Avraham ben Yaakov


Rashi on Judges 17:1 writes: "Even though these two portions about Michah (ch's 17-18) and the Concubine in Giv'ah (ch's 19-21) are written at the END of the Book of Judges, these episodes actually took place at the BEGINNING of the period of the Judges in the days of Osniel ben Knaz". Rashi's opinion follows that of SEDER OLAM (the ancient rabbinic historical Midrash giving the dates of all the main biblical events based on calculations of the years mentioned in the text and other hints). RaDaK, however, characteristically seeks to follow the simple PSHAT of the narrative, arguing in great detail that these episodes could equally well have taken place at the END of the period of Judges, between the time of Shimshon and that of Eli the High Priest. (See RaDaK on ch 17 v 1 & ch 18 v 1.)

Nevertheless the very heavily-veiled tale of Michah and his idol has a timelessness that makes the question of when exactly it took place almost incidental. The NaCh is teaching us lessons that go beyond any specific time and place: The recurrent motif is: "In those days there was no king in Israel ; each man would do what was right in his eyes" (ch 17 v 6). The text presents the narrative without moralizing, leaving the student to seek to deduce and understand the subtle lesson and reproof.


Michah is unidentified in our text except for his location in Mt Ephraim, but this does not necessarily mean he was from that tribe (cf. Rashi on Judges 17:7). The rabbis taught that he was called MICHAH because he was SQUASHED (nisMACH-MECH) in a building (Sanhedrin 101b) - alluding to the ancient Aggadah (tale, midrash) as brought by Rashi (ad loc.): "This was in Egypt . They placed him in a building instead of a brick. Moses said to the Holy One blessed be He, 'You have done evil to this people' -- Now, if they don't have bricks, they put the Israelite babies in the walls. The Holy One blessed be He replied: 'They are merely destroying thorns, for it is revealed before Me that if they were to live they would be complete villains. If you want, try and take one of them. Moses went and took out Michah."

According to the rabbis, Michah should have been numbered with those who have no share in the world to come, but he was not for one reason: because his bread was available for passers-by (Sanhedrin 103a): thus we see that Michah showed hospitality to Yonasan ben Gershom in his travels.


The rabbis stated that all of the divine names in the chapter about Michah are CHOL - they possess no holiness - with the exception of ch 18 v 31 (Shevuos 35b). What this means is that the prohibition against erasing one of the seven principal names of God does not apply to the divine names written in these two chapters, because the names had been taken and applied to idolatrous gods.

Our text does not give any indication as to when the mysterious incident of Michah's confession to his mother of his theft of silver and her dedication to idolatry took place. The rabbis have handed down the tradition that Michah's idol came with the Children of Israel out of Egypt and indeed that at the very moment they were miraculously crossing the sea on dry land, the idol was going with them (Tanchumah). This idolatry was like an alien germ hidden and deeply embedded - "bricked up", as it were -- within the unconscious mind of Israel, ready to rise to the fore and test the people in later times. It is bound up with the mystery of the idolatry of the Mixed Multitude who went up with Israel out of Egypt . The disease engendered by this germ manifested in various ways in the later history of the people - such as in the idols that Jeraboam set up in Ephraim and Dan (the two key locations in our present text), and those which king Menasheh (son of Hezekiah) set up in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

In chapter 17 v 5 we are told that "Michah had a house of god and he made an EPHOD and TERAPHIM." As discussed in the commentary on the story of Gideon, the Ephod was the apron-like garment of the High Priest to which the breast-plate, with its jewels inscribed with the names of the Twelve Tribes, were attached. Michah's EPHOD was clearly intended as a replica of that of the High Priest (it would have to be a good one to con the intelligent Israelites into believing, or at least half-believing in it). In Genesis 31:19 the TERAPHIM are Laban's gods - i.e. some kind of statuettes used for divination. Whereas the Holy Spirit that spoke through the High Priest's breastplate was channeled through the URIM VE-THUMIM, it was through the TERAPHIM that the fake spirit spoke to Michah's priest.

RaDaK on ch 18 v 5 offers two explanations of what the TERAPHIM actually were. "Some say this was a copper instrument showing the divisions of the hours whereby astrologers could determine the path of the stars. Others say that the astrologers have the power to produce at known times a certain form (TZURA) that actually speaks. And the sage R. Abraham Ibn Ezra has written that the most likely explanation in his opinion is that the TERAPHIM were in the form of a human made to receive the power of the supreme beings, and the proof is that the TERAPHIM placed by Michal (when Saul's soldiers came searching for David) caused the guards think it was David."


The mystery of the veiled allegory in our text is immeasurably deepened when we learn from our rabbis that the opportunistic Levite who went up from Bethlehem and found himself a fat livelihood as Michah's private Priest was none other than the grandson of MOSES, although this is only hinted at allusively in the text. In ch 18 v 30 his YICHUS (pedigree) is given as YEHONASAN BEN GERSHOM BEN MENASHEH. In the Hebrew written text on parchment, it is traditional to write the NUN of MENASHEH "hanging" (TOLUI) above the line. If you remove this NUN from MENASHEH you are left with the letters of the name MOSHEH. Rashi states on this verse that it is out of honor for MOSHEH that the NUN was inserted to change the name (and thus somewhat obscure the connection between Yohonasan and his most illustrious grandfather). The Yerushalmi Talmud Berachos ch 9 indicates that MENASHEH alludes to king Menasheh son of Hezekiah (as mentioned above) who placed an idol in the very Temple . In other words, the same underlying disease was manifested in a variety of forms in the history of the nation.

