The Secret Sauce of Duality: Being Jewish for Micah and Today

This week’s Haftarah comes from the book of Micah. Micah’s messages were directed chiefly toward Jerusalem. He prophesied the future destruction of Jerusalem and Shomron and then future restoration of the Judean state. He rebuked the people of Judah for dishonesty and idolatry. The Haftarah starts off by saying:

The remnant of Jacob shall be,
In the midst of the many peoples,
Like dew from the Lord,
Like droplets on grass—
Which do not look to any man
Nor place their hope in mortals.

The remnant of Jacob
Shall be among the nations,
In the midst of the many peoples,
Like a lion among beasts of the wild,
Like a fierce lion among flocks of sheep,
Which tramples wherever it goes
And rends, with none to deliver.

Micah 5:6-7

The recurring language of “remnant of Jacob” in these two sentences is striking. Will this remnant be enough? Will we the Jewish people survive? It seems to be our question throughout history, from Micah’s time until today.

While the language here is parallel, it draws attention to the contrast in images. In the first is an image of “droplets on grass”. In the second one we have an image of a fierce lion. While the dew is giving nutrients to its environment, the lion is fighting for survival/dominance.

This juxtaposition is as relevant now as it was for Micah. He is pointing out the duality of the Jewish condition. Is our survival wrapped up in our capacity to sustain the world around us (like the dew) or our ability to be defensive and protect ourselves (like the lion)? Is the secret to our longevity our commitment to universal causes and our investment in the larger ecosystem or is it dependent on our particularism and our fiercely looking out for our own?

To resolve this question I go to one of my favorite essays by Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik‘s on Ger v’Toshav. His thesis is derived from the duality in the language Avraham uses when buying a burial plot for Sarah. There is says, ” ‘I am a stranger and a resident with you: give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.'” ( Genesis 23:4) What is he telling them? Is he a stranger or a resident? The Rav points out that the nature of being Jewish is holding this duality as being true. We are always strangers and residents. Like Micah we are always dew and lions. We are resident committed to nurturing the universal cause around us and strangers who are fierce like lions looking after our own. The secret sauce to our surviving and thriving if our dual commitment to continuity and contribution.

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