He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. — Micah 6:8
The Torah portion for this week is Balak, after the king of the Moabites, from Numbers 22:2–25:9, and the Haftorah is from Micah 5:6–6:8.
There is a Hasidic tale about a Jewish man in Poland who everyone called “Yossele the Miser.” The reason why he was given this name was because everyone knew that Yossele was completely uncharitable even though he had plenty to give. He could have supported the whole town if he had wanted to!
Then, one day Yossele died. No one cared very much as it wouldn’t be a loss for the town. After all, what had the miser contributed? But after the first Sabbath passed, a different viewpoint of Yossele began to emerge. Suddenly, people were pouring into the rabbi’s home with the same story. For years, each week they had received an envelope filled with money, slipped under their doors by a mysterious stranger in the middle of the night. But this Thursday night, no money had come to help them prepare for the Sabbath.
At that instant, it became clear to the rabbi who Yossele the Miser really was. He was really Yossele, the Holy Miser, who gave wholeheartedly to the people of his town, without any recognition. He had no ulterior motives in his giving. He gave from the heart.
In this week’s Haftorah, God describes all the kindness that He has done for the children of Israel, including saving them from Balak, king of Moab, and Balaam the sorcerer – the storyline that we read in this week’s Torah portion. God questions the children of Israel why they don’t obey and follow Him with faith after all that He has done for them.
God asks: “How have I burdened you?” (Micah 6:3). Has God demanded too much from His people in return for all that He has done for them? Then God explains that what He wants is very simple: All He wants from us is “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
The Jewish sages explain that there is a connection between how God saved the people from Balak and Balaam, and how we need to serve Him. When God saved the Israelites from the curses of Balaam, they had no idea that they were in danger – not before, not during, and not after. God saved them behind the scenes, without any recognition or thanks. God did it from His heart.
That’s how we need to serve God. We need to act justly and be compassionate, humbly, quietly, simply. Not with any fanfare or extravagant demonstrations. Not for the sake of having our name put up on a wall or recognized in public. God wants true service and a real relationship. It’s nothing elaborate that God wants from us; He simply wants us – our soul and our heart.