When the men of Dan pass through Mt. Ephraim on their search for new territory, they come to Michah's house, "AND THEY RECOGNIZED THE VOICE OF THE LAD, THE LEVITE." (ch 18 v 3). Once again the Midrash of the rabbis opens a tiny chink to hint at the profound depth that lies behind this mysterious allegory. "They said to him, 'Aren't you a descendent of Moses.' He replied, 'I have a tradition from the house of my father that a person should even hire himself out to AVODAH ZARAH rather than become dependent on others.' [The Talmud comments:] He thought this meant literal AVODAH ZARAH, idolatry, whereas the real intention was that one should even take on a demeaning job like flaying animal carcasses - a work (AVODAH) that is STRANGE, ZARAH, to oneself -- rather than depend on others. Later on, when King David saw that he was very fond of money he appointed him over the Treasuries, as it is written, 'and Shevu-el son of Gershom son of Menasheh was officer over the treasuries' (Chronicles I, ch 26). Was his name Shevu-el then? No, it was Yonasan, but this teaches that he RETURNED TO GOD (SHAV LE-EL) with all his heart." (Bava Basra 110a).

So Yonasan was a Levite for whom the intended system of supporting the nation's spiritual teachers through tithes (the Levitical MAASER) was evidently not working in Bethlehem, forcing him to go off in search of opportunities for PARNASSAH, livelihood, wherever he could find them!

This in itself is a reproof against the people of whatever time it was that this story occurred: by failing to support their teachers by the Torah system of tithes, they forced them to demean themselves and base their ministry on money, with all the attendant evils.


In the commentary on Joshua ch 19 we have already discussed the fact that Dan took tribal portions both in the center of the Land and in the north. (See Joshua 19:47). Dan's main portion was in the center, in what is today the Tel Aviv-Dan region of Israel . This is where all the events in the story of Shimshon took place (Judges 13-16). The place names that recur both in the story of Shimshon and in that of Michah and the BNEY DAN - Tzor'ah and Eshta'ol - will be particularly familiar to present-day residents of Israel who know the road connecting the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway with the town of Beit Shemesh, "BETWEEN TZOR'AH AND ESHTA'OL".

It was population pressure and the limitations caused by the Philistine presence in the south and center that led the BNEY DAN to search for more territory. The peaceful, idyllic Sidonian town of LAYISH which their team of five surveyors found, as described in Chapter 18, was located in the region of TEL DAN ("the mound of Dan") in the north of present-day Israel amidst the sources of the R. Jordan (Banyas etc.) The Sidonians were one of the Canaanite nations. The settlement of the western Galilee by the tribe of Asher and the eastern Galilee by Naftali had left the Sidonians of Layish isolated from their fellow Canaanites on the coast of present-day Lebanon, and this is why there was no-one to come to their aid when the BNEY DAN attacked them.

Rashi (on ch 18 v 27) states that LAYISH is the same as LESHEM mentioned in Joshua 19:47. LESHEM is the name of the Jacinth-stone in the High Priest's breast-plate - this was the stone of the Tribe of Dan! When they came to this town they discovered a LESHEM stone, and they took this as proof that the location was destined for them from heaven.

However, our narrative makes it clear that the BNEY DAN conquered their new territory not through divine miracles of the kind we read about in Joshua but through overwhelming military might against a people whose idyllic life had left them totally ignorant of the art of war. We also find that the BNEY DAN exhibited an extraordinarily overbearing, threat-laden attitude to both Yonasan the Priest and his boss-manager Michah. To Yonasan their attitude was basically, "Shut up and come with us", whereas they told Michah that if he made his voice heard he would be killed.

Here we see how the enterprise of settling the Holy Land in order to live the life of Torah had been corrupted into territorial expansionism based on brute force, and legitimized with the veneer of religion through a "high priest" who was for sale to the highest bidder. Religion had thus been high-jacked for mundane goals and purposes, posing very perplexing issues for lovers of Moses' Torah.

RaDaK and Metzudos David (on ch 18 v 30) both argue that Yonasan and his sons served as "priests" to the tribe of Dan only until the Ark was captured by the Philistines from Shiloh in the days of Eli, and that this is the meaning of the phrase "until the day of the exile of the land". However Rashi maintains that this fake religion continued until the days of Sennacheriv, who exiled the Ten Tribes. Rashi's view would link the idolatry delineated in our present text with the idolatry that eventually led to the exile of Israel .

The Talmud states that the location of Michah's temple was only THREE MILES from Shilo and that the smoke of the Altar of the Sanctuary would mingle with the smoke of Michah's idolatrous altar. The Ministering Angels wanted to drive Michah out, but the Holy One blessed be He said, "Leave him: his bread is available for all passer's by" (Sanhedrin 103a). The mingling of the two columns of smoke indicates how very fine indeed can be the dividing line between true and fake religion.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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