Parashat Balak: A light in the darkness

“Behold, it is a nation that will dwell in solitude, and will not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9)

June 25, 2010 18:21
3 minute read.
Parashat Balak: A light in the darkness

weekly parasha 88. (photo credit: )

“Behold, it is a nation that will dwell in solitude, and will not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9)

From its context, this prophecy is clearly meant to be a blessing, a vision of Israel in splendid isolation and ideological triumph. Rashi (1040-1105), maintains that the patriarchs and matriarchs bequeathed us a unique set of values and a consecrated lifestyle which prevents assimilation into the venal and licentious practices of the surrounding nations. While every other nation eventually leaves the stage of world history, we alone will emerge victorious.

Balak reviles Balaam for this laudatory vision: “What have you done to me? I hired you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have blessed, yes blessed, them” (Numbers 23:11).

However, when we look upon the past 2,000 years of Jewish history, the first part of Balaam’s prophecy has indeed been fulfilled – but not as a blessing. Until the establishment of the State of Israel, we were helplessly hounded from pillar to post by the nations of the world – until we truly stood alone in the midst of the Nazis’ attempted genocide.  Even now, with the establishment of the state – when we do have the ability to defend ourselves – we (and not the allies of Iran and al-Qaida) have again become the whipping boy not only of the Arab bloc, but also of the European Union, the United Nations and even of the American president.

Yes, we stand in isolation – but “stinking” isolation rather than splendid isolation. How can we understand this?

Hitler – like his present-day jihadist heirs – sought world domination by the sword. But at the same time he was building military prowess to destroy the free world, he was also waging a diabolical campaign to dehumanize and decimate the Jewish people. Why the Jews?

You see, fascist Hitler believed in Aryan supremacy, in “might makes right,” in “to the victor belong the spoils.” And he belonged to the race of “ubermenschen” who had conquered Germany and would conquer the world. But there was one fly in his ointment: the Jews. The Jews believed in a principle deriving from their patriarch Abraham 4,000 years ago that “compassionate righteousness and moral justice” would take over the world (Genesis 18:19); that through them, the world would be blessed with peace and freedom.

Hitler wanted to believe that the Jews were “selling” a slave morality based on their own need for the world’s compassion. But he could not deny the fact that they – the most powerless of people – had nevertheless survived the persecutions of Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, the Ottoman Empire and the Catholic Church. This gave credence to their claim that they were indeed God’s witnesses, entrusted with the mission of enthroning the God of the Ten Commandments as the world’s only “Leader.” And so he became obsessed with the Jews, and was hell-bent on obliterating Judaism – and its message of love, compassion and morality.

The Talmudic tractate Pesahim (our festival of freedom and redemption) was among the few personal effects Hitler brought with him into the bunker where he committed suicide. It was given to Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, then Chief Rabbi of Israel. The failed Fuehrer probably believed he was burying the Talmud; instead, the Talmud buried him.

But the world is still not ready to accept our morality, hypocritically siding with those who send out suicide bombers and target innocent civilians, with those who repress the rights of their own citizens (women, Christians, Kurds and Jews). They would rather revile Israel as an apartheid and terrorist state. Yet Israel enables enemy Arab voices to be heard in its parliament; Israel avoids aerial bombing to prevent the death of innocents whenever possible, even at the risk of its own soldiers. Israel alone in the world is standing up to the scourge of terrorism.

And so the words of Balaam remain as a promise and a challenge. At the conclusion of this portion, Balaam understands that no external source can vanquish Israel; we can only vanquish ourselves if we fall sway to the surrounding immorality. But if indeed we continually measure our morality not only against the perverted standards of our enemies but also against the majesty of the Ten Commandments, we are guaranteed that not only will we survive but we will prevail.

The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.

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