I believe with perfect faith that..
G-d doesn’t get mad and He doesn’t get even. G-d isn’t petty or arbitrary. G-d is just and He is righteous. G-d is intelligent, thoughtful, and purposeful. G-d rewards and He punishes, but not in the manner of humans. G-d’s rewards and punishments take into account all conceivable variables and factors. G-d is loving and forgiving at all times, even when He is being punitive. G-d is invested in success and every perceived consequence is intended to encourage or rehabilitate. G-d is a correcting G-d as noted in the Aleinu, “To correct the world through the kingdom of Shakai.”
In last week’s Parsha we were introduced to the evil prophet Bilam. He failed to curse the Jews but he did manage to harm them. As an unsolicited and freely offered parting shot, Bilam told Balak, “If you want G-d to get angry at the Jews seduce them with your daughters. Just watch how they fall like flies!” Twenty four thousand dead later, Pinchus exploded across the Jewish national conscience to halt the death and bring peace. “Therefore I reward him with My covenant of peace!”
In the year 2338, 250 years before the heroism of Pinchus and this week’s Parsha, Yakov descended to Egypt. The divine plan was for Tikun Olam – correcting the world. Yakov and his sons, especially Yoseph the viceroy of Egypt, would wade into the amoral morass of Egyptian depravity and awaken the sleeping soul of civilization. Through word and deed the family of Yakov would impact the then center of the world. As the great grandchildren of Cham the son of Noach, the Egyptians would finally embrace the post- Mabul dictum, “You will be a servant to your brothers.” The legendary wealth and military-might of Egypt would serve as the strong right hand of Yakov and his sons.
Faced with an ever-growing “Jewish problem” Pharaoh decided to seek advice. He turned to the three most renown wise men of the day, Yisro (Jethro), Iyuv (Job), and Bilam. Yisro challenged the spoken and unspoken evil of a possible “Jewish solution”, and was forced to flee to Midian to save himself. His reward was to become the father-in-law of Moshe. Iyuv stood silent in the face of evil and eventually suffered the tribulations of horrific family devastation. Bilam gleefully encouraged and designed the spiritual and physical annihilation of Yakov’s children. His punishment was to be killed by the Jews in the retaliatory war against Midian commanded to Moshe in the beginning of this week’s Parsha.
210 years later at the time of the Exodus and the Parting of the Sea, Plan A of Tikun Olam was declared dead and drowned. What went wrong? Simple, Bilam decided to be evil and work against Tikun Olam!
Allow me to explain.
Why did G-d allow for a man like Bilam? Prophecy is not like any other personal quality or ability. It is not a level that a person can attain unless G-d intentionally and purposefully grants the entre. What was G-d’s purpose in granting Bilam this singular gift? We must conclude that G-d’s ultimate plan for Tikun Olam required the component of a non-Jewish prophet on par with Moshe’s prophetic ability.
The world is unevenly divided into two groups, the Jews and the non-Jews. Both are the children of G-d and both are the product of His willful intention. Both groups are equally necessary to accomplish Tikun Olam. The Jews are the teachers and the non-Jewish world are the students. Both are equally obligated to follow the moral and ethical code of G-d’s law. In a perfect world the teacher teaches and the students learn. In the real world, the teacher attempts to teach and the students need to be awoken, engaged, entertained, and even coerced into learning. Therefore, from the very beginning of time G-d intended for there to be a working partnership between the non-Jews and the Jews. Kayin and Hevel; Shem, Yefes, and Cham; Avraham and Nimrod; Yitzchak and Yishmael; Yakov and Eisav; Yakov and Lavan; and 250 years before this week’s Parsha, the Sons of Yakov and Egypt. In each instance the possibility for Tikun Olam, or a worldwide covenant of peace (Shalom = wholeness) was possible. However, both partners had to be willing. Both parts of humanity had to be willing to work on behalf of Tikun Olam.
In creating the “partnerships” G-d looked at different models.
1. Same Family Model:
Two or more brothers raised in the same home environment. For example: Kayin and Hevel; Shem, Cham, and Yefes; Yitzchak and Yishmael, Yakov and Eisav; the twelve sons of Yakov. This model allowed for the strongest possible partnership to develop.
