Michah’s idol

Summary: The penultimate section of the Book of Judges describes the story of Micah who set up idols in his house and appointed his son to serve them. He additionally employed a travelling Levite to serve as a priest. The tribe of Dan dispatched five spies in search of new territory and spent the night in Micah’s house. After the Levite ‘priest’ confirmed the success of their campaign, they relayed the message back triggering the dispatch of 600 Danite warriors to the city of Laish. They kidnapped Micah’s priest and idolatrous temple and following their victory established them in their new city.

A deeper look: The Gemara notes that Micah is initially described as Michayhu (Judges 17:1,4) including letters from God’s name, implying that he had originally been a righteous man (Sanhedrin 103b).

He stole a vast amount of money from his mother, only to return it on hearing her curse the thief who took it. Worried that her curse would still be effective against her own son, Micah’s mother blesses him in the name of God, without admonishing him for the original theft (ibid. 17:2).

Not only does Micah’s mother fail to rebuke him for the original theft, she actively encourages his rebellion against God. The character of Micah’s generation is captured by the phrase ‘In those days there was no judge in Israel; a man would do whatever seemed appropriate in his eyes’ (ibid. 17:6). Rabbi David Kimche (d. 1235) notes that this lack of leadership and role modelling is what caused the righteous such as Micah to fall so far.

Given the gravity of Micah’s sin, it is surprising to learn that despite serving idols he merited a place in heaven on account of his generous hospitality to guests (Sanhedrin 103b).

Rabbi Yaakov ben Yosef Reischer (d. 1733) explained that when Abraham was speaking to God he interrupted his discussion to welcome three desert travellers (Genesis 18:3). From here our sages learn that hospitality to guests is greater than welcoming the Shechinah,theDivine presence (Shabbat 127a). If idol worship spurns the Shechinah, then hospitality to others offers the perfect antidote.