Shabbat Parashat Balak| 5767
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Double Threat of Bilam - A Sicha on Parashat Hashavua 5715 - Courtesy of R. Yisrael Sharir
In our parasha, the Torah introduces one of the Jewish people’s classical enemies, the evil Bilam, the archetype of the most dangerous kind of our enemies.
Anti-Semitism actually dates back to the beginning of our nation. The Rambam (in Iggeret Teiman) portrays its nature and source so cogently: “Because the Creator singled us out with His commandments and statutes and our level above our counterparts was made clear through its rules and laws, as it says: ‘Which is such a great nation which has correct statutes and laws,’ the idol worshippers were very jealous of our religion and their kings will pressure us because of [the jealousy] and raise upon us hatred and animosity, and their desire is to fight and quarrel against Hashem. He is G-d, who will fight with Him?”
Although the hatred itself is old, it faces and techniques change from time to time. Primitive, undisguised anti-Semitism appears in the form of murderous hands, as we find in the Torah in the battle of Amalek. “He struck at your rear at all the stragglers and you were tired and weary, and he did not fear Hashem” (Devarim 25:18). The cultured hatred is deeper and more venomous. It wages war against Israel by means of the power of the mouth. In place of physical war, there is contentiousness; the allah (spear) in the hand is replaced by the allah (curse) of the mouth, by scornful dismissal and haughty boastfulness. Bilam, the man whose tongue was as sharp as a sword, who knew Hashem’s thoughts and the precise time of His anger, exemplifies this approach.
“Hashem did not want to listen to Bilam, and He turned for you the curse into a blessing” (Devarim 23:6). The words got choked in his mouth, and the curse froze on his lips. With a grinding of the teeth and a mouth distorted with anger he spat out not a curse but a blessing, a hymn to the nation that left Egypt: “For from the tops of mountains I see them and from hills I gaze upon them, they are indeed a nation that dwells alone, and among the nations they will not be counted. He did not see iniquity in Jacob or toil in Israel, Hashem its G-d is with it, and the friendship of the King is in it” (Bamidbar 23:21).
Despite the apparent happy resolution of the episode, problems remained ahead, as we should be acutely aware. The beautiful chimes of Bilam’s blessing proved to be very dangerous. What he did not succeed in by cursing he succeeded in by blessing. The Torah relates in the aftermath of the blessings the advice that Bilam gave to Balak. This is followed by the story of Bnei Yisrael’s promiscuity with the daughters of Moab at Shittim. The result: 24,000 dead.
As long as Yisrael dwelled alone as a nation, separate and not understood by them, it also was “not counted among the nations” (ibid. 23:9). They did not seek a close relationship of cultural affiliation. However, the famous sorcerer’s blessing affected them. He implied that the nations were not necessarily so distant, that there was room for coming to understandings with them. This realization brought them to the closeness that resulted in the promiscuity.
This phenomenon was not an isolated event in Jewish history. We never needed to fear our enemies’ curses as we did their “blessings.” The anti-Semitism of crusades and blood libels always deepened the abyss between Israel and the world and increased the belief in the Rock of Israel and its savior. The sweet words flowing from foreign mouths create the illusion that maybe there should be a blurring of the distinctiveness of the Jewish nation. Perhaps we should be like the other nations! This is the breaking point where we fail time after time. Who can count those who have fallen in the resulting “plagues” throughout history?
The words of the prophet from the haftara should be a clarion call for us: “The remainder of Israel among the many nations shall be like dew from Hashem, like rain upon grass, which will not be hoped for or desired by man” (Micha 5:6).
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.
Hemdat Yamim is also dedicated by Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z"l.
May their memory be a blessing!