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Basically Moshe summarizes - as we talked about before - all the 613 commandments and everything it is that God asks from you in one sort of pithy statement. And the Prophet Micah, centuries later, also summarizes everything that God asks for you in one pithy statement. But the problem is these summaries are impossibly different. They don't work with each other. So, you know, one possibility is Micah is just unaware of what Moshe said. But that’s not possible. It seems very, very difficult to say. First of all, because Micah is a Prophet, of course he would be aware of the great-grandfather of all Prophets, the Prophet of Prophets, what it is that Moshe says. And plus, the language that Micah uses is actually evocative of Moshe. He basically quotes Moshe at the beginning and then veers away from him.
Listen to his language: Veatah Yisrael mah Hashem shoel meimcha ki im lirah et-Hashem Elokeicha. And that is what Moshe said. And now, oh Israel, what is it that the God asks of you except for? So, that very same formulation is a formulation that Micah uses: Higid lecha adam mah tov umah Hashem doresh mimcha ki im; it was told to you, what it is that God asks from you.
What does he asks of you, except for? It’s like virtually the same thing that Moshe says. It’s not like Micah came out of that formulation out of the blue. He was more or less quoting Moshe. So he is obviously aware of Moshe and he intends to diverge from Moshe, which is sort of strange since it’s our question. Is he arguing with Moshe? It is inconceivable that a later Prophet would come along and junk what Moshe said and say, "That's ridiculous! Listen to what I say." I mean, it’s not a new religion that Micah is starting over here. So, what exactly is going on?
Okay, so there are a few important clues that we need to pay attention to. And I think if we add up all the clues, we’re going to be able to find ourselves an answer. Here is the first, sort of, set of clues that we need to look at: The discrepancies between what Moshe says and what Micah says. And I don't just mean the discrepancy in terms of the list of what it is that God asks from us. We’ve already seen how those things are discrepant. How Moshe asks for all these things having to do with man and God, and really emphasizes that. Ki im lirah et-Hashem lalechet bechol drachav uleahavah oto. God wants you to fear Him, God wants you to love Him, God wants you to serve Him; and that’s the emphasis of Moshe. And we’ve seen how Micah's emphasis is very different, more on the social justice issues: Asot mishpat v’ahavat chesed v’hatznea lechet im-Elokeicha. We have seen that.
But I am talking about other discrepancies. The discrepancy in the lead up to what they say. So, listen to the language carefully and ask yourself, 'How is the language different?' And I think we will be able to find at least three differences between them.
Okay, here is Moshe, and right after that I’ll read Micah.
Moshe: Veatah Yisrael mah Hashem Elokeicha shoel meimcha ki im... (dot, dot, dot) - And now, oh Israel, what is it that God asks of you other than… (dot, dot, dot).
Okay, now listen to Micah: Higid lecha adam mah tov, it was told to you, oh man, what is good. Umah Hashem doresh mimcha, and what is it that God seeks of you, ki im, except for… (dot, dot, dot). And then he is going to give that list, and the list is going to be different than Moshe's.
So again, aside from the differences in the list itself, here, at least, are a couple differences in the prologue of what each man says.
Let's talk about audience. What audience does Moshe see himself as addressing himself to, and how does that differ from the audience that Micah is talking about? Obviously, they are talking to the same audience. They are both talking to the Israelites, to the Jewish people. But Moshe actually says that when he speaks; veatah Yisrael mah Hashem Elokeicha shoel meimcha,
and now, oh Israel, what does God ask from you?
When you look at Micah, Micah says, higid lecha adam ma tov; it was said to you, oh man. So, even though Micah’s also addressing the Jews, he’s addressing them as ‘man,’ whereas Moshe is addressing them as ‘Israel.’ And that is one interesting discrepancy.
Here's another discrepancy in language. What about what it is that God asks? We'll talk about the 'seeking' itself - the verb that is used to describe what it is that God asks of you. When Moshe uses that word, it's: Mah Hashem Elokeicha shoel meimcha, "What is it that God asks of you?" Shoel really means 'ask'. Look at Micah: Mah Hashem doresh mimcha, “What is it that God seeks of you?"
So, there is a difference between seeking and asking. And by the way, if you think about the difference - even in Hebrew for those - you know, the Hebrew word doresh is a very strong word. It's really to demand, to seek. So, there's a much stronger emphasis in Micah than there is in Moshe. Moshe is talking about what it is that God 'asks' of you; Micah's talking about what it is that God 'seeks' of you.
