July 4, 2009
12 Tammuz 5769
Parshat Balak in Israel
Parshat Hukkat -Balak in the Diaspora
The Haftarah is the same.
This week\’s haftarah ends with what many consider to be an anthem which expresses the essence of Jewish life: \”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 (hatzneah lekhet) with your God.\” (6:8)
The Talmudic sages often take abstract ideals and attempt to associate them with concrete acts. This is exactly what Rabbi Elazar did with the above verse: \”What is the meaning of the verse, It hath been told thee, 0 man, what is good, and what the Lord doth require of you: Only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God (Micah 6:8)? \’To do justly\’ [refers to acting in accordance with] justice; \’to love mercy\’ [refers to acts] of loving kindness\’; \’and to walk modestly with your God\’ [refers to] attending to funerals (or possibly helping with funeral expenses) and attending a wedding (or perhaps helping with expenses) for a bride for her wedding. (Sukkah 49b)
The derivation of the first two examples is relatively straightforward. The third association is less self-evident. How does Rabbi Elazar \”tease\” participation in funerals and weddings from \”hatzneah lekhet – walking modestly\”? Rashi attempts an explanation: \”Since in the verse it says: \’walk – lekhet\’, we find this verb also used in the following verse: \’It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting (wedding feast)\” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Even in these situations, one should act modestly, to eat modestly and to rejoice modestly, and not act light headedly.\” Rashi offers a second explanation: \”There are others who say: \’If one needs to assist in expenditures for a poor person who has died or for a poor bride, one should do it privately, not making an issue so that others will know what you have done.\” (adapted translations) Rabbi Menahem Meiri (13th century Provence) offers another possible explanation: \”When giving a eulogy or marrying off a bride, though these are public activities, they should be carried out modestly and not extravagantly.\”
It is evident from these explanations that the Jewish tradition emphasizes modesty and understatement. Ostentatious behavior is not only distasteful, evidently it is also antithetical to the core values of the Jewish tradition which would have us walk \”modestly\” with God.