Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
MICAH CHAPTER 1
The prophet Micah was from the tribe of Judah from the city of Moreshah in the kingdom of Judah . Micah received Torah from Isaiah and was the youngest of the "quartet" of prophets (the senior two being Hosea and Amos) in the days of Uzziah, Yotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Pesachim 87a, see Tosafos there), immediately prior to the exile of the Ten Tribes and about a century and a half before the destruction of the First Temple .
The prophecies of Micah include reproofs against the people of Shomron and Jerusalem over their sinful behavior to their fellow man, reproofs against the leaders and false prophets who deceived the people, prophecies of consolation about Mashiach, the future greatness of Zion, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount and the peace and tranquility that will then rule, God's complaints over the ingratitude of His people, His desire that the people should pursue justice and kindness, and the prophet's prayer for the people, concluding with his invocation of the 13 Attributes of Mercy in order for God to forgive Israel.
Chapter 1 Verse 1: Micah's prophecy is directed towards all the people of Israel - the Ten Tribes (=Shomron) and Judah and Benjamin ( Jerusalem ). The intimate relationship that he sees between their respective sins is set forth in this first prophecy (vv 5, 9 etc.).
V 2: "Hear all you peoples." Micah is addressing the Tribes of Israel, each one of which is considered a "people" ('AM) in itself (Metzudas David). "Let HaShem God be witness against you." Micah is saying that He will testify "that I prophesied to you in His name and warned you" (Rashi ad loc.).
V 3: "He will tread upon the high places of the earth" - "these are the people who are exalted and arrogant" (Rashi).
V 4: In the light of Rashi's comment on the previous verse, the erupting volcanic cataclysm described in this verse can be seen as a metaphor for the coming complete upset of the people's existing social order.
V 5: "What is the transgression of Jacob? Is it not Shomron? And what are the high places of Jerusalem ? Are they not Jerusalem ?" Micah traces the source of the sins that are leading to the coming doom directly to the kings of Shomron and Jerusalem respectively. Shomron was the stronghold of the kings of Israel (the Ten Tribes), and it was they who promoted worship of Jeraboam's calves, while the Jerusalem-based kings of Judah were responsible for allowing the continuation of the altars in the "high places" (BAMOTH) in Judah. Both cults were fatal deviations from the Torah. (See RaDaK on this verse.) [Similarly today the ills that afflict secular Israel are closely bound up with the ills afflicting the more traditional Jews.]
Vv 6-8: First the prophet describes the complete destruction that would befall Shomron and its idols - the Ten Tribes went into exile first. Micah's comparison of Shomron to a harlot whose idols are the hire she received from her lovers follows similar metaphors in Hosea (1:2 etc.) and the other prophets.
V 8: "For this I will wail and howl." By the time of Micah, youngest of the "quartet" prophesying in the same period, the day of doom was coming ever closer. His phraseology here is reminiscent of the similar language found in Jeremiah, who came later and lived through the destruction of the Temple .
V 9: "For her wounds are desperate, for it has come as far as Judah , it has reached the gate of my people to Jerusalem ". The prophet already sees beyond the exile of the Ten Tribes, because the disease has spread to Judah itself and to the very capital in Jerusalem .
V 10: "Declare it not in Gath ." When David lamented the death of Saul and Jonathan, he too did not want the shame of Israel to be known to their enemies the Philistines (II Samuel 1:20). In the present verse, in which Micah begins to depict the mourning and exile that were destined to strike city after city in Judah , it is clear that foremost among the enemy forces encroaching on Judah 's territory were the Philistines. The English translations cannot do justice to the subtlety of the Hebrew in this and the following verses, where the prophet uses word-play on the names of the various towns of Judea to depict the horrors that were to strike each one. The name of the town OPHRAH in our verse is from the Hebrew root 'APHAR, "dust". It seems highly significant that the KSIV (written form) as opposed to the KRI (pronunciation) of HITHPALASHI, "roll about" [in the dust], is HITH-PALSHTI - apparently alluding to the Philistine (PELISHTI). Today, nearly two and a half millennia after Micah, we once again see a people whose self-selected name consists of exactly the same letters seeking to encroach on the land of Israel .
Vv 11-15: The prophet sees into the future, watching the people of one Judean town after the other facing the terrible shame, degradation and horror of deportation and exile, in each case expressed through his wordplay on the names of the towns. Lachish (v 13) was the first Judean town to import Baal worship from the kingdom of Israel (RaDaK). "Therefore you will give presents to Moresheth Gath" (v 14): Gath had been taken from the Philistines by David, but now they would receive it back (see Rashi, RaDaK). "The houses of Achziv are a dried-up stream (ACHZAV)" (v 14): this Hebrew root denotes disappointment (no water!). Micah here prophesies how years in the future the Judean town of Achziv would be drawn after Pekah ben Remalliah, the second last king of Israel, but would be disappointed about having relied on him as he was killed (Rashi, Sanhedrin 102b). "I will bring against you a possessor (YORESH) against you who dwell in MORESHAH." Here the prophet addresses the people of his own town (cf. Micah 1:1). Enemies are coming who will take possession of their land.