And here, already, we are beginning to get a picture, maybe, of how these two men's statements might actually jive with each other. It's not that they are giving contradictory lists about the same thing. They're actually talking about two different things, perhaps. What Moshe is talking about is what God 'asks' of you; Micah is talking about something else - what God 'demands' of you. There is a difference between what God 'demands' of you and what God 'asks' of you. Or to put it a little bit more subtly, there is a difference between what God 'asks' of you as an Israelite and what God 'demands' from you as a man.
An Israelite is a both man and an Israelite. And one can suggest that there are sort of two categories of obligations. There is one kind of category of obligation of 'what God asks of me as an Israelite’, but there is another category called 'what God demands from me as a person’. And by the way, it may well be that Micah sees himself as kind of offering a commentary on what Moshe’s saying. In other words, it’s just not what it is that God demands of you as Israelite that you need to pay attention to, it is also what it is that God demands from you as a person. Because, interestingly, look at the very last thing that Moshe says in his list after he gets through with fearing of God, and loving God, and serving God, and doing all of his mitzvot; the very last words he says is, that God has given you all these mitzvot to do letov lach - for your benefit; it’s good for you, those things. It is kind of interesting, that those very last words of Moshe, letov lach, were actually the first words of Micah.
Listen to Micah: Higid lecha adam mah tov umah Hashem doresh mimcha. Micah’s not just quoting Moshe's beginning, mah Hashem doresh mimcha, “what is it that God seeks from you”; he is also quoting Moshe's end, the mah tov. Moshe said at the end, letov lach, all of this is tov, is good for you. It’s almost as if he’s saying, higid lecha adam mah tov, I’ll tell you what that tov is, I’lll tell you what the good is. Let me explain to you what Moshe was alluding to when at the very end of his words he was talking about tov. Moshe was talking about a whole other level of obligation. A level of obligation that is a tov, a goodness obligation, that rises above and beyond what it is that we’re called upon to do as Israelites. But a kind of obligation for goodness that devolves upon us as a member of the human race - something that God seeks from us. Asot mishpat, doing justice; ahavat chesed; loving kindness; hatznea lechet im-Elokeicha, walking modestly with God.
So, I think we’re beginning to get a picture of how Micah's words might jive with Moshe's. But I think there is much more to this picture. So, let's look at few more clues to try to continue flushing it out.
Okay, the next thing we needed to do to really understand what’s going on here is to actually pull out the zoom lens a little bit and look at the larger context of Micah's words. So Micah's words that we have been talking about thus far appear in the Book of Micah, chapter 6, verse 8. We, to this point, have just been looking at verse 8; I want to pull back the zoom lens now, and read through really most of this chapter with you and see the larger context and I think we will really be able to flush out what is happening here. So, follow me along and let's read. And as we read, let's take note of some of the difficulties that present themselves to us as we go through this text.
Okay, you can follow along me if you happen to have a Tanach handy; otherwise you can just listen.
Micah chapter 6 : Shimu-na et hadvar Hashem, listen now to that which God says. Kum riv et-haharim vetishmanah hagevaot kolecha. The very first thing is happening is that God is sort of summoning the mountains and summoning the valleys and is demanding that nature itself listen to it debate, as it were, that God is now going to carry on with its people Israel. Shimu haharim, listen, you mountains, et riv Hashem, the complaint that God wants to lodge against the Jewish people. Ki riv laHashem im amo, God is arguing with his people, veim Yisrael yitvakach, and He is going to debate Israel. And here is the opening salvo from God, as it were. Ami, my nation, meh asiti lecha, what did I ever do to you? Umeh heleticha anah bi, how have I worn you down? How have I wearied you? Answer me!"
Now look specifically at the nature of this question, alright? God is not actually, you know, lodging sort of one of these standard complaints which you see often in the prophets that the Jews have worshipped idols, or that they are betraying Him, or that they’re adulterers or bad things like that. He is actually saying something more subtle. He is not actually complaining that you are not keeping the mitzvot. Maybe you are keeping the mitzvot. What He is demanding from the Jews is more passion. You’re doing this by rote. It’s as if it doesn't mean that much to you. You seem like you are worn down. You seem depressed. Where is the life? Where is the vigor? What have I ever done to weary you so much? Why does it is seem like such a burden for you?"
God continues: Ki he’eliticha me’eretz Mitzrayim, look, I took you out of Egypt! And interesting play on words by the way, and the last thing that God said is: meh heleticha - “How did I weary you?” And now play on words, ki he’eliticha, because I did the opposite of wearying you; I brought you up. I brought you up out of Egypt. If you are sounding kind of flat, depressed; why are you so depressed? I brought you up out of Egypt, I did this great thing for you that should inspire love and passion. Umibeit avadim pediticha, I took you out of slavery; vaeshlach lepaneicha et Moshe Aharon uMiryam, I gave you great leaders: Moshe, Aaron and Miriam. What more could you ask from me?
