of Parshat Balak - 5760
On this Shabbat, the Diaspora catches up with "Eretz Yisrael," the Land of Israel, in terms of the Reading of Parshiyot and Haftarot. On this Shabbat, both Parshat Chukat and Parshat Balak are read in shul in the countries of the Exile; whereas, in Israel, only Balak is read.
When Chukat and Balak are read together, only the Haftarah of Balak is recited. Reading the Haftarot of both Parshiyot would probably be a "tircha d'tziburra," "an excessive burden on the congregation." According to both the
Ashkenazic and the
Sefardic communities, the Haftarah is taken from the Sixth Verse in Chapter Five of the Book of Michah through and including Verse Eight of Chapter Six of Michah.
Who was the Prophet Michah?
This Prophet belonged to the group of Prophets known as the "Trei Asar," meaning "The Twelve." As a group, they rebuked the Jewish People about their continuous idol-worship and, possibly worse, for their worship of HaShem with the proper outward trappings, but with none of the required inwardness, reducing their great religion to a mockery and a meaningless shell of ritual.
They also harshly criticized the People for their lack of social justice, whereby they trampled upon the rights of the underprivileged. And yet another great theme was their reliance on foreign nations for their salvation, rather than upon HaShem, Who had stood by them always and had saved them from Egypt, the Seven Nations, Amalek and on and on.
But they also had immortal words of comfort for their People, of Redemption and Salvation to come, if the People of Israel would only do "Teshuvah," return to HaShem with all their heart and all their soul.
Michah was the sixth in the traditional listing by CHAZAL of the "Trei-Asar."
According to the RAMBAM, Michah was a link in the Chain of "Mesorah," and received the Tradition of Torah from Yeshayahu and his court.
Michah prophesied during the period of Yotam, Achaz and Yechizkiah, Kings of Yehudah. His prophecies were directed at both the Kingdom of Yisrael, represented by the Region of Shomron, and the Kingdom of Yehudah, represented by its central city, Yerushalayim.
"She'arit Yaakov," Remnant of Jacob
The Haftarah begins with a remarkable expression used by the "Navi," the Prophet Michah. The expression is "She'arit Yaakov," "Remnant of Jacob."
The word "She'arit" means "Remnant" or "Survivor," in the sense of the surviving remnant of Jewish History - those left over after all the miraculous deliverances, the massacres and pogroms, the Holocaust, the glorious triumphs of the building of the Temples, perhaps in the same breath the establishment in our time of the State of Israel and the Recapture of Yerushalayim in the Six Day War.
It also has the connotation of distillation, the purpose of all the effort, the net result, the final product.
It has A Messianic connotation, as the Mashiach is the principal fruit of the Remnant of Yaakov, as in the words of Bilaam, "Darach Kochav MiYaakov," "A star has emerged from Jacob
" (Bamidbar 24:7)
Yet the Talmud says that every generation has the potential to be the generation of the Mashiach - and the great
Rabbi Akiva applied the verse mentioned above to Shimon bar Kosiva in his generation, whom he considered initially to be the Mashiach, and referred to him as "Bar Kochba," Son of the Star.
Summary of the Haftarah
The Prophet pictures the "Remnant of Jacob" in two aspects:
Having survived the climactic battle of "Gog and Magog," which will occur, according to Jewish Tradition, just before the appearance of the Mashiach, they will be a blessing for the surviving remnant of humanity, like the "dew" and like the "rain." They will also be unconquerable, as the lion, King of the Beasts, from which none can escape. (Michah 5:6-8)
This "Remnant" shall have no need for the usual accoutrements of war, such as horses and chariots, and fortresses (Michah 5:9-10)
Nor will there be any reliance on false gods, soothsayers, or idols. And G-d will severely punish the nations who even now don't accept His rule. (Michah 5:11-14)
HaShem now summons the mountains and the hills (or symbolically, the Avot, the Founding Fathers of the Jewish People, and the
Imahot, the Founding Mothers of the Jewish People) to witness His complaint aqainst Israel. (Michah 6:1-2)
"My People, Consider how much good I have given you, and how little I have troubled you. I took you out of Egypt. And I gave to you great leaders like
Moshe, Aharon and
"My People, remember how Balak, King of Moav, tried to destroy you by hiring the evil, heathen prophet, Bilaam ben Beor, to curse you, and how I converted his curses to blessings at the gateway of his mouth."
"Indeed, from Shitim (where you sinned grievously with the daughters of Moav) at the very threshold of "Eretz Yisrael," because of the advice of Bilaam. And that I only punished you lightly for this great offense, and allowed you entry into the Land of Israel, where you came first to Gilgal, where you would fulfill the Command of Brit Milah (Circumcision), as an example of the Merciful Judgments of HaShem." (Michah 6:1-5)
The People of Israel respond that they don't know how to serve HaShem, because He is so great and far above them. Shall they serve Him by bringing Him thousands of year-old rams, tens of thousands of streams of oil; should they offer Him their first-born or other children to expiate their sins?" (Michah 6:6-7)
Michah says that HaShem has given them the Torah which, in its essence, answers their question and tells them what HaShem wants of them. The three things are that they should do justice, and love kindness and walk humbly with their G-d." (Michah 6:8)
Connections to the Parshah
The basic connection is that the theme of the Parshah is the failed attempt by Balak, King of Moav, to harm the Jewish People by the agency of the Prophet-for-hire Bilaam ben Beor. HaShem turns Bilaam's curses inside-out, revealing the Prophet's true insight into the greatness and moral superiority of the Jewish People. This intervention by HaShem in behalf of His People, Israel, is mentioned in the Haftarah in Michah 6:5, "Remember, My People, what Balak wanted and what Bilaam delivered to him."
