The haftarah reading of Parshat Balak is a relatively short selection from Sefer Michah. The 17 pesukim that make up this week’s haftarah, seem to have very little connection to the portion of Balak. Besides the mention of how Hashem protected B’nai Yisrael by undermining the scheme of Balak to curse them, there appears to be no other reason for its selection. Nonetheless, the words of Michah leave us with a number of messages that should command our attention and that deserve closer analysis. And, perhaps, we will find another reason for the choice of this haftarah.
The haftarah begins in the middle of the fifth perek of Michah. The beginning of that chapter describes the events that, according to almost all of the commentaries, depict the Messianic era — y’mot haMashiach. In describing the return of the exiled nation to her land, the Navi states: “v’yeter echav y’shuvun al B’nai Yisrael — then the rest of his brethren will return with the Children of Israel.” In explaining this phrase, the Mahari Kara says that Michah is telling us how, during the initial stage of the redemption, the people will endure intense suffering but, in the end, there will be a rebirth of the Jewish nation, “a time when all will return to the land, never to be divided again.” The words of the Mahar”i Kara should certainly awaken us to the significance of the events of this past century and bring us to the realization that the words of our prophets do certainly point the way for us today. It is also interesting to note that just as our parsha ends with the loss of 24,000 lives that was to be followed within months with the nation’s entry to Eretz Yisrael; so too, the intense suffering in the latter days would be followed by Israel’s return to the land.
But I believe there is yet another subtle, but essential message, we find in the words of Michah HaNavi. The prophet charges Israel to remember what Hashem had done for them in reversing the plan of Balak and the words of Bilam. But how did Israel even know what God had done for them if they didn’t hear the words of Bilam or know of the plan of Moav? It was only through the written Torah which was taught to them by Moshe that they learned of the entire episode! Indeed, this might be why Chazal have told us that in Parshat Balak — the entire Balak-Bilam episode — is a separate section of the Torah; it is a separate book! And now, thousands of years later, we are able to learn an essential truth regarding our survival: we really have no idea of how many times our enemies have plotted against us, planned to attack us or even wished to curse us! And, therefore, we have no idea how many times God has saved us. We only know of those miracles that we have actually seen —-but, not of those hidden from us!
Chazal expresses this very idea when they ask why David HaMelech wrote (in Hallel): “Hallelu et Hashem kol goyim … ki gavar aleinu chasdo.” Why, after all, should all other nations praise God, because He was so merciful to the Jewish nation? And our rabbis explain that only the nations — those who tried to destroy us — truly know the plots and plans that God overturned and, therefore, only they can properly appreciate the miracles that He has wrought for us.
We stand in amazement when we consider the miracles that we have seen that have brought us back to the land. We, who have seen these wonders with our own eyes, must praise God and realize that what we have seen is only part of the miracles He has done for us, “nisecha she b’chol yom imanu,” wonders that accompany us every day — all day — and yet also for ones we never even see.
When we hear of the attempts by governments to undermine, to delegitimize and even destroy the only Jewish State — and yet still see it remain strong and independent — we must realize that the Bilam’s of today, as in today’s coprolalias and false prophets, will fall as well.And we call out: “Hallelu et Hashem kol goyim …”
Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.