Haftarah Parshat Balak (Micah 5:6-6:8)
July 5, 2014 / 7 Tammuz 5774
The literary prophets are a hard read and the reason is not necessarily their difficult language. They are a hard read because their messages are mostly hard scrabble critiques of the society that they lived. It is painful to hear that you are disloyal and immoral, but that is what prophet messages are all about. The only thing that one might say about their messages is that the society that they were preaching to was not unique. Most of what the prophets preached could be applied to almost every society. The real practical difference between biblical Israel and other societies is that it had social religious critics who tended to their society’s ills (and on occasion that of its neighbors), something that made biblical Israel unusual.
Micah’s second prophecy (6:1-8) in this week’s haftarah recounts a Divine indictment of Israel for its disloyalty to God, lack of gratitude to God and its moral disintegration. All of this is portrayed in a frighteningly awesome court scene in which God presents His case and challenges Israel to counter His charges: “Hear, you mountains, the case of the Lord – you firm foundations of the earth! For the Lord has a case against His people, He has a suit against Israel. My people, what wrong have I done to you? What hardship have I caused you? I brought you out of Egypt… Remember what Balak king of Moab plotted against you and how Balaam the son of Beor responded to him… and you will recognize the gracious acts of the Lord. (2-5)
What should God’s expectations of His subjects be after such a challenge? Should He demand maximal loyalty? Should He seek reparations or atonement for their disloyalty? How could Israel compensate God in this situation?
The expectations called for in Micah’s response are telling: “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 before your God.” (8) God’s requisites for mending the relationship with Him are actually quite generous. They only require minimal payment to the “damaged” party. What does God require? It seems that He is interested in creating people who will be capable of establishing a society made in His image. What does that require? He desires a society peopled by those who are just, good and humble – the basic elements of civil society. These minimal expectations would enable people to “see” God in the world around them. I think that might bring God at least minimal satisfaction.
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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