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Shabbat Parashat Balak 5771

Parashat Hashavuah: The Curse of the Blessing

Harav Shaul Yisraeli - from Siach Shaul, pg. 423-424

Our parasha introduces a classic and most dangerous Jew-hater, Bilam Harasha. Anti-Semitism is as old as our nation. The Rambam (in Iggeret Teiman) explains its source with great insight. Since Hashem selected us to receive the Torah’s laws and precepts, through which our higher level became clear, idol worshippers became very jealous and pressured their leaders to fight us. He says that they actually would like to fight with Hashem, if they could.

While anti-Semitism is very old, it has different faces and tactics at different times in history. Its primitive form comes with murderous hands. This is the coarse, uncloaked version, which we found first when Amalek attacked. The more venomous and deeper form is “cultured anti-Semitism,” whose weapon is not the “hands of Eisav” but the mouth. Instead of physical battle, there are proclamations and defamations, scorning and haughtiness. Who was more talented in this area than Bilam, who composed poetry and knew how to determine when Hashem became angry? He had a history of using his mouth to bite in a manner for which there was no remedy.

Hashem prevented Bilam from cursing as he desired, and the curses froze on his lips and churned out of his mouth as blessings. Instead of putting us down, he sang our praises: “From the head of cliffs I see them… they are a nation that lives in solitude and is not counted among the nations” (Bamidbar 23:21).

If only we could finish the story there; it actually ended quite badly. How strongly does the outcome pierce the heart! Specifically the pleasant tones of Bilam’s blessings, a result of his failed curses, ended up being most dangerous. The Torah conveys to us, in pieces, the plot Bilam taught Balak. “Israel camped in Shitim, and the nation began to be promiscuous with the daughters of Moav” (ibid. 25:1). The result: a plague in which 24,000 died (ibid. 9). As long as we are separate from the nations, as Balak praised us, we are able to block out their influence. However, he implied, once we become close with them, we became vulnerable, and Balak exploited the matter. They beckoned us: “We are not so distant, and we can come to an understanding, mutually beneficial relationship.” They succeeded by sending their young women, who awoke interest first in them and then in their idols.

This phenomenon repeated itself in history in different forms. We always had more to fear from their blessings than from their curses. Hashem turned many attempts to undo our religion and label us with blood libels into a means of widening the gap between the nations and strengthening our resolve and belief in Hashem. However, their sweet overtures of friendship toward us caused the greatest dangers, making us think that we may blur our differences and try to be like other nations. This has been our greatest vulnerability. Who can count the number of people who have died in subsequent plagues, literal and figurative?

Let us learn from the navi in the haftara: “The remnant of Israel will be amongst the many nations as dew from Hashem, like rain upon grass, which will not hope for man and not wait for people” (Micha 5:6).

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