Parashas Balak is a departure somewhat from the Torah narrative until now.
Until this week’s parshah, it has included the Jewish people directly,
especially Moshe Rabbeinu. Until now, the rest of the world was in the
background as the Torah told the story of the Jewish people along their
journey to Eretz Yisroel.
All of a sudden, the world, so-to-speak, is the main topic, and the Jewish
people are off in the distance, doing their thing while their enemies
conspire against them behind the scenes. Hence, this week’s parshah is about
the part of Jewish history of which we know very little, and yet it counts
so much towards our survival as a people. How many times has God saved our
necks away from our eyes, and in ways we’ll never know about unless He
chooses to tell us?
We saw an example of this in last week’s parshah. One of the reasons the
Jewish people sang shirah in Parashas Chukas was because of the miraculous
victory over the Amorites that God wrought for us at the border of Eretz
Canaan, as they lay in wait to surprise attack us. The only reason we found
out about it, as Rashi explains, is because God worked it that their limbs
and blood surfaced in the stream of water than encircled the Jewish camp,
proclaiming the miracle.
Likewise, had God not told Moshe Rabbeinu about the miracle in this week’s
parshah, we’d never know about how close we came to destruction as a result
of Bilaam’s curses. For, as the Talmud reveals, Bilaam did not shoot
blindly, but rather, he possessed a special capability to calculate the
moment of the day during which God expresses anger at mankind for his
sinning ways, during which his curse could have and should have worked
(Avodah Zarah ?).
Why did it not? For the sake of the Jewish people, God changed that moment
on that day, so that Bilaam’s curses would be ineffective. All things being
the way they should have been, Bilaam would have correctly calculated the
moment of Divine anger and successfully cursed the Jewish people. But,
everything wasn’t the way it was supposed to have been because God changed
it for the sake of the Jewish nation.
It’s kind of like our own bodies. Someone once asked a doctor why he was
unwell. The doctor responded by saying, “Don’t ask me why you’re sick! As me
why you are not sick more often! Do you know how many things can go wrong in
your body at any given moment in time, but don’t?”
In other words, we are, for the most part, fooled by our good health. We
wrongly get the impression that all of our working parts are quite
mechanical and naturally function well. Most people live unaware of their
own fragility and vulnerability, until that is, they have to face it head on.
When people become ill to the point of death, and recover, they celebrate by
praising God. However, what we often fail to recall is that every moment God
is miraculously saving us from death by keeping our body working on a
moment-to-moment basis even though, naturally-speaking, it could break down
in any number of ways.
When the Reed Sea split to free the fleeing Jewish people from the attacking
Egyptian army, it was a great miracle, one of the greatest since Creation
itself. It was so wondrous a miracle, in fact, the Jewish people sang shirah
to God in thanks.
But, imagine if, in the next parshah, as Moshe Rabbeinu is recounting to his
father-in-law, Yisro, the many miracles God performed on behalf of the
Jewish people until that time, Yisro, upon hearing about the splitting sea
says, “That’s no big deal. It’s been splitting like that for thousands of
years now. You just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
“Really?” the people would say in disbelief.
“Really,” Yisro would answer. “In fact, if you go back next week at the same
time, and every week after that as well, you’ll see the exact same spectacle
What would people have said? They probably would have said something like,
“Well that changes everything. The sea splitting wasn’t such a great miracle
after all, if it was a miracle at all.”
What should the people have actually said? Something like, “No difference,
except, perhaps, that a great miracle we thought happens only once in a
while actually happens all the time. It may be a consistent great miracle,
but it is a great miracle nonetheless!”
The same thing is true of health. Everything about our bodies and the way
they function is purely miraculous, albeit miraculously consistent. And,
because it is so miraculously consistent we tend to forget how miraculous it
is. This is evident by how few people make a blessing after taking care of
their personal needs, or how those who do make the blessing after the
bathroom rattle it off mindlessly.
Of course, until something goes wrong and creates discomfort. That is when
we recall, once again, how much wisdom goes into making a human being, and
how many ‘holes’ and ‘tubes’ make up our system that not only allows us to
live, but to live productive lives. If God didn’t constantly have his finger
in the dike, so-to-speak, the water would come pouring in, or out, as the
case may be.
That is only on a personal, physical level. On an international level, the
miracle is even more extreme. After all, the rabbis teach that:
It is a rule that Eisav hates Ya’akov. (Sifri, BeHa’alo-secha 69)
They mean, just as water naturally and constantly struggles to break through
the dike and drown us, so too does anti-Semitism naturally and constantly
try and break through into international politics and go after Jews
world-wide. If it isn’t succeeding, it is because God is keeping it,
unnaturally, that is, miraculously, at bay.
He has many ways of doing this, of course. In fact, the current war in Syria
might be one example, especially if you recall how, just before their civil
war broke out, they were stepping up their demand to have Israel give them
the Golan Heights. Thank God, we haven’t had to deal with that issue for
over a year now.
The question is, what happened at the end of the parshah, where Bilaam was
successful to ensnare 24,000 from the tribe and Shimon, and cause the death
of 176,000 Jews who became guilty of the death penalty because of their
involvement with idol worship? Why didn’t God protect us against all of that?
Whoever is wise, let him understand these things, whoever is prudent,
let him know them. For the ways of God are straight, and the just walk in
them, but transgressors stumble there in them. (Hoshea 14:10)
God will protect us against our enemies if and when we are doing what He
wants us to do. However, He will only protect us from ourselves if our
spiritual negligence is not the result of our own laziness. Otherwise, He
will allow us to hang ourselves from nooses that we ourselves have tied by
being spiritually negligent, as the Talmud states:
Rebi Yochanan ben Zakkai wept and said: “Happy are you Israel! When they
do the will of God no nation has any power over them. But when they do not
do the will of God He delivers them into the hands of a low people, and not
only in the hands of a low people but into the power of the beasts of a low
people.” (Kesuvos 66b)
That’s the scary part right now. For the time being, we have been
miraculously protected, especially in Eretz Yisroel. However, there are
things happening there these days, especially since the new government was
elected, that are not going to bode well for the Jewish people. Power is in
the wrong hands, and damage will result that may just open the door to our
enemies that, until now, have remained closed.
What will be? What can be done to mitigate the situation? Not too much can
be done, for the time being, to change the people who are putting us in
harm’s way. But, if the rest of us contemplate how much God does for us
personally, and nationally, before our eyes and behind the scenes, perhaps
it will counter-balance the other. It is worth a try. Is there any other option?