Haftarah Parshat Balak
July 7, 2012
17 Tammuz 5772
The prophet Micah’s famous pronouncement at the end this week’s haftarah has been understood by many to summarize the essence of Jewish religiosity: “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 modestly (hatzneiah lechet) with your God.” (6:8) While what it means to “do justice” and “to love goodness” may be somewhat vague, people generally have some idea how to carry them out. How one might “walk humbly with your God”, on the other, is far more obscure.
How does someone “walk humbly before God”? The words themselves would seem to indicate that a person should conduct him or herself with humility. Targum Yonathon, the Jewish Aramaic translation of the Prophets, renders this phrase “one should be humble in walking in fear of God”, namely, one should not only be cognizant of God in all of one’s actions but should carry out one’s actions without hubris or self-aggrandizement.
Rashi cites a parable from Pesikta deRav Kahana (24:12 Mandelbaum ed. p.370) to give this phrase an unusual twist: God is not like human beings. Human beings, when one embarrasses another publicly and then comes to apologize, the wounded person is likely to say: ‘I will not forgive you until you apologize before all those before whom you embarrassed me. God, however, only wants that the person return to Him, even privately.” According to Rashi, God is so interested in mending His relations with human beings that He will forgo His own honor in order to allow a person to reconcile with Him in an manner that will cause the person the least embarrassment. God, then, allows a person to “walk privately before God”.
God, according to this parable, sees reconciliation as a paramount value. He is willing to sacrifice His own self-worth and dignity in order to reestablish His relationship with the party that has aggrieved Him. If God is to serve as a human model, then, human beings are really being asked to act in a similar fashion. The wounded party’s grievances obviously should always be addressed but, if we follow God’s example, then, for the sake of reconciliation, the injured party should not create impediments before the party that has wronged them.
Why is God so forgiving? Why should we follow His model? Perhaps because conflict is ultimately destructive but perhaps because God discerns that interaction with others is a very precious thing.
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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