SALT - Wednesday, 7 Tammuz 5779 - July 10, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The haftara for Parashat Balak is a prophecy from Sefer Mikha, in which the prophet makes brief reference to Balak’s attempt to have a curse placed upon Benei Yisrael: “My nation, please remember what Balak, king of Moav, plotted…in order that you remember the kindnesses of the Lord” (Mikha 6:5).
            We find among the commentators different approaches to explaining the final phrase in this verse – “lema’an da’at tzidkot Hashem” (“in order that you know the kindnesses of the Lord”).  Several commentators, including Rashi and the Radak, explain this phrase as the prophet’s explanation for why the people must remember this incident.  The context of this prophecy is the “riv” (“trial”) to which God summons Benei Yisrael, seeking to show them that He has dealt kindly with them and asks for very little in return (see Mikha 6:2).  And thus God tells the people to remember how He foiled Balak’s plan to have a curse placed in them, so that they recognize His kindness.  We might add that this kindness was performed without the people even realizing that there was any sort of danger or threat, thus demonstrating how God is always working “behind the scenes” to protect us and help us in ways that we can never know and of which we are entirely unaware.  In response to the people’s complaints that God asks too much of them, God draws their attention to the fact that He is helping us in countless ways without our knowing, and thus His kindness towards us is infinite, even when it might appear otherwise.
            Metzudat David, however, explains this verse differently, writing, “He did all this goodness for you so that you would know the kindnesses of the Lord…”  According to Metzudat David, it appears, “lema’an da’at tzidkot Hashem” is the reason not why we are bidden to remember this incident, but the reason why this incident happened.  Metzudat David (a typically terse commentary) does not elaborate, but it seems that he understood this verse as giving the answer to a basic question that arises from the story told in Parashat Balak – the question of why God got involved at all in Balak’s plan.  Undoubtedly, Bilam’s curse on Benei Yisrael, which Balak so desperately sought, would have been powerless against God’s will.  Even if Bilam had been allowed to pronounce his curse, God could have continued protecting and blessing Benei Yisrael.  Why, then, was all this necessary?  What difference would it have made if Bilam had succeeded in placing a curse?
            According to Metzudat David, Mikha’s answer to this question is “lema’an da’at tzidkot Hashem” – so that we realize just how kind God is to Benei Yisrael, how much He loves His nation.  The period of Benei Yisrael’s journey through the wilderness saw numerous moments of great failure, which resulted in harsh punishments.  One could have easily been left with the impression that God was repulsed by Benei Yisrael, that their repeated mistakes led Him to despise them.  And so it was vitally important for God to show us the unconditional “tzidkot Hashem,” that when other nations sow hostility against Am Yisrael, He comes to our defense; when they malign and ridicule us, He blesses us.  The meaning of the story of Balak and Bilam is that notwithstanding God’s high expectations of Am Yisrael, and our accountability for our wrongdoing, we must feel confident in “tzidkot Hashem,” in His unending love for us and His unconditional commitment to us.  Just as a parent continues loving and unreservedly caring for a child even when the child needs to be reprimanded and punished, so do the “tzidkot Hashem” continue even when we fail, and the prophet urges us to be mindful of these “tzidkot Hashem” and always feel assured of God’s great love for His people.