Like Dew among the Nations
Haftarah for Parashat Balak, Micah 5:6–6:8
David Friedman, UMJC rabbi, Jerusalem
This section is our only haftarah portion from the book of Micah, a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah. It is joined to our parasha by mention of Balak, the wicked Moabite king:
O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord. (6:5 ESV)
This short haftarah portion contains sharp chastisement of the people for their lax devotion to the Torah and to God. The Land was full of occult practices, sorceries, idolatry, and cultic pillars with their poles for pagan worship. God was incensed at such behavior, as it constituted a sweeping violation of the covenant relationship between him and the people of Israel. Micah notes that God had a legal “indictment” (6:2) against his people.
What God wanted seemed simple enough. The conclusion of Micah is direct and to the point:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 ESV)
Teshuvah, repentance, was needed on a national scale. In his conclusion, Micah does not differ from his contemporary, Isaiah, who also called the royalty, priests, and citizens of Judah to turn back to God and fulfill his Torah.
What interested me in particular as I read through the haftarah this week was its prediction of exile from the Land of Israel:
The remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of the many peoples,
Like dew from the Lord, like droplets on grass. . . .
The remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations, in the midst of the many peoples,
Like a lion among the beasts of the wild, like a fierce lion among
Flocks of sheep, which tramples wherever it goes, and rends, with none to deliver.
(Micah 5:6a, 7 JPS)
This section seems out of place in a portion where God is upbraiding the people and calling for a national repentance. Suddenly we are told that when Israel is at its worst, and receives exile from the Land due to our errant ways, God will still use our people in the Diaspora for his purposes.
Micah uses a word to describe how this “remnant of Jacob” is placed in foreign nations: b’kerev. It literally means “in close”, but carries the connotation of being right in the middle of the action, right in the midst of things, part and parcel of these nations. It is interesting that Danes and Bulgarians who helped save their entire Jewish populations during WWII often voiced the sentiment that “these people may be Jewish, but they are Danes, too,” or “they are Bulgarians, too.” It didn’t always go that way for us, but in those two nations, Micah’s words hit a note of reality.
When I think of Jewish history outside of the Land of Israel, I am hard pressed to think of our people being “like lions” overcoming our oppressors. Much more set in my mind are times like the Holocaust, the pogroms, the Crusades, and the Inquisitions, when we were running from our oppressors. To think of us being “like a lion . . . which tramples wherever it goes,” I have to go back to the ancient Persian Empire where Mordecai and Esther led a state-sanctioned, successful armed Jewish uprising against our people’s enemies to think of a time when our people seemed to fulfill what Micah stated.
Yet, I want to share a story I heard 30 years ago that helped me see the reality of what Micah states here. I spoke with an elderly Polish woman in Warsaw who fought with the Armie Krajowa (the Polish Home Army) against the Nazis during WWII. She served as a military nurse and she tried to sneak food and medical supplies into the Jewish ghetto as part of her mission. She told me that even though she knew that Israel was the home of all Jewish people, she loved the fact that there were so many Jewish people living in pre-war Warsaw. Nearly one third of the city was Jewish then, leading to its moniker, “The Polish Jerusalem.” Jerusalem Avenue still today is one of Warsaw’s main boulevards. “I feel like we’ve been robbed,” said a Polish graduate student to me once. “Where once there were so many Polish Jews, so much a part of this nation, now there’s just a huge hole,” he sadly told me.
My elderly Polish friend shared with me how the presence of many Jewish people changed Poland forever, giving it an exposure to, and appreciation of, so many things that otherwise would have been lost on it. She shared how the Jewish community’s keeping of Shabbat taught the Polish people about holiness and devotion. In fact, in modern Polish, the word for Saturday is “Sobota”. Guess where that word came from?
She talked about how the recitations of the Shema that were heard from the lips of Polish Jews so impressed Poles. They saw that no matter what the circumstances, Poland’s Jewish community was resolved to be faithful to their loving God. “When the Nazis shot Poles in the streets, they cursed at the shooters. When the Nazis shot your people in the streets, they had the words of the Shema on their lips,” she said to me.
Scholarship, music, the arts, education, the military, and medicine were all areas where Polish Jews contributed much to Polish history. And then she ended her talk with me by saying, in a most gracious way: “To you, it seems like a punishment that your people were here for so long, 1,000 years; but for us in Poland, your people were such a blessing to us, and gave us so much!”
As I read Micah’s words, that we would be as “dew from the Lord, like droplets on grass,” I thought of what this dear woman stated. In Israel, dew appears on our grass every morning during the summer season. Without it, our plants would surely die. Rainfall doesn’t start up again until October at the earliest, so dew is necessary to life in summer, and appears as a daily gift. This woman was telling me that the presence of Jewish people, as Micah foretold, was like “dew” to her Polish nation. Our presence gave life. Although Micah’s depiction of our people being lions did not happen there, the depiction of dew certainly did.
Even if our Diaspora presence has been unappreciated throughout history (and it's no exaggeration to say this), God still used our presence to shine his reality to the host nations: Jacob shall be among the nations, in the midst of the many peoples, like dew from the Lord (5:6a). Wherever Jacob’s descendants went, God went as well. Perhaps this is what Micah is telling us. This truth encompasses many nations throughout Diaspora history, in Europe, in Africa, in the Middle East, and in the Americas. Today, as a result of our Diaspora history, some 35 different languages are spoken in Israel today!
I can only wonder how many other people would say similar things to what my Polish friend said about the Diaspora Jewish presence in their lands. I was grateful to this dear woman for her encouraging words.
And I can now see that Micah was spot on: “The remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations, in the midst of the many peoples, like dew from the Lord.” Right in their midst, bringing the Presence of God. Was this the ideal? No, it was not. But again, God used what happened for the good of many peoples.