V 16: "The eagle flies high above the other birds, and once in ten years it flies higher than ever until it reaches the upper atmosphere close to the sphere of fire, and because of the great heat its feathers come of its wings and fall off" (RaDaK). Likewise the prophet foretells how the land of Israel was to become "bald" when the Israelites would go into exile under Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar.
And why??? The prophet has spoken about how the land would be possessed by others, and in the coming short Parshah Sethumah (ch 2 vv 1-2) he will explain the reason for this terrible punishment.
Vv 1-2: "Woe to them that devise iniquity." The wealthiest and most powerful were constantly practicing the most sophisticated forms of land-grabbing and self-enrichment at the expense of their fellow Israelites, and it was precisely because they robbed others of their land that all their land would be taken by their enemies, as prophesied in the previous chapter, MIDDAH KE-NEGED MIDDAH, "measure for measure". The Israelite king Ahab's seizure of Naboth's vineyard (I Kings ch 21) is the most glaring example of such land-grabbing.
V 3: This verse begins a new Parshah Pethuhah following on directly from the previous one. Just as the wicked were devising (HOSHVEY) evil on their beds (v 1), God declares that He is "devising (HOSHEV) evil against all this family" (v 3). MIDDAH KE-NEGED MIDDAH.
V 4: Those who lament when this evil strikes will cry out, "The share of my people has been exchanged." - "the inheritance of my people has been given over to the enemy - how will He ever come back to me to restore to us our fields that this enemy shares out for himself, how will it ever be possible to return them to me?" (Rashi). Many in the present day may be asking the same question about the territories of the Holy Land that have been given over to Israel's enemies in exchange for a mirage of "peace" that has turned into a nightmare.
V 5: "Therefore you shall have none that cast the line by lot in the assembly of HaShem". Those who have robbed others of their land will be punished by having no descendant who will measure out the land of his inheritance in God's land after the future redemption (Metzudas David). Behind the harshness of this prophecy lies the consolation that the rest of the people who did not rob others of their land will have their share in the land of Israel returned to their descendants in the time of the redemption.
V 6: "You who preach, do not preach." Micah addresses the true prophets, as if to say that the moral degradation has reached such a low that it is purposeless to prophecy any more since the people will merely insult them.
V 7: The prophet quotes the people's mocking of his prophecies of doom: they ask if God's temper has become short and if He would do such a terrible thing. God answers that His words will benefit those who go straight. (See the comment on vv 12-13 below.)
V 8: The people see God as an adversary - and they continue their blatant robbery, stripping innocent people who were going along quite securely of their very clothes, making them look like war returnees (Rashi).
V 9: The theft of people's property is a catastrophe for their wives and children (see Likutey Moharan I, 69).
V 10: The prophet tires of cataloging the people's sins, telling them to get up and go into exile already because this was not the MENUHAH (invigorating repose and tranquility) that God intended for the people of Israel in His land - to defile it with their bands of wickedness.
V 11: Rejecting the words of the true prophet, the people would take any man walking in wind and falsehood and preaching for a glass of wine or liquor as their prophet and guide.
Vv 12-13: The two closing verses of this Parshah are susceptible to two quite opposite interpretations, as detailed by RaDaK. They can be explained as prophecies of the coming doom with the remnant of the people packed like sheep into cities under siege as the enemies break through until eventually the king - Tzidkiahu - ignominiously leaves Jerusalem , the divine presence having departed.
On the other hand Targum Yonasan, Rashi and Metzudas David prefer to draw out the consolatory prophecy contained in the very same Hebrew words. (That two opposite prophecies can be contained in the very same words was explained earlier in v 7: "Are these His terrible doings? - [No], My words do good to him that walks uprightly".)
The good news is that in the final redemption, "I shall surely gather the remnant of Israel ." They shall be like flocks for multitude, and their cities will resound with the sounds of their great populations. Their redeemer will break through the barriers and obstacles in order to straighten the path for them, and their king - Mashiach - will pass before them and God will pass by at the head of all of them (see Targum, Rashi, RaDaK).
MAY GOD TURN OUR HEARTS TO HIM AND RESTORE US TO OUR LAND AND BUILD HIS TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM QUICKLY IN OUR TIMES. AMEN.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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