Now, we are going to meet something a little bit odd. We are about to get to the capstone of God's complaint. He is going to talk about the greatness of what God did for you, the kindness that he showed in the desserts. Now if you stop and think if you were God, what could you talk about? The splitting of the Red Sea, all sorts of interesting things; but a very strange thing is what God chooses to focus on now. Ami, my nation, zechar na, remember, mah yaatz Balak melech moav. Remember how Balak the King of Moav, how he tried to curse you? Umah anah oto Bilam, and how Bilam ended up answering him; do you remember that? How Bilam tried to curse you and I made things go well? So I did all these wonderful things for you.
It's a little strange. Why are you bringing up Bilam? Bilam seems like a footnote in Jewish history, and it’s the last thing you would mention on the 40 years on the desserts if you really want to talk about God's kindnesses. It’s there, but it’s not like the capstone. So, this seems like a strange argument that God is making. We are going to come back to this in a few minutes. But generally, this is God's complaint, "How did I weary you?" And now, what is the Jews' answer going to be?
So, now we are in a position to begin to appreciate why Micah might start using Moshe's language within this speech? Why he might reference this formulation of Moshe's about what it is that God asks of you. Because if you really think about it, in formulating reply, if you were going to be the defense lawyer for the Jewish people, or if you were going to think as Jews - how would we reply to this kind of complaint. You would search yourself; you would say, 'What can we do to show our sense of gratefulness, to show our passion? What could we do to lift up our level of observance just a little bit more so that God would feel that we’re responding appropriately to what it is that God has done for us.
So, in other words, what you’re looking for is to sort of take your passion for Judaism up a notch. And now we have a real big problem, really. Which is, how do you take it up a notch?
The problem lies in Moshe's words. You see, Moshe formulated the basics of what it is that Judaism demands from us. And the problem is, it's not a little bit of stuff. It is a huge amount. I mean the paradox is almost inherent in Moshe’s words: Veatah Yisrael - mah Hashem shoel meimcha. Moshe said, “And now, Israel, what is it the God asks from you, except!"
Now if you just started with that, it sounds like God is just asking a couple of things from you. What does he want from you anyway? Just wants a few things. So it seems like, yeah, you can probably take care of those, from 9 to 11:30 in the morning, on your way to the dry cleaners. But then listen to what it is that Moshe says: ki im lirah et-Hashem; God just wants you to fear Him. God wants you lalechet bechol drachav; to walk in all of God's ways. He would also like you leahavah oto; to really love Him very much. Laavod et Hashem Elokeicha; and he’d like you to serve Him, bechol levavcha uvechol nafshecha, with all your heart, with all your soul. Not to just serve him a little bit. Plus, maybe for good measure, lishmor et mitzvot Hashem Elokeicha, He also wants you keep these commandments.
How many commandments are there? 613! No biggie! Ve’et chukotav. Also, He has ordinances; He would like you to keep those, too. Asher anochi metzavcha hayom, all of these things today. Letov lach; it’s for your benefit anyway!
What is the big deal? God is just asking a couple of things from you. Just get it done early in the morning, and then go about the rest of your day. The problem is that Moshe seems to portray this as such a little thing. But it is not a little thing. It seems to be all consuming.
If you really do all of this all consuming stuff, and God still comes back to you and says, "Yeah, yeah, you’re doing the stuff you are supposed to do, but take your passion up a notch!" What are you going to do to express more?
The problem is, like, whatever I do to try to do extra, it’s already in the basic package! When your basic package is so all consuming that it includes all the extras already, how do you put any extras in? And this, by the way, is a very timely issue. It’s something that affects all of us. I mean, to be a Jew now a days, is just to make the tuition payments for Jewish day school, it takes it all out of you, and then you’ve got a minyan in the morning, you got to learn and daf yomi and nola shenora and all of this. It is an all consuming thing. And then you say, "Well, yeah!" You really want to take it up a notch and really be passionate; what is left to do? How would you respond to God if that’s the complaint?
So now let's go back to Micah and read Micah's proposed response. A response which he immediately rejects. But he’s sort of creating the straw man to show you what you might think would be a way to respond to God. If you can't really so easily add more to the basic package, so maybe you would do this!
