Bar-Ilan University

The Faculty of Jewish Studies

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Daf Parashat Hashavua

(Study Sheet on the Weekly Torah Portion)

Basic Jewish Studies Unit


Parashat Balak - The Haftarah

"The Remnant of Jacob Amidst the Nations" (Micah 5:6-6:9)

Prof. Samuel Vargon

Department of Bible

(6) And the remnant of Jacob

Shall be in the midst of many peoples,

As dew from the Lord,

As showers upon the grass,

That are not looked for from man,

Nor awaited at the hands of the sons of men.

(7) And the remnant of Jacob

Shall be among the nations,

In the midst of many peoples,

As a lion among the beasts of the forest,

As a young lion among the flocks of sheep,

Who, if he go through treadeth down and teareth in pieces,

And there is none to deliver.

(8) Let thy hand be lifted up above

Thine adversaries,

And let all Thine enemies be cut off.

This week's Haftarah begins with a short prophecy about the "remnant of Jacob," presented in two symmetric stanzas (verses 6 and 7), each beginning with an almost identical depiction of the future condition of the Jewish people. Each stanza continues with a double metaphor: "as dew" and "as showers" in the first, and "as a lion" and "as a young lion" in the second; both develop the metaphor further with a relative clause (that are not looked for; "Who if he go"). The second stanza adds a prayer that our enemies be destroyed.

For all their symmetry, the two stanzas also have striking contrasts: dew which revives the spirit, as opposed to a lion that devours and tramples. We will explain each in turn. Through his imagery of dew and showers, which bring blessing to plant life, the prophet Micah describes the beneficent influence the Jews are destined to have on those around them. The "many peoples," the object of Israel's actions, will be as plants revived by the dew -- Israel -- as explained in Ibn Ezra's commentary: "The people of Israel will teach the other nations to call on the name of God, and they shall be among them the same way as 'I shall be as the dew to Israel' (Hosea 14:6)." "Showers" denote plentiful rain that falls upon the earth.

This metaphor is further developed by the relative clause "That are not looked for from man, nor awaited at the hands of the sons of men." Now the relative clause is ambiguous: Does it describe the dew or is its antecedent "the remnant of Jacob"? Since the verb expressing "looked for" (kavah) and "awaited" (yahel) in biblical Hebrew always have as their subject human beings, the antecedent of this clause is not the dew or showers (that can not look for or await the aid of man), but rather the "remnant of Jacob." In other words, in time to come the remnant of the Jewish people will not put their trust in man, as they do at present, but will patiently await deliverance by God. This will bring blessing to the Jewish people, and they will in turn become a source of blessing to the nations the way dew and rain bring blessing to vegetation. However, some commentators believe the antecedent of "That are not looked for..." to be the grass, that does not need to look towards man since all its needs (rain, dew) are provided from Heaven. Indeed, in biblical syntax frequently the object of one clause becomes the subject of the clause that follows.

In the second image, the prophet goes on to compare the Jewish people to a lion among the other animals of the forest: "As a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep." In the future, the relationship between the remainder of the Jewish people and the other nations will be like that of a mighty lion to weaker beasts. Here, too, "who" presumably refers back to the "remnant of Jacob" and not to the lion. In time to come, the status of the Jewish people will change: it will trample and devour other nations, and they will find no deliverance from the remnant of Israel.

The contradiction between the sense of the two verses stands out against their similarity in form. Verse 6 anticipates the beneficent influence of the remnant of Israel, whereas verse 7 portrays the remnant of Israel on the nations of the world, as a fighter vanquishing and trampling its foe. Commentators have tried to resolve this contradiction in various ways. One exegete (Abarbanel, in his second comment) maintains that each of the verses refers to a different group of nations: those nations that listen to the Lord and come to Zion to worship in God's house and receive his teachings, those that treat the Jews kindly, will receive the blessing of dew (v. 6); whereas those that do not listen to the Lord or that treat the Jews badly will be trampled and torn apart by the remnant of Israel (v. 7).

Other exegetes offer a chronological solution: to fulfill the destiny set forth in verse 6, first verse 7 must be fulfilled; i.e. the Jews must first defeat the nations, vanquishing them in war, and then will they bring a beneficent influence to bear on them. We think that one can resolve the contradiction by assuming that the speaker in verse 6 is not the same as that in verse 7; i.e., two different opinions are being voiced here. While Micah sees that remnant of Israel in time to come as a peaceful nation, others among the people look forward to Israel becoming a nation with the military prowess to trample other nations as a lion does its prey. In the light of this expectation, they call on the people to prepare now for the future battle they will wage against the nations in order to destroy them. Accordingly, verse 8, "Let thy hand be lifted up above thine adversaries, and let all Thine enemies be cut off," can be interpreted in two ways: as a call to Israel (tarom is in the 2nd person) to begin carrying out the ideal of destroying its enemies, or as a supplication addressed to God. The supplicant sees the enemies of the Jewish people as enemies of God and calls on the Lord overcome them, wiping them out.

According to our interpretation of this passage as reflecting a controversy between the prophet Micah and his adversaries, it follows that Micah agrees with Isaiah's view. Isaiah also called on the people to wait for the Lord that "hideth His face from the house of Jacob" and look to His deliverance (Isaiah 8:17; 30:18); to trust in God, to wait "in sitting still and rest," in "calm and quiet," in order to be saved (Isaiah 7:4; 30:15). For "Then shall Asshur fall with the sword, not of man, and the sword, not of men, shall devour him" (Isaiah 31:8). In contrast to those who put their trust in Israel vanquishing its foes by its own might, Micah, like Isaiah, does not see the future salvation of Israel in its military prowess.

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