The Torah has great relevance to all current events. It is not a book of history but it is rather a book about humankind – its greatness and evil, wisdom and creativity and its pettiness and foolishness. This week’s parsha allows itself to be read in the context of our current world and perhaps, most acutely, in the relationship of the Jewish people and the State of Israel to their adversaries and to the world generally.
The Jewish people under the leadership of Moshe have fought a number of wars against enemies – Amalek, The Emorites, the Canaanites, the king of Bashan, etc. – and emerged victorious in all of these physical encounters. The king of Moab, Balak, afraid to confront Israel directly again in open battle, devises a new strategy to destroy the Jewish nation. He hires a media expert, Bilaam, to conduct a public relations campaign against the right of the Jewish people to exist. He reasons that though they may not be defeated in war, they can be cursed in the eyes of the world.
To put Bilaam into our terms and times, he is the UN, rights commissions, the European Union, blockade breakers, NGO’s, human rights activists and the literary and academic world. Balak is happy to fund Bilaam’s efforts – the New Balak Fund. Bilaam’s prose and poetry are unmatched for beauty in the Torah. He is the hero of the intellectual set, the advisor to kings and rulers, a recognized expert, while, in reality, he is nothing more than an empty suit.
Balak is convinced that if he cannot conquer and destroy the Jewish people by direct aggression he will now be able to do so through guile, falsehoods, demonization and deligitimatization. Bilaam is Balak’s default weapon against Moshe and Israel.
The Lord intervenes with Balak’s scheme. Bilaam turns out to be completely unreliable as far as Balak is concerned. Bilaam gives advice to Balak regarding how the women of Midian and Moab can seduce the Jews into sinning and thereby bring Heaven’s wrath against them. The Jewish nation is damaged by Bilaam but his main objective of destroying Israel is blocked by Divine fiat.
The insults become praise and the malevolence of his thought is somehow transformed into a badge of honor by Moshe and Israel and so recorded in the Torah. Balak’s promising plot has failed in its objective and eventually he, his nation and Bilaam bring only death and destruction upon themselves.
The destruction of Judaism and the Jewish people has been an age old object of many Balaks and Bilaams. They still exist today and are still hard at work at their nefarious schemes. Yet, somehow deep in our souls we know that the curses will be transformed into blessings and, eventually, enmity will subside and evaporate. May we be privileged to transform the current words of the Bilaams of today to words of blessing just as occurred to the original Bilaam of long ago.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com