Verse 6: Bamah akadem Hashem; with what shall I come before God to approach God? Ikaf lelokei marom; how could I possibly indicate my subjugation to the Almighty? What can I possibly do? Ha’akademenu beolot. I know! Maybe you think you should offer offerings to Him. Maybe that would be the way, extra offerings. Baagalim benei shanah; maybe I should offer really good offerings, one year old calves. Hayirtzei Hashem be’alfei eilim. You think that would really work? You think it would work to maybe give a thousand rams to God? Brivevot nachalei shamen. Maybe I should come to him with 10,000 rivers of oil. Maybe that would do it. Haeten bechori pishi. Maybe I should sacrifice my first born to atone for these sins that I might have? Pri vitni, maybe I should kill all of my children, chatat nafshi, to atone for many sins I might have. And basically Micah is offering the obvious answer to you that "No, no you’re not going to do that." That is kind of stupid, right?
In other words, but what Micah’s doing here is he’s sort of elaborating for you a dangerous kind of staircase; or to use a different metaphor, a dangerous kind of slippery slope. You know? And the slippery slope starts with offerings. Yeah, maybe offerings is the answer! Maybe really good offerings is the answer. But if you think that’s not good enough, maybe more offerings is the answer! 10,000 rivers of oil! And if that wouldn’t be good enough, maybe I am going to give something even more precious than an offering; maybe I need to give my first born, maybe I need to give all of my children back to God!
And what Micah is showing is that kind of logic of going 'above and beyond' using offerings, sacrifice as your barometer of extra religiosity, is just going to lead you over the cliff. It’s going to get you in very deep trouble, very quickly. That's not the way to do it. Micah is now going to give you a different way to do it, an opposite way to do it.
Don’t look at things that take away from your wholeness as a person, to indicate your extra level of passion to God. Look at those things that promote your wholeness as a person. Let me tell you what you should look at. Paradoxically, look at the basics. You want to really impress God? Don’t look to go above and beyond what He demands of you. Look to sure up the foundation upon which everything that he demands of you is built!"
Higid lecha adam mah tov. I'll tell you what good is if you want to be extra special good. Mah Hashem doresh mimcha. What is it that God really seeks of you, oh man? And here, Micah’s going to lay it out. "You are Israelites. You want to know how God’s really going to love you? Shore up the foundation. The foundation of being a member of Israel is to be a human being; shore that up!"
When Moshe spoke about everything that God wants from you as an Israelite, that's just what God asks of you. God asks of Israel to be a very special nation with some sort of exemplary relationship with God. And really all God can do is ask that of you. I mean, He’s asking for a special connection between you and God. I can ask you; I can ask you to fear God, I can ask you to love God, but if you say 'no,' you say 'no'. I'm asking it of you, but you know what Micah says? There’s stuff that God demands of you. Demands of you, just by nature of being a human being; make sure that that's in order. Then you’ll really impress God. It's the foundation of everything Moshe is talking about.
So what Moshe was talking about when he was talking about tov. I'll tell you what tov is, what good is. Asot mishpat; it’s doing justice, it's being fair. Ahavat chesed; it’s being kind, and it's being modest the way you choose to be with God. Do that stuff and then God will really be impressed with you. Don't look to go above and beyond your level of obligation. Look to shore up the foundation of your obligation. Look to shore up your wholeness as a human being.
I want to conclude with you by coming back to this strange little reference to Bilam that God made earlier in Micah's words. Why throw in Bilam? What's Bilam doing there? The truth is, Bilam is the greatest proof to the argument that Micah is making now. That's what Bilam’s doing there in the cameo appearance. It’s not just that little cameo appearance that’s a reference to Bilam; the truth is everything that Micah’s saying is a reference to Bilam. It’s all a riff, a play off of the Bilam story.
Remember those words that Micah’s talking about? Higid lecha adam mah tov. I will tell you, man, what is good and what it is that God seeks from you. Mah tov. Play those words over and over in your head. Mah tov, mah tov, mah tov. Where do you hear mah tov in the Torah, in the Five Books of Moses? What is Micah quoting from? Where have we heard those words before?
We've heard them with Bilam. Mah tovu ohaleicha Yaakov, how good are you tents, oh Jacob. That was the great blessing of Bilam.
Do you remember, Bilam was told to curse the Jewish people. But he said look, I can only say what it is that God says. But over and over again, he tries to curse them. And when he’s unsuccessfully cursing them, do you know what does Balak says? Balak, the king who is trying to provoke him to curse the Jews, says, "You know what, maybe you should offer some more offerings. Build seven alters and offer offerings on them! Build seven more alters and offer offerings! Maybe you can bribe God and get Him to move away from his love of the Jewish people!" And Bilam tries to buy that and tries to make it work until he finally realizes - he finally opens his eyes - and realizes that the love that God has for the Israelite nation is not negotiable. Vayar Bilam, Bilam finally sees, ki tov be’einei Hashem levarech et Yisrael, and it is just good in the eyes of God to bless the Jews.Velo halach kepaam bepaam likrat nechashim. He even tried to avert that desire of God anymore. He just understood it is good in the eyes of God.
