Parshat Hukkat – Balak (in the Diaspora)
Parshat Balak (in Israel)
July 8, 2006
This week\’s haftarah is composed of two distinct prophecies (5:6-11; 6:1-8). The first of these prophecies opens with a description of the influence of those Israelites who remain in exile when God redeems the nation: \”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 any mortal.\” (5:6)
Commentators to this verse have struggled over three major questions: 1. What community does this verse refer to? 2. What is their relationship with the people who surround them? 3. What is the significance of the \”dew\” and \”droplets\” imagery?
Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (12th century Spain) reads this verse in the context of the verses which precede it. He asserts that \”the Remnant of Jacob\” were those Israelites who did not perish in the attempt of the people of Bethlehem to redeem themselves from the Assyrian invaders because they were far away in exile. They are \”like dew from the Lord\” because they trust exclusively in God and not in the kings of the nations in whose lands they live, for dew is not controlled by man but rather by God. Ibn Ezra offers an alternative explanation (a sure sign that this is a difficult verse to understand): \”Or [perhaps this verse refers to Israel] who will teach the nations to call in the name of God and will be for the nation among whom they dwell like I [God] am the dew for them [Israel], and the nations will not longer have to trust in man.\”
Rabbi David Kimche (13th century Provance), on the other hand, accepts the idea that this verse reflects the results of a battle for the redemption of the nation but puts this redemption and, consequently, our verse in a messianic framework: \”Those of the Israelites who remain after God has purified the people will lay siege along with Gog and Magog (the great messianic battle) and Israel will be among them like dew from the Lord, for dew comes from God, from the heavens and one who hopes for them will not trust in man to bring them but rather in God for God brings rain and dew. So, too, Israel will trust only in God for this redemption for He is the sole Redeemer. They will realize that they are a small people and the nations are massive so who else can save them. Their redemption will be like dew and like rain from God.\” (Abridged)
Moshe Zeidel (20th century Israel) accepts Kimche\’s time frame but avoids introducing the idea of the messianic battle. He maintains that this verse teaches that in the future Israel will be a blessing in the midst of nations like dew and rain which are symbols of blessing and will not be in need of anyone but God. He further notes that there are commentators (he probably means Ibn Ezra) who associate dew and rain with Torah. According to these authorities this verse intends for Israel to bring the message of the Torah to the nations so that they too might benefit from God\’s truth (Micah, Daat Mikra, p. 42 – See especially note 57b)
This is an important lesson for the Jewish people. It is time to realize the significance of our belief in God and Torah and how this belief might better the world.
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. Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp. Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus . Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary: