The Torah portion read this past Shabbat describes how Balak, king of the Moabites, who were sworn enemies of the Jewish people, employed Balaam to curse the Jewish nation, and how God transformed Balaam’s intended curse into blessing, foiling Balak’s plan. In the midst of the blessings bestowed upon the Jewish people, Balaam utters: “ ...it is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the [other] nations.”
What is the significance of these words, and how do they constitute a blessing? Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, a great scholar of the nineteenth century, explains that with these words Balaam prescribed a formula of success for the Jewish nation: so long as the nation firmly commits to its principles of humanity and serves as a beacon of morality for all of humankind, it would “dwell in solitude and never be reckoned among the [other] nations.”
Rabbi Berlin explains that the greatest threat to the Jewish nation is the Jewish nation itself; only when Jewish people assimilate and fail to maintain their identity are they in danger of compromising their survival.
Therefore a Jew must consistently probe the essence of his being and the rationale for his survival. He must distinguish himself from the rest of the world and from his enemies, particularly when he is confronted with tragic circumstances which can shake the foundations of his beliefs, as is the case with the unfolding of the recent heart-rending events which have shocked the Jewish world.
As we try to maintain our sanity among all the madness that is going on around us, here are some distinctions and thoughts which we should seriously consider: When one of our loved ones dies we do everything in our power to preserve their memory by enhancing the lives of those who are still with us. We establish big brother/sister programs, plant gardens, build memorials and create scholarship opportunities to encourage people to find ways to contribute constructively to society.
This is why Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who reiterated these points in his eulogy for the boys, has consistently responded to terror attacks by approving more units for construction in Israeli settlements and neighborhoods. This is opposed to radical Islamists who teach and encourage their children to execute acts of terror and make their mark in this world by murdering the innocent and traumatizing families.
We bury our departed with heavy hearts and in deep reflection, wondering how the person who has passed on would have expected us to continue to live our lives, while the Islamists escort their deceased to burial spraying bullets in the air and contemplating their next harmful strike with which to exalt and enact devastation. We the people of Israel embrace life, while they, the supporters of Hamas and perpetrators of terror, glorify death.
One of the most striking and strangely reassuring things I noticed at the funeral of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrah and Gil-Ad Shaer was the vast number of youths who attended.
Here we are in the first week of summer vacation, and while youths throughout the Diaspora were boarding buses en-route to summer camp, our youths in Israel boarded buses to attend the funeral of three innocent children who had summer plans of their own just a few short weeks ago. While young people the world over were packing sunscreen into their duffle bags, our youths were packing bottles of water in their knapsacks in order to avoid sunstroke and dehydration as they stood out in the sun for hours to pay their respects and to listen attentively to their president and prime minister administer speeches in the hope of ensuring them a secure future.
The presence of our youth was not merely a show of support, it was a declaration: a declaration that while they mourn the loss of their peers, they accept their role as future leaders who will secure the land, protect the people and sustain the sacred institution called life.
My 15-year-old daughter and her friend were among the many youths who attended the funeral. When I drove them home after a long and intense day, my daughter’s friend got out of the car and turned to my daughter saying, “thank you for encouraging me to come and for giving me this opportunity to perform this mitzvah on such a sad day.”
Indeed, we will always be “a nation that dwells in solitude,” but so long as we are privileged to hear our youth declare their gratitude and eagerness to perform, contribute and endure then perhaps we will be privileged to witness a curse transform into a blessing.
The author serves as a lecturer for the IDF to help motivate troops and develop their Jewish identity. In addition he is currently involved lecturing throughout Israel on the basics of Judaism for many secular kibbutzim and moshavim. He is a popular guest lecturer for communities throughout the Diaspora.