Pardon the pun, but from it, I am sure you can guess that this year I am turning to the haftarah for this week, Micah 5:6-6:8.
Still, using the pun as a starting off point, I ask, who among us is like Micah? He asks us, in essence, to recognize that ritual observance alone is not enough without adherence to a moral and ethical code.
It's easy, from a modern liberal viewpoint, to cite Micah as a repudiation of the sacrificial cult. Gd doesn't want our sacrifices, just our moral behavior. I think that's a misreading of Micah's message.
Micah inveighs against ritual practice unaccompanied by ethical behavior, and not against the idea of ritual practice itself. Like any good rhetoricist, he uses language that goes "over the top" in making his point. This perhaps makes it easier to fall into the trap of eisegeting a more contemporary meaning into the text.
We live in a society where many observe rituals or participate in worship as a "just in case." "Well, I know I'm not living as righteous a life as I could, but if I got to Synagogue, maybe even serve on a committee, go ladle out food at the soup kitchen once a year, then maybe, if there really is a Gd and a time of judgment, then I will have earned some brownie points."
Others knowingly commit ethically and morally questionable acts every day and yet seek the same kind of "protection" from religion.
Still others blindly observe ritual practices, thinking them all that is required, and not seeing the connection to the moral and ethical teachings of Torah.
Note that these kinds of people exist across the spectrum of Jewish belief and practice, in liberal, traditional, humanist and even secular settings.
Whether one is traditional and strict in their observance of and adherence to the Halacha, or whether one has more liberal interpretation of Jewish praxis, one still must combine their praxis with the underpinnings of (their understanding of) the moral and ethical teachings of the Torah.
Micah would not want us to ignore 20 beggars on the street on the way to drop off a donation to our synagogue's building fund. For that matter, I'm not sure Micah would want us to ignore 20 beggars on the street only to have us deposit some funds in the pushke at the synagogue or home.
And if you walk past 20 beggars on the street on your way to services, and spend not one moment of your worship in thinking about and considering those 20 beggars, you've compounded the error.
All that Micah asks of us is to imbue all of our actions and practices with justice, mercy and humility. It may seem a simple task, but if that were true, why do Micah's words still read as strongly as an indictment these thousands of years later? No, do not fall into the trap of thinking that all Gd asks us to do is "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your Gd." These words from Micah are merely the starting point, the foundation. They are a reminder to observe the mitzvot, to engage in the ritual practice, and to always live our lives with these things at the core of our being.
Mi CHaMicha? Someday, Gd willing, there will be no need for someones like Micah to continue to rail against our incessant tendency to substitute ritual for ethics. For now, we, all of us, need to think like Micah, heed his words, and pass them on. Ken y'hi ratson. May this be Gd's will.
©2003 by Adrian A. Durlester
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