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Balak 5770

Haftarah Parshat Balak
(Micah 5:6 – 6:8)
June 26, 2010

14 Tammuz 5770

Haftarah Commentary for Parshat Balak
(Micah 5:6 – 6:8)

Rabbi Yitchak Abrabanel (Portugal, Spain, Italy 15th century) managed to be incredibly prolific considering his busy political career as a minister in both the governments of Portugal and then Spain immediately before the Expulsion of the Jews from these two countries. He managed to write in-depth commentaries to the Torah and the Prophetic books of the Bible. In addition, he wrote substantial essays on a number of fascinating topics in the Bible. In one essay, called \”Mashmi\’ah Yishu\’a – Proclaiming the Redemption\”, he collected and explained a good number of the passages from the Prophetic books which discuss the future redemption.

In his discussions, one gets a sense not only of the prophetic message but also the reflections of a very important man who knows about power and powerful people since he was intimate with the workings of the governments of two world powers. He was familiar with war, vanity, capriciousness and ego and in his essay on redemption, one hears his reflections on these subjects in his interpretations of the Bible.

In this week\’s haftarah, two very interesting verses are juxtaposed. In one verse, Micah consoles his people by telling them that when the redemption comes they will no longer be powerless: \”Your hand shall prevail over your foes, and all your enemies shall be cut down!\” (5:8) The very next verse appears to contradict this idea: \”I (God) will destroy the horses in your midst and wreck your chariots… In anger and vengeance, will I (God) wreak retribution on the nations that have not obeyed\” (5:9; 14) The first verse speaks of human preeminence in battle over his enemy while in the second verse God promises to strip the nation of its physical prowess so that He might contend with the nation\’s enemies on His own.

One could understand these verses as talking about the progression of the redemptive process. At first, you will take care of yourselves but later there will be no need for you to depend on anybody or anything other than God. Abrabanel explains this juxtaposition differently: \”Perhaps Israel will come to think that their victories and successes are the product of their own heroism; for this reason, [Micah] brought the verse about God destroying the horses… since this indicates that God will take care of these things and then there will be peace in the land so that there will be no need for walls and fortresses.\”

For Abrabanel, the use of force was not an ideal. It was a necessity of less than ideal times. He deeply desired God to create the conditions when force would no longer be necessary – where God would create ideal conditions where force and protection were obsolete and peace will rein. Perhaps this is why he did not want people to think that force was heroic. Abrabanel\’s interpretation shows us the reflections of a weary Jewish world leader who knew the ups and downs of the Inquisition and the Expulsion from Spain, who could only dream of being in his homeland where God would guarantee security, peace and quiet.

About This Commentary

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.
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Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary:

  • Underwriters:  Rabbi Michael and Erica Schwab.
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