July 12, 2008
9 Tammuz 5768
Micah\’s opening prophecy presents an idyllic time when Israel\’s needs will be met without the need to rely on others. Israel itself will be considered both blessed and feared by those around it because God will be the source of their strength. (5:6-8) That which follows in Micah\’s message seems strange: \”In that day, declares the Lord, I will destroy the horses in your midst and wreck your chariots. I will destroy the cities of your land and demolish all of your fortresses. I will destroy the sorcery you practice, and you shall have no more soothsayers. I will destroy your idols and the sacred pillars in your midst; and no more shall you bow down to the works of your hands. I will tear down the sacred posts in your midst and destroy your cities.\” (9-14)
These verses appear, at first glance, to be a punishment, but actually their intention is exactly the opposite. The essence of their message is that in idyllic times, there will be no need to depend on anybody or anything other than God. Weapons will be unnecessary, as will fortified cities. Security will be insured and as a consequence, human beings will shed the insecurity which leads them to dependence on false things.
This interpretation, which appears to be the correct one, is not without its difficulties. In particular, commentators seem to have had trouble seeing how a number of these promises were really blessing and developed creative interpretations to fit the difficult promises into this particular interpretation. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (13th century Spain felt compelled to explain how removing the wall from a walled city (10) was a blessing since it endangered the inhabitants of the city. He explained that God would bring peace in order that the city dwellers would be able to enjoy fresh air instead of the stuffiness caused by the city walls.
Similarly, other commentators found difficulty in the last promise – that \”[God would] destroy your cities\” since, in part, this seems redundant and it also seems the most difficult to understand as a blessing. Already, Targum Yonathon, the Aramaic translation of the Prophets (7th century), attempted to rectify these difficulties by translating this phrase: \”I will destroy your enemies\” after finding a reference where the word \”eer\” means enemy.
Ultimately, God\’s promises in Micah\’s prophecy remain a profound reminder that the world should be a better place where insecurity will be replaced by Divine guidance, where human weakness will be replaced by divinely inspired assurance and where belief in God will hopefully lead to building the kind of world that would make God proud.
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.
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