A Reflection on Micah
As I put the finishing touches on the 6000-word essay, I am writing for The Oxford Handbook on the Minor Prophets, a memory from the beginning of my career comes vividly to mind:
His mother walked into my office shortly before I began my internship as Rabbi at the fledgling 58-family Temple Isaiah in Columbia, Maryland in 1973. “My son was scheduled to have his Bar Mitzvah on May 18 before my husband was transferred and we moved here,” she said with a slight air of desperation.” Can we celebrate it here on that date?”
Since the congregation had no B’nai Mitzvah scheduled, I quickly answered, “Sure.”
“You must understand,” she continued, Jeff has great difficulty with Hebrew, does not have a lot of self-confidence. I worry that with all the time we lost in our move that he won’t be ready.”
“Don’t worry,” I replied with all of the confidence befitting a wannabe rabbi who had never prepared a Bar/t Mitzvah student in his life, “I guarantee that that when the big day comes you will be very proud!”
It took hard work to keep that promise, but at his Bar Mitzvah Jeff did beautifully.
He effectively taught the congregation the essential lesson of Parashat B’hukotai that if we all followed God’s commandments, we could indeed create a just, caring and compassionate society. Yes, we can create a world where, in the words of the parasha, – No one shall cause fear (Leviticus 26:6)!”
That magical phrase appears eleven times in our TANACH, most famously in the Prophet Micah (4:4) who dreamed of the day when all of us would sit under our vines and our fig trees with none to make us afraid.
To me those words represent the highest possible hope for humanity: a world where no one will have to fear war, physical or sexual assault. If we are to uphold our end of our Covenant with God, we must not only dream of a world where no one will fear that he or she will go to bed hungry, lack adequate clothing or a home to protect them from winter chill and summer heat. We must work in whatever ways we can to make that dream reality.
Yes, that is our highest goal: a world “with none to make us afraid!”
As Rabbi Tarfon once taught: “It is not incumbent upon us to complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it.” (Pirke Avot 2:16)