And now, listen to Micah: Higid lecha adam mah tov. I'll tell you what the tov is. When Bilam saw that it was tov, that it was good in the eyes of God, why was it good in the eyes of God? What was the fundamental goodness of the Jewish people that made God unwilling to move off the dime, "I will not allow you to curse them!" Micah’s saying whatever that tov was, that's what you should be seeking to emulate now when God is asking you to be is more passionate, to be more devoted to him. Go to that kernel of tov - that's the real reason that God won't move away from loving you. What was that tov? Listen to what Bilam said. The first thing Bilam said, after he saw that it was tov in the eyes of God to bless the Jews: Mah tovu ohaleicha Yaakov, how good are your tents, oh Jacob, mishkenoteicha Yisrael, they’re your dwelling places, oh Israel.
And it wasn't that Bilam looked and said, "Wow! Look at all these mitzvot you do. Look at all the love and the fear of God, and all the service of God, and all of that!" That wasn't what impressed him. You had all of that, but that wasn't what Bilam said. It was your fundamental goodness, it was your tents, it was your dwelling places, it's how you got along with each other. It was your societal interactions. That was the foundation that God was impressed with about you, that's what made God unwilling to curse you.
That's what you need to get back to if God sees your service of Him as being worn down. You want to get the shine back? Then come back to what makes you whole as a human being. It's the foundation of what makes you a Jew.
1. Bereishit: Does Man 'Acquire' Woman?
2. Noach: Why Did God Destroy the World?
3. Lech Lecha: Covenant With God
4. Vayeira: Abraham's Struggle With Loyalty
5. Chayei Sarah: What Makes For A Successful Life?
6. Toldot: A Conversation For the Ages
7. Vayeitzei: Consequences of Jacob's Deceit
8. Vayishlach: Becoming a Person of Integrity
9. Vayeishev: Who Really Sold Joseph?
10. Miketz: Why Didn't Joseph Write Home?
11. Vayigash: The Epic Confrontation Between Judah and Joseph
12. Shmot: If Midrash is Real, Why Isn't It Peshat?
13. Va'era: Did God Take Away Pharaoh's Free Will?
14. Bo: Did God Really Need Ten Plagues?
15. Beshalach: What Does It Mean to Have Faith?
16. Yitro: The Marriage of God and Israel
17. Mishpatim: Female Servitude...Wait, What?
18. Terumah: Is There a Face Hiding in the Tabernacle?
19. Tetzaveh: Where Is God In a Physical World?
20. Pekudei: A Giant Chiasm In Sefer Shmot
21. Ki Tisa: Moshe's Benevolent Chutzpah
22. Ki Tisa: Epilogue
23. Vayikra: Can Leaders Make Mistakes?
24. Tzav: What Does It Mean To Survive?
25. Shemini: Why Did God Reject Nadav and Avihu?
26. Tazria: The Bizarre Purification of the Metzora
27. Metzora: Living Within the Community
28. Acharei Mot: The (Surprising) Purpose of Yom Kippur
29. Kedoshim: How Can I Achieve True Love?
30. Emor: What Sabbath Is All About
31. Behar: Why Does Land Have To Rest?
32. Bechukotai: Why Would God Curse His People?
33. Bamidbar: Who Cares About Genealogy?
34. Shelach: Is Hope Irrational?
35. Korach: Can We Influence God?
36. Chukat: Was Hitting the Rock So Horrible?
37. Balak: Balaam, Prophet For Hire?
38. Pinchas: What Does It Mean To Be Zealous For God?
39. Matot: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic?
40. Masei: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic? II
41. Devarim: What Does It Mean To Have Faith?
42. Va'etchanan: Seeing Layers in the Ten Commandments
43. Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?- Part 1/2
44. Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?- Part 2/2
45. Re'eh: The Strange Laws Of Jewish Slavery
46. Shoftim: The Line Between Murder And Apathy
47. Shoftim: Epilogue 1
48. Shoftim: Epilogue 2
49. Ki Teitzei: The Hated Wife- Part 1/2
50. Ki Teitzei: The Hated Wife- Part 2/2
51. Ki Tavo: The Soliloquy Of The Farmer- Part 1/2
52. Ki Tavo: The Soliloquy Of The Farmer- Part 2/2
53. Nitzavim-Vayeilech: Where's the Happy Ending? - Part 1/3
54. Ha'azinu: A Unique Nation - Part 2/3
55. V'Zot Habracha: Looking Towards the Future - Part 3/3
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