June 20, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
June 20, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

‘A Nation That Dwells in Solitude’?

Parshat Balak

Our minhag of reading a portion from the Nevi’im each week finds its source in the responsa of Rav Hai Gaon (939-1038), although some scholars date the practice as far back as the time of Ezra HaSofer. According to the Abudraham (R. David Abudraham, Spanish halachist from the mid-14th century and the student of the well-known Ro”sh), the weekly reading of the haftarah was instituted when the occupying enemy prohibited the study of Torah, including its public reading. In response, our sages chose selections from the Nevi’im that would remind the people of what parsha they would have been reading on that Shabbat had they been permitted to do so.

The foresight of Chazal in instituting this practice has yielded numerous benefits over the years, as many Jews around the world were exposed to the words of the prophets, often words of comfort and promise that served as a light in an otherwise dark existence. Over the last few hundred years, when European yeshivot were battling reformists who denied the rabbinic traditions, these readings became crucial even for the more learned students who often had to sacrifice intense study of Tanach in favor of mastering and expanding their knowledge of Torah She’b’al Peh, which the reformists attempted to invalidate.

But together with the positive impact on the Jewish nation there was also a negative impact. Few Jews studied the Tanach in depth, and their knowledge of the Nevi’im was limited to whatever portion of Nach was read as a haftarah and, as we have seen in the past, the limited selection from the Navi may tell only part of the story.

When we open this week’s haftarah, a reading taken from the fifth and sixth perakim in Sefer Micha, we find the selection understandable and logical. Certainly, the mention of how Hashem undermined Bilam’s attempts to curse Bnei Yisrael serves as the clear connection to the events in the parsha and, undoubtedly, the reason for its choice. Nonetheless, when studying the previous chapters, starting from those pesukim in which Micha quotes his older contemporary, Yeshayahu, almost word for word (4; 1-3), we realize that the 16 verses of the haftarah do not tell the whole story.

The navi Micha depicts a glorious, post-exile future for Am Yisrael that would include an era when peace and justice would reign, when the enemies would be defeated and when the nation would return to her land. It would also be the time when weapons of war would be removed together with idolatry and sorcery. When our haftarah opens, it speaks of “she’eirit Yaakov,” the Jews who would survive the exile, and who would be completely independent, “asher lo y’kaveh l’ish,” never again to rely on other nations. Some parshanim explain that the produce of the land would be so great that it would support the growing population without depending on imports, hence, making Israel fully independent.

However, a careful reading of the text would suggest a view supported by other meforshim, i.e., that the intent of the navi was not to predict a great economic rebirth—although that too would occur. Rather, as the words indicate, Israel will not depend on “ish,” a human being, but on God alone. Interestingly, this independence, brought upon by their trust in Hashem, helps us better understand the pasuk stated by Bilam in this parsha. The “prophet for profit” says “hen am l’vadad yishkon,” “they are a nation who will dwell in solitude.” It would be a mistake to understand that the “bidud” predicted by Bilam means being isolated from the world. Not at all! Israel will help others, care for others and be involved with others. But, as the navi Micha states here, they will not need help from others for they will rely solely upon the gracious gifts granted to them by Hashem.

How beautiful it is, therefore, that, after hearing this glorious nevuah and subsequently being reminded of all God had done for them, the people ask for forgiveness, asking the navi what they can do to make up for their past faithlessness.

It is then that Micha tells them the formula that has been quoted by almost all nations: “Simply do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before Hashem.”


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles