Shofetim Chapter 18

Sefer Shofetim Chapter 18

The tribe of Dan is still in the process of securing its inheritance in the land of Israel and has sent a delegation of five men to scout out a potential conquest. On their way to complete their mission, these men stop in at the house of Mikha, which not only provided a place for religious worship but also served as a kind of “bed and breakfast” for traveling Jews. They recognize the Levite who is working for Mikha (he had apparently made the rounds in Israel during his search for gainful employment) and ask him what he is doing there; he happily explains to them the wonderful financial package he receives from his boss. They then ask him to inquire of God whether they will succeed in their military efforts and he reassures them that they will indeed triumph in battle.

The Danites plan to attack the current citizens of Layish who are living in peace and tranquility, isolated from the rest of the Canaanites in the land and blissfully unaware of the threat to their existence. Once the troops are mobilized for the conquest, the delegation of spies first leads them to the house of Mikha which they totally plunder, robbing him of his idol, his teraphim, and all the accoutrements of his “House of God”.
When the Levite questions their actions, they recommend that he remain silent and follow them – wouldn’t he rather be the priest of an entire tribe than a priest working for just one man?

Mikha discovers that he has been robbed and pursues the Danites in protest, but they respond with fierce threats and he is forced to retreat. The men of Dan go on to conquer the land they had chosen, slaughtering its innocent inhabitants, and they establish the “House of God” and the idol of Mikha in their newfound territory, where it remained until the Jews were exiled from their land centuries later.

Once again we are struck by the thread of injustice and betrayal that weaves its way through this story. The plot of the tribe of Dan to conquer Layish while its inhabitants dwell there peacefully and vulnerably is itself troubling; it reflects an almost Amaleq-like quality about these Jews. Furthermore, the Danites shamelessly steal from Mikha who had only recently provided them with lodging in his home, demonstrating absolutely no sense of gratitude or common decency to their hosts.

The Levite-priest of Mikha, who had been treated like a son by his employer, did not hesitate to abandon him for a more prestigious and lucrative position, joining the pirates who plundered him. Clearly, they are birds of a feather. And yet, this travesty is committed in the name of establishing a “House of God” in Dan, a tragic irony that underscores the self-contradiction and hypocrisy that had become part and parcel of the culture and worldview of the assimilated Jews in Israel.

The Rabbis (and many other scholars) contend that the last two stories in the Book of Shofetim actually transpired much earlier, closer to the beginning of the period of the Judges. There are several pieces of evidence to support this, such as the fact that the Tribe of Dan is still seeking to inherit its portion in the land and the fact that Pinhas, son of Elazar, is still serving as Kohen Gadol.

The Sages also have a -tradition that the Levite-Priest of Mikha, Yehonatan the son of Gershom the son of Menashe, was none other than the grandson of Moshe Rabbenu (the letter nun in the name Menashe is small, suggesting that it should read “son of Gershom son of MOSHE.”) This tradition supports the earlier dating of the narrative and also points to how quickly and pervasively spiritual corruption spread amongst the Jews as soon as they began to live side-by-side with the idolatrous and immoral Canaanites.