April 23, 2024
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April 23, 2024
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Parshat Balak

This week’s haftarah reading, taken from Sefer Micha, would appear to have little in common with our Torah reading beyond the mention of how Hashem saved Israel from the designs of Bilam from his attempts to curse Bnei Yisrael. And perhaps we might be satisfied with that connection alone. Certainly, that comment is significant enough to remind us of the events in the parsha. One may well argue that other haftarot have even less connection to the events of their parsha. Nonetheless, it behooves us to try to find a deeper, perhaps even more basic, connection between the parsha and the Torah reading. In that vein, I share with you the approach of Rav Menachem Leibtag in analyzing the lesson found in this haftarah and the events we read of in the parsha.

The closing words of this week’s haftarah are among the most familiar in all of Tanach. The navi Micha’s statement that Hashem demands no more of you than “asot mishpat v’ahavat chesed v’hatznei’a lechet im Elokecha, to do justice, love kindness and walk modestly with Hashem,” is better understood when seen as part of the basic message imparted to the nation at that time. Rabbi Leibtag sees the navi’s message as a condemnation of the people’s false security, of their misplaced confidence in God’s help, relying, as they did, on their sacrificial practices. The nation, misled by the false idea of the ancients, might regard God as man, r”l, believing that, just as they could placate man with gifts and bribery, so they could win God over through bribery and false flattery, through sacrifice and insincere prayer. Micha recalls the actions of Bil’am who saw G-d precisely as he regarded Man. He goes on a mission against Hashem’s will, thinking he would be able to “convince” God; he offers sacrifices and rituals just as Balak did for him upon his arrival to Moav.

Micha teaches that God does not behave like man, but that, rather, man must behave like God, emulating His kindness, His justice and His humility.

Rabbi Leibtag adds that this message is especially pertinent for this Shabbat as we stand before the Three Weeks and the two fasts, Shiv’a Asar B’Tamuz and Tish’a B’Av. The message left for us by the navi reminds us that fasting is but a step toward repentance—not a replacement for it. Our tefillot must call us to return to Hashem, and our mourning during these weeks should make us remember how leaving God’s ways led us into war, suffering and exile.

With Hashem’s help, we have returned to our land; we now must help ourselves and complete our return to God.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

 

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