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Parashah Chukat-Balak

Here is this week’s D’var Haftarah

Parashat Chukat-Balak (Outside Israel) | Balak (Israel)

July 1, 2023 | 12 Tammuz 5783

Torah (Outside Israel): Numbers 19:1-25:9

Triennial: Numbers 19:1-21:20 Haftarah: Micah 5:6-6:8

Torah (Israel): Numbers 22:2-25:9 Haftarah: Micah 5:6-6:8

Bilam or Moshe?
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb


This is the perfect haftarah for the combination of the parashot of Hukkat and Balak, as they are read this week outside of Israel. In Parashat Hukkat we take the first steps towards ending our time in the desert. Ahead lies the transition necessary to move into a settled land with shifts in many areas of life. It is in this parashah that Moshe and Aaron are told that they will not enter the land. Miriam dies and so does Aaron, leaving Moshe to do the last miles without the team he has had since God “lifted you out of Egypt” (Micah 6:4) In Parashat Balak, even Moshe is missing from the story, but it is difficult not to notice the similarities between Moshe and Bilam the sorcerer. Both are masters of orators; both have the potential of changing the world through speech.

In this haftarah, Moshe, Aharon and Miriam are juxtaposed with Bilam and Balak. Moshe, Aharon and Miriam are the symbol of the good that God had bestowed upon the people. They were sent ahead to lead when God raised us out of Egypt. The prophet Michah suggests that to rise up from a situation of subjugation, “house of bondage” as Egypt is called, we needed individuals who were able to change the people’s mentality from that of a slave to that of a free, independent, and responsible person. It took Moshe, Aharon and Miriam forty years to develop a generation that had changed sufficiently to enter the land and take care of themselves.

Among the various adversaries that the people meet along the way to independence, Balak and Bilam stand out. They do not fight with conventional warfare, they try to enlist God to curse the people of Israel. In the Tanakh a curse is a weapon, a powerful one that is treated by laws as potentially lethal. Even after being warned that the people are blessed and presumably are immune to curses, Bilam goes ahead with his mission. Perhaps he does so out of hatred, we know how blinding hate can be, or perhaps out of greed, another powerful motivator. Putting Moshe side by side with Bilam, Michah highlights the difference in choices these great orators made. While Moshe used his talents to create a people, Bilam used his powerful talents to attempt to destroy the very same people.

This haftarah is a rebuke to the people of Israel who are ungrateful despite all the good God has done for them. Ironically, when the people are faced with the angry God, they resort to sacrifices to try to appease Him. They are choosing the path of Bilam, believing that God wants gifts, that God can be brought under human spell by an offering. Michah, in the closing verse of the haftarah, tells us to return to ideas that are at the basis of the spirit of freedom: Justice, kindness, humility before God. The traits of Moshe, not Bilam.


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Address: 91 Leinster St,
Saint John, NB, E2L 1J2
Phone: (506) 657-4790
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Saint John, NB,  E2L 3T5

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