Micha and his connection to Parshat Balak

The Haftara for Parsha Balak is from Micha 5:6-6:8.

In the first verse of the Book of Micha (the sixth book of Trei Asar) we learn that Micha was a prophet during the reigns of Yotam, Achaz and Hezkia (kings of Yehuda) and that he prophesied to both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.

The Talmud, Psachim 87a teaches us that Micha, Hoshea, Yishayahu and Amos prophesied during the same time period. They were all prophets at the time of the same kings and their prophecies consisted of both strong rebuke and comfort and hope.

Micha’s prophecies were given circa 740 BCE, shortly before the Assyrians exiled the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE.

Rabbi Menachem Leibtag points out that by the time of Yotam and Achaz, both Micha and Yishayahu realized that the people were not worthy of the prosperity that God gave them. Their prophecies focus on social injustice, corruption and dishonesty.

The first section of the Haftara from Chapter 5 brings a message of comfort. In the future, at the time of the Mashiach, the Jews who will be scattered around the world will place their hope in God, who has the keys to the salvation, just as He holds the keys to the dew and rain. The Jews will be like he lion of the forest, nobody will stand up to them. No more wars will be fought. There will be no horses, chariots or walled cities nor fortune tellers.

In Chapter 6 we are back to the rebuke. Micha calls to the mountains and hills on God’s behalf and instructs them to listen to a suit between God and Israel. He reminds them how God acted kindly to them and how they were ungrateful. He admonishes them for not following the Torah.

The people during the time of Micha were corrupt. However, they thought that God was with them as long as they continued to go to the Beit HaMikdash to offer sacrifices.

A few chapters before our Haftara, in Micha 3:9-11, we read about how the leadership at the time of Micha was unethical. They detested justice and made crooked all that was straight. Judges were bribed. Zion was built with crime and iniquity. The punishment is laid out in Micha 3:12, “Zion would be plowed as a field and Jerusalem would become heaps of ruins and the Temple Mount a shrine in the woods.”

Rabbi Leibtag explains that the people became affluent and haughty. It is this hypocrisy that so angers God that he decides the Beit HaMikdash must be destroyed.

The main connection between Parshat Balak and the Haftara (aside from Micha 5:11 which talks about destroying sorcery) is in Micha 6:5, “My nation, remember what Balak, the King of Moav conspired and what Bilam ben Beor answered him, from Shitim to Gilgal.”

Why is Micha bringing up the story of Balak and Bilam hundreds of years after it took place?

Ibn Ezra explains that this incident teaches us God’s mercy. God did not allow Bilam to curse them. God gave Bilam prophecy to ensure that he would bless them. When B’nei Yisrael were about to go into the land they sinned at Ba’al Peor. God could have killed them all off, but He didn’t. Twenty-four thousand people died in the plague and then God had mercy on the rest and allowed them to enter the Land of Israel.

According to Malbim, B’nei Yisrael thought that they would need to bring sacrifices or even sacrifice their own children in order to do Tshuva after sinning which was caused by Bilam’s advice. God said that He does not need their sacrifices. God is not giving them difficult assignments, He just wants them to do justice, righteousness, kindness and observe the mitzvot.

The concept of sacrificing animals and even their own children to atone for their sins (Micha 6:7) comes from the pagan culture of idolatry. God sees little value in animal sacrifices and no value in human sacrifice.

We see this clearly in Parshat Balak. Balak slaughtered cattle (Bamidbar 22:40) and took Bilam to Bamot Ba’al (22:41). Bilam asked Balak to build seven altars, prepare seven rams and seven bulls (23:1). Balak did as Bilam requested. They sacrificed as burnt offerings an ox and a ram on each alter (23:2).

Balak thought that if he would appease God with sacrifices then God would let them curse B’nai Yisrael. After trying this three times, it was clear that his plan did not work. Bilam had to admit that God will only let him say what He allows him to say.

Balak and Bilam thought that they could convince God by bringing sacrifices at a high place. That did not work. If we want to have God on our side, we need to change our behavior, not just pray and bring sacrifices.

When Bilam saw that the only way that the Jewish people will be cursed by God is if they don’t follow His laws, especially in the area of immorality, he set a trap for B’nai Yisrael to sin with the daughters of Moav and Midian. We see that Bilam was behind this in Bamidbar 35:15-16, Rashi, Bamidbar 25:1 and in Perek Chelek (Chapter 11, Sanhedrin 106a).

In Pirkei Avot 5:19, contrasted to Avraham, Bilam is called a “rasha”, wicked, and that is how he is looked upon until today.

At the end of our Haftara (Micha 6:7-8), Micha makes it clear that God sees little value in sacrifices and prayers.

How do we walk in His ways? We need to “do justice, love goodness and walk modestly with God.”

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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