Haftarah Parshat Balak
July 9, 2011
7 Tammuz 5771
The prophet Micah\’s message, in this week\’s haftarah, opens with two prophecies concerning the \”remnant of Israel\” – those who remain after the exile: \”(6) The remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of the many peoples like dew from the Lord, like droplets on grass which do not look to any man nor place their hopes in mortals. (7) The remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations in the midst of the many people like a lion among beasts of the wild, like a fierce lion among the flocks of sheep which tramples wherever it goes and rends with none to deliver.\”
The commentary of Rabbi Yitchak Abrabanel, the famous 15th century Spanish statesman and biblical commentator, is well-known for its introductory questions which are often as insightful as his answers. He asks here why the prophet juxtaposed two seemingly contradictory prophecies. The first prophecy (6) makes the \”remnant\” out to be a blessing while the second prophecy (7) describes them in an adversarial role.
Abrabanel offers two answers to this question. According to the first interpretation, this prophecy will take place at the time of Israel\’s restoration to its homeland. At that time, the remnant of Israel will be found among the nations. God will cause excessive dew and rain in order to force the nations to leave their lands. These nations will then, acting like lions, conquer the land of Israel for the sake of Israel\’s \”remnant\”. The \”remnant\” of Israel will have no need to make alliances on its own with other nations to do its bidding since God will have already arranged its redemption.
Abrabanel\’s second interpretation asserts that this prophecy will take place at the end of time. According to this interpretation, the \”remnant\” of Israel will be blessed just as dew and rain are a blessing for the world. They will be restored by God since dew is a symbol for the resurrection of the dead. On the other hand, vengeance like the ferocity of lions will be visited upon the wicked among the nations for their sins for their mistreatment of the \”remnant\”.
These two interpretations offer us a window into the indefinite nature of understanding prophecies. Not all prophecies are so easy to understand and their interpretation is sometimes open to the creativity of the interpreter. Sometimes, certain interpretations have the imprimatur of the tradition while at other times the interpreter\’s interpretation will seem for him or her to match the conditions of their times. There will even be times when we simply have to throw up our hands and say we are not quite sure what the prophet is talking about. Whatever the specific context of Micah\’s prophecy may be, we can only hope and pray for God\’s assistance in the redemptive process.
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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