest because he should humble himself by going to someone who is greater than he in wisdom and Torah (see Bava Batra 116a) in order to learn Torah, wisdom, and proper conduct from him.
This is what we see with Naaman the leper, who went to find Elisha the prophet (see II Kings 5). The latter told him to go immerse in the Jordan River in order to purify himself of his leprosy, which is exactly what happened. Why did Elisha not instead give him a blessing or send him to the priest afterwards?
Elisha knew by Ruach Hakodesh that Naaman’s leprosy originated only in his pride, as demonstrated by the fact that he became angry against the prophet before going to the threshold of his house with his battalion of soldiers. The only solution, as his servants tried to convince him, was to go and descend into the waters of the Jordan, thus abasing and humbling himself. It was only in this way that he would be purified. For the Children of Israel, water alludes to a descent into the depths of Torah, for “water always represents Torah” (Bava Kama 17a). The secret of the mikveh is that we abase ourselves in this water. This is why, in the case of Naaman, he needed to descend into the waters of the Jordan as a preparation for his conversion to Judaism, which would contribute to dissolving his pride.
The reparation of pride therefore consists of immersing oneself in Torah, and also to find the Tzaddikim of the generation to help conquer pride. This is equivalent to going to the Temple and offering a sacrifice there, which in fact is what a leper must do once he is purified: He brings a sacrifice in order not to fall back into pride. This is also what Naaman did after being cured and purified. He went back to Elisha to thank him for his help, as well as to receive instructions for the future, as it is written: “Now I know that there is no G-d in the whole world except in Israel” (II Kings 5:15). Afterwards, by his conversion to Judaism and acceptance of the Kingdom of Heaven’s yoke, he achieved a more complete understanding of the Creator.