2. Avraham as Statesman Model:
A partnership involving great world leaders who would encounter each other in the course of time allowing them to form alliances. For example: Avraham and: Nimrod, Pharaoh, Malki Tzedek, Four Kings & Five Kings, Aner, Eshkol and Mamrei. Unfortunately, none of the above partnership models resulted in the intended outcome. The result was not comprehensive world peace; therefore, G-d created the Prophetic Model, specifically, Moshe and Bilam.
The idea was simple. Provide two great prophets who would be in touch with the “bigger divine plan” and be able to help navigate the labyrinth of Tikun Olam possibilities and pitfalls. Enter stage left Bilam the son of Lavan, brother of Rachel and Leah, brother-in-law of Yakov, and an uncle of the Jewish nation. His introduction to the “Jewish mission” and “Tikun Olam” would start with Yakov arriving at the home of Lavan and match the growth and development of the Jews over the centuries leading up to the giving of the Torah. During that time his understanding of Tikun Olam would deepen into a true personal mission and commitment. Under Yakov’s (and in a perfect world, Lavan’s) tutelage Bilam should grow in knowledge and goodness to help shepherd the non-Jewish world toward a loving partnership with the Jews.
Yakov left Lavan’s home and Bilam evolved into a sought after (and very well paid) advisor and consultant for national and international affairs. At first glance it seemed that Tikun Olam Plan A was working. The first real opportunity that Bilam had to create the Tikun Olam partnership between the Jewish and the Non-Jewish world was at Pharaoh’s behest. Had Bilam advised Pharaoh to embrace the Jewish people and buy into the Tikun Olam partnership, all of history would have been different. (Yakov’s burial) Instead, the evil Bilam advised Pharaoh to enslave, persecute, and destroy the Jewish nation.
120 plus years later, G-d gave Bilam a second chance with Plan B for Tikun Olam. His fame had grown, as had his prophetic power and potential for good and evil. Egypt was a fading memory and the Jews had emerged from Pharaoh’s cauldron and 40 years of desert wandering ready to undertake their half of the Tikun Olam partnership. They had the Torah, the Mishkan, Moshe Rabbeinu, and soon they would also have the land of Israel. They truly were a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, and they were looking for a partner.
Balak, the great grandson of Lot (Sarah’s brother) and progenitor of Ruth (great-grandmother of King David) was the newly identified “partner.” Representing Amon, Moav and Midian, and desiring personal power and acclaim, Balak could have delivered a powerful alliance to Moshe and the Jews, if only he knew that possibility. Together they would have overwhelmed the combined might of the Canaanite kings and guaranteed absolute victory. Seeking advice and direction, Balak turned to Bilam. Once again Bilam failed to broker the Tikun Olam partnership. Instead of advising Balak to willingly embrace Tikun Olam and help create the messianic era, Bilam advised conflict, hatred, and destruction.
G-d intervened and reversed Bilam’s curses to blessings. In the end, his prophetic power unintentionally helped advance the Jewish nation’s ability to eventually accomplish Tikun Olam. At the same time it destroyed Balak’s opportunity for both personal greatness and Tikun Olam.
Bilam’s parting shot was a last ditch effort at destroying the Jews. Balak listened to Bilam and the Moabite women engaged the Jewish men. Had it not been for Pinchus’s courageous intervention, the resulting plague would have destroyed the Bnai Yisroel. That means that the hundreds of years preparing the Jews to accomplish Tikun Olam would have been for naught. Therefore, it was Pinchus’s violent intervention that saved both the Jewish nation and the possibility for Tikun Olam Plan C.
The Kohain’s job is to emulate Aharon Hakohain and bring peace into the world. The job of Tikun Olam demands that the Jews and the non-Jews join each other in accomplishing peace. The Jewish nation must emulate the peace-loving mission of Aharon and become “a kingdom of priests.” As a “kingdom of priests” they comprise one half of the Tikun Olam partnership. Had it not been for Pinchus, our half would have been destroyed. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that G-d would grant Pinchus His “covenant of peace” as the first step toward Plan C of Tikun Olam.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, North Hollywood, CA and Assistant Principal, YULA.