“How goodly are your tents Yaakov, your dwelling places Israel!”
Our sages tell us that Bilam’s praise of the Jewish People are worthy of
consideration to be included in the twice daily SHEMA. One might wonder how
that wicked guy almost made “the big time”. The answer is that he did not
almost make it, he did make it. That is wildly incongruous. How do the words
of some misguided wordsmith looking to sell his powers of prophecy for
profit make it into the heart of our scriptures? Bilam's descriptions of our
people are amongst the most flattering yet true one can find in the whole
Torah or anywhere. Why do such great praises emanate from a degenerate like
that while the rest of TANACH is replete with hyper-critical comments and
reports about our people and our leaders?
Shlomo HaMelech writes, “Indeed good is open rebuke out of hidden love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, while the kisses of an enemy are
abundant? (Mishlei 27:5-6) A secret is revealed in these words. Consider the
motivation of the one that delivers either a plethora of praise or a
stinging rebuke. The Malbim explains that this is manifested in the way
loving parents discipline their children. We are meant to understand and
appreciate that when a real friend chastises it is out of love and concern.
He wants to return his friend to the proper path. The enemy, however,
showers his victim with words of affection only to encourage him to act
inappropriately or to lull him into a false sense of security the way a calf
is fattened for the slaughter. Therefore, rebuke from a friend is better
than a multitude of compliments from an antagonist.
The following is excerpted from Yaffa Eliach's Chassidic Tales of the
Holocaust: There had been for whatever reason a long standing rivalry that
raged between the Chassidim of Munkacs and Belz. In the city of Munkacs
there was a Belzer Chassid by the name of Moshe Silber.
There he maintained his oppositional stance which was the cause of many a
lively argument. During one of these heated debates the Munkacser Rebbe
turned suddenly and lashed out at this Belzer Chassid with a sharp rebuke,
“You will die with your Tallis Katan (Tsitsis) on!”
The words penetrated the heart of this Belzer Chassid, Moshe Silber and
there they remained. Years passed. World War II engulfed Europe. In April
1944 a brutal deportation Aktion was initiated in Munkacs, and by May 30 the
city was pronounced Judenrein (Jew free). The ghetto had been liquidated and
all its Jews deported to Auschwitz. Among the deportees was that same Belzer
Chassid, Reb Moshe Silber.
Despite the hunger, slave labor, and the constant threat of selections, the
Belzer Chassid was sure he was going to survive the war, for in Auschwitz it
was impossible and punishable by death to wear a Tallis Katan. Since words
spoken by a Tzadik must be fulfilled, the Belzer Chassid was sure that death
had no power over him so long as he was not wearing his ritual garment.
Indeed, the Belzer Chassid survived the Auschwitz inferno. Today (she
writes, then when the interview took place in 1977), wearing a Talis Katan
he resides in Monsey, New York, and although he is not a Munkacser Chassid,
he frequently shares his personal experience of the miraculous powers of his
former adversary, the Munkacser Rebbe.
After telling his tale, Reb Moshe Silber added as if an afterthought, “A
Chassidic Rebbe is like a master diamond cutter. He takes a man and cuts
away all the roughness, all the waste. He does it with a tale, a
niggun/tune, and lots of wisdom. What you get is a polished stone a Chassid.
Only great masters can do it. The Muncacser, he was such a Rebbe!”