For the week of June 30, 2018 / 17 Tammuz 5778
Torah: B’midbar/Numbers 22:2 – 25:9
Haftarah: Micah 5:6-6:8 (English: Micah 5:7 – 6:8)
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He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
This statement by the Hebrew prophet Micah is one of the most concise and balanced descriptions of the pursuit of the good life. When in tandem, these three things enable us to make a positive difference in the world. Conversely, the neglect of any one of the three is potentially destructive. Neglect, not overemphasis, because keeping each in mind even to a small extent mitigates against the extremes that emerge when neglecting even one of them.
The Hebrew word for justice is mishpat. It refers to the bringing about of what is right. The world is full of what needs to be righted. Saying asah mishpat instructs us that this is the activity aspect of the triad. Making things right is something we need to purposely work at. To do justice demands being aware of injustice, devising practical strategies to confront it, and finding ways to make it lasting. That’s a heavy task, especially since the forces of injustice are not passive, nor do they play fair.
Once the concern for justice captures our hearts, it can blind us, however, to the other essentials of life. Thus, the brilliance of it being stated along with the other two. Too often the purveyors of justice leave much damage in their wake, forgetting that while we are instructed to do justice, it is not to overwhelm our affections. Instead we are to love kindness. The word for kindness here is hesed, which is far more than simply being nice. Hesed, is steeped in committed relationship to God and to others. Depending on the context, hesed can mean “covenant love” or “loyal love.” It’s the type of kindness often shown to a relative or long-time friend. It’s having a generous heart toward someone because of the bonds of a committed relationship.
When adjoined to doing justice, hesed allows for needed change, while at the same time avoiding hurting people in the process. Making things right can be painful, but true committed love greatly reduces potential harm to individuals and communities. When focusing on what we think is right, it is far too easy to forget that on every side of every issue is a fellow human being. It is loyal love for God and others that helps us keep everyone’s best interest in mind even when we adamantly disagree with them.
We might think that these two are sufficient counter-balances to each other. Too much justice and we unnecessarily hurt people. Too much kindness allows injustice to flourish. What more do we need? Without the personal involvement of God, all we have is what is termed principle-based living. Principle-based living can be very appealing but is deceptively misguided. Tragically, the Bible is often abused by treating it as an instruction manual. Passages are read in order to reduce them to moral lessons that we try to apply to contemporary situations. Because God is continually referenced, we don’t realize that we disregard him.
God didn’t inspire the Bible and then remove himself from human affairs while he watches history unfold from afar. The Hebrew, v’hatznei’-a le’khet im elohei’kha describes a life of continual reliance on him.
God doesn’t expect us to figure out life on our own. How do we know whether or not our sense of urgency and allocation of resources match God’s? The Bible provides us with life’s foundations and general priorities, but not the specifics. Wisdom, the ability to implement scriptural truth, is not drawn from study and intelligence alone, no matter how well informed we may be. Rather it stems from a life that keeps in close step with our Heavenly Father.
Doing justice and loving kindness, without the intimate God-dynamic, however noble and well-intentioned, remains self-focused. The greatest of virtues driven by our own agendas eventually become idols. No wonder so many endeavors done in God’s name have defamed him. But if we allow him to initiate what we give ourselves to and correct our course as needed; if we look to him to fill us with genuine love for others as we remember his faithful love for us; then we will become the embodiment of his intentions, accomplishing his purposes in his time and in his way.
Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version