July 7, 2001
The Parshah does not conclude with Balaam’s third unsuccessful attempt to curse the children of Israel. Rather, once Balaam fails to curse the people of Israel, he opts for a different tactic to bring about their downfall. If first curses will not cause their fall then perhaps he can lead them to moral corruption.
It is this sin of moral corruption which the Malbim sees as the connection between the Parasha and the Haftarah. One of Israel’s lowest spiritual moments ultimately becomes the impetus for one of the truly great statements of religious sincerity. The prophet Micah first recounts Israel’s tragic fall and God’s subsequent mercy: “My people, remember now what Balak king of Moab devised, and how Balaam the son of Beor responded to him from Shittim to Gilgal, that you will recognize the gracious acts of the Lord.” (Micah 6:5)
The Malbim then turns Micah’s prophecy into a dialogue between Israel and the prophet over how to reconcile themselves with God. What should be Israel’s response when they seek to make amends with God? The children of Israel weigh their options before the prophet.
“With what shall I approach God, with what shall I give thanks? Shall I approach Him with burnt offerings… with a thousand rams with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my first born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (verses 6-7)
Micah rejects this approach in favor of the following alternative.
“He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness and to walk humbly with your God.” (verse 8)
Is it possible that God would reject Israel’s offerings as a means of reconciliation? Is Micah saying that prayer and ritual are no longer a means to repair the gap between human beings and God? Obviously the answer is a resounding no! God wants our “religiosity” but He wants it to be sincere and not mechanical. He wants our Tzedakah but wants it to be selfless. He wants our goodness but He wants it for its own sake. God wants our motives to be pure. He wants that we journey through life with “humility” in all that we do.
This drasha is in memory of our beloved student, Ketura Alford, who passed away last week. Ketura “walked humbly before God” in all that she did. We will miss her.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp.
Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus .
Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary: