This week’s haftorah reveals to us Hashem’s incredible love for His people. The prophet Micha opens by comparing the Jewish nation to a lion amongst the beasts. This refers to the Jewish nation’s ultimate status in the Messianic era wherein there will be no need to turn to other nations for assistance. They will finally place their full trust in Hashem and recognize that salvation comes solely from Him. Micha continues the Messianic theme by describing Hashem’s cleansing process whereby all idolatry and idolatrous cities will be destroyed.
The prophet suddenly shifts gears and summons the Jewish people to a serious trial. Micha says, “Come and debate before the mountains and project your voice to the hills. Because Hashem is quarreling with His people and challenging Israel.” Hashem begins the debate and demands, “My nation, what have I done to you and how have I drained you?” (6:1-3) The prophet then lists a host of Hashem’s favors to His people. He sent them three great leaders; Moshe, Aharon and Miriam and even spared the Jewish people from Balak and Bilaam’s fiendish plot. The tone of the debate seems to focus on the Jewish nation’s unfairness to Hashem. Hashem has been so kind to them and, in return, consider their response. Yet, we find no concluding demand and criticism and instead we discover soft encouraging words. Micha says, “Man, haven’t you been told what is good and what Hashem expects of you? Engage yourself in acts of justice, loving kindness and walk modestly with Him.” (6:8) Where is all the fire and brimstone? Why doesn’t Hashem denounce His people for all their wrongdoing? Wasn’t this the trial’s original intent?
Chazal (see Yalkut Shimoni 554) raise these questions and share with us an enlightening perspective. Rav Shmuel cites three incidents where Hashem called His people to trial. Each time the nations got wind of the trial and eagerly awaited its outcome. They envisioned that their long awaited moment finally arrived and Hashem would undoubtedly destroy His nation. “After all”, they reasoned, “who could possibly stand up to Hashem’s accusations and wrath?” Rav Shmuel continues that when Hashem sees this response, He immediately converts His powerful accusation into soft and kind words of blessing. (Yalkut Shimoni 554) This insight reveals a unique dimension of Hashem’s relationship with His people. Although, in truth Hashem seriously faults His people this information remains between Hashem and His people. Hashem’s love for them does not permit them to be faulted by others. As far as the nations concerned, Hashem cherishes His people and rarely finds fault in them. If the nations are ever privy to Hashem’s feelings towards His people they will only discover favor and grace.
This insight is very helpful in appreciating the full message of this trial. Alongside Hashem’s all encompassing favor of the Jewish exodus, the picture is completed with one isolated incident. Micha proclaims, “My nation, remember what Balak the king of Moav advised and how Bilaam responded. From Shitim to Gilgal (Hashem ‘s kindness continued) in order that you should know Hashem’s righteousness.” (6:5) Why is this favor isolated and regarded the paradigm of Hashem’s kindness towards His people?
In light of the above insight Micha’s message becomes crystal clear. First, let us search for the hidden lesson of our parsha. Parshas Balak revolves around Balak and Bilaam’s futile attempts to shower curses at the Jewish nation. Bilaam, the sorcerer persistently directed words of degradation towards the Jewish people which were miraculously transformed into praise and blessing. To the untrained eye the scene appears to be somewhat comical. A wicked man insists on harming the Jewish people and refuses to accept that Hashem will simply not allow it. However, we can learn a deeper lesson from this entire experience.
As we carefully examine Bilaam’s words we discover their heavy concentration on the Jewish nation’s faults. Each curse reflects a serious attempt to arouse Hashem’s wrath against His people. Bilaam had contact with the inner dimensions of the world and possessed an accurate understanding of the Jewish nation’s shortcomings. He focused on these shameful acts and awaited Hashem’s harsh response to this indecent behavior. (see Targum to Bamidbar 24:1 and Kli Yakar 23:1, 14, 24:1) Yet, Hashem was not persuaded in the least bit and responded to His people instead with warm words of blessing. In fact, Bilaam himself admitted this disheartening phenomena and profoundly expressed it in his classical way. He proclaimed to the world, “Hashem does not gaze at Yaakov’s iniquity and does not see Israel’s sinful practices.” (23:21) His message was quite clear. Bilaam discovered the hard way that Hashem was not interested in faulting His people. Although, their relationship with Him may be full of imperfection it remains, in the eyes of the world absolutely perfect. Hashem would never think of trading in His people for anything in the world.
This same dimension is blatantly seen in Hashem’s response to Bilaam’s final plot. After his total failure in cursing the Jewish people, Bilaam notoriously advised Balak to engage the Midianite women in seducing Jewish men. This sinful scheme met with much success and tens of thousands of innocent Jewish men were lured into atrocious immoral conduct. Hashem responded harshly to this sinful movement and sent a severe plague killing over twenty thousand men. Yet, the totality and identity of the nation remained in tact. Even after a sin of such magnitude, Hashem’s love for His people was not diminished in the slightest way. These very same people continued to merit Hashem’s favor and entered Eretz Yisroel with open revelations. Radak explains that although the entire nation deserved to be destroyed Hashem did not permit it. (see comment to 6:5) In light of the above we can relate to this message. Bilaam’s fiendish plan could never interfere in Hashem’s relationship with His people. The nations of the world could never be at the root of such developments. Although the Midianites witnessed the Jewish nation’s momentary deviation even this atrocious behavior could not yield severe results. Bilaam and his followers could never be the cause of Hashem’s full wrath against His people. Therefore, after Pinchos effectively silenced the sinful movement Hashem continued His relationship with His people in full.
We now understand why Micha isolated this incident between Bilaam and the Jewish people when demonstrating Hashem’s ultimate love for His people. In truth, Hashem’s response to this serious plunge reflects the full tone of the debate. Hashem’s unequivocal message to His people is that the nations can never get between Hashem and His people. Even when Hashem has serious complaints against His people such information is not for public knowledge. Hashem’s incredible love for His people demands that world perspective of this be one of perfect love and appreciation. In truth, a father always remains a father during the most trying times and his love for his child is never tainted. Although he may punish his child this too is an expression of love and concern and should never be viewed in any other way. No one should ever forget that the Jewish people are Hashem’s children and His boundless love and concern for them will always be there for them.
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Dovid Siegel and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rosh Kollel of Kollel Toras Chaim of Kiryat Sefer, Israel.