Haftarah Parashat Balak
June 30, 2018 | 17 Tammuz 5778
In Micah’s prophecy, “Shearit Ya’akov” – “the remnant of Jacob” – are made two seemingly contradictory promises: “The remnant of Israel shall be in the midst of many people, like dew from the Lord, like droplets on the grass which do not look to any man nor place their hope in mortals. The remnant of Jacob, shall be among the nations, in the midst of many people, like a lion among beasts in the wild, like a fierce lion among flocks of sheep, which tramples wherever it goes and rends, with none to deliver.” (5:6-7)
Who are the “remnant of Jacob” in this prophecy and how can they be promised at the same time both the pacific imagery of dew and rain along with the fierceness and ferocity of a lion? Regarding the first question, most of the medieval commentators identify the “remnant of Jacob” with those who remained in the land of Israel after most of the community had been exiled. Others, like Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, identified the “remnant” with the community of Jews who been sent into exile from their homeland.
Pre-modern commentators do not seem to have taken up the second question, but for modern commentators it has become a preoccupation. Among those who deal with it, Professor Yair Hoffman (Israel, 20-21st century) has attempted to answer it within the context of the different ancient Jewish communities’ search for a sense of consciousness and distinctive identity in biblical times. He postulates that the exilic community already had developed a sense of self which was different from those who remained in the homeland and that the prophet both recognized and acknowledged this difference. According to Hoffman, the “remnant” in the first verse refers to the exiled community whose blessings from God were majestic and markedly “universal” in nature while the second verse was intended for those who remained in the land of Israel and required the more militant and particularistic blessing in order to maintain their survival.
Hoffman sees in these verses an awareness of the development of tension between the universal and the particular, noting that this dialectic may have been born out of the different conditions faced by the two Jewish communities. (Micah, Mikra L’Yisrael, pp. 214-215)
The upshot of his analysis should not be lost on us today: Jewish communities living under different conditions develop different identities and outlooks. But there is quite a gap between recognizing this difference and appreciating it. Hoffman’s assertion is that the prophet was aware of these differences and blessed both of them.
As the Jewish people continues to be roiled by conflict, may we learn from the prophet Micah to trust that there are good reasons for Jewish communities in Israel and abroad to think and live differently. That would be a blessing in itself
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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