A specific connection is that when Bilaam asks G-d's permission to curse Israel, HaShem says unequivocally, "You may not curse the People, for it is blessed." In the opening of the Haftarah, the Prophet describes the Remnant of Jacob in terms of "dew" and "rain," both elements of blessing for the world, as we say (during Israel's rainy season) in the Shemoneh Esray , "please grant dew and rain for a blessing for the Land."
Balak begins his entreaty to Bilaam with the words, "Behold a nation has come forth out of Egypt;" in the Haftarah, this is echoed when HaShem says to Israel (Michah 6:4), "for I have taken you out of the Land of Egypt."
Bilaam says in his Prophecy (Bamidbar 23:8) "How can I curse (a nation) that G-d has not cursed, and how can I direct His anger against (a People) for whom He holds no anger!" The Talmud in Masechet Berachot explains Bilaam's main gift as his being able to divine the precise moments of HaShem's anger and direct that anger against his enemies, and he is saying that HaShem has no "anger" for Israel. On the other hand, in the Haftarah, we find "And I will pour out my wrath and fury against the nations that still disobey me."
Bilaam perceives the events of the Messianic Period, and compares the Jewish People to the lion "Behold the People will arise like a lion cub and raise itself like a lion; it will not lie down till it eats its prey and drinks their blood" (Bamidbar 23:24). In the Haftarah, (Michah 5:7), we find "And the Remnant of Jacob will be in the midst of the nations as a lion among the wild beasts, and as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, that will come upon them, and trample them, and make them their prey, and there will be none to save."
Bilaam says (Bamidbar 23:9) "For I see them from the tops of the mountains and gaze upon them from the hills
" In the Haftarah (Michah 6:1), HaShem calls as witness against Israel in his disputation the mountains and the hills.
Bilaam attempted to ply HaShem with sacrifices in each of his first three attempts to curse the People (Bamidbar 23:1, 23:14, 23:30); Michah proclaims that the L-rd is not interested in multitudes of sacrifices from human beings. (Michah 6:6-7)
Bilaam refers to Amalek, the archenemy of the Jewish People as "Reshit Goyim," the "First of the Nations," in the sense of crude, primitive and undeveloped in its spiritual values (Bamidbar 24:20) Michah refers to the Jewish people as "Shearit Yaakov," the Remnant of Jacob. The words "Reshit" and "Shearit" are closely related, in that "Shearit" is obtained from "Reshit" by the permutation of its three key letters: "Resh," "Aleph," "Shin."
Bilaam captures the essence of the modesty of Jewish family life, when he says, under the command of G-d, (BaMidbar 24:5) "How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob;" Michah says that one of the ways that HaShem wants human beings to serve Him is by "walking modestly with their G-d" (Michah 6:8).
And many other connections
The Talmudic Statement of Rabbi Simlai
In Masechet Makot (23b-24a), we find Rabbi Simlai's famous discussion concerning the fact that great Jewish leaders attempted to distill the Torah's commandments for educational purposes:
He mentions that King David reduced the commandments from six hundred thirteen to eleven,
the Prophet Yeshayahu reduced them to six,
Michah distilled them to three, "He has told you, O Man, what is good, and what HaShem, your G-d, demands from you: the doing of justice, the love of kindness and walking humbly with your G-d (Michah 6:8), the Prophet Yeshayahu further reduced his number to two,
until the Prophet Chavakuk reduced them to just one, (Chavakuk 2:4) "And the righteous shall live by faith alone."
These great leaders of Israel seemed to be attempting to distil the commands of the Torah to their absolute minimum, as Rabbi Akiva did when he stated "Love your neighbor as yourself," - This is the fundamental Principle of the Torah, from which all the rest flows. And as
Hillel stated explicitly to the scoffer who'd come to his door, asking to be taught the entire Torah while standing on one foot, and Hillel had responded with the negative form of the Golden Rule, that One should not do anything to his neighbor that he would not want done to himself; "that is the foundation; now go and study the rest."
Guardian of Israel
I'll close with this prayer to the Almighty that we say on all those days whose holiness and spirit of optimism make it unnecessary, from the Tachanun:
"Guardian of Israel,
Protect the Remnant of Israel,
Let Israel not be destroyed,
Those who say, 'Hear O Israel' "
"Guardian of the Unique Nation,
Protect the Remnant of the Unique Nation,
Let the Unique Nation not be destroyed,
Those who proclaim the Unity of Your Name,
Our G-d, the One G-d."
"Guardian of the Holy Nation,
Protect the Remnant of the Holy Nation,
Let the holy nation not be destroyed,
Whose members proclaim three "Holy's"
To the Holy One."
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU