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An Anti-Semite's Epiphany

Friday, 4 July, 2014 - 5:45 pm

israel.jpgOver the last few weeks, each day I woke up with the hope of hearing about a miraculous rescue of the three young kidnapped boys whom we all got to know. Monday afternoon as I was driving down to New York. I heard the awful news and I cried. The funerals which were attended by 100,000 of our brethren and watched and followed by millions more, were a reflection of a grieving and wounded nation who stood together with the three precious families on that fateful day.

The days that followed haven’t been more comforting, with hundreds of missiles raining down on Southern Israel, and rioting and attacks by mobs in many areas of Jerusalem and Judea. World leaders and media outlets who had forgotten about Israel and the kidnapping either completely or for several days after their kidnapping, all tripped over each other backwards in the rush to condemn the terrible murder of a Palestinian, that they have been quick to blame on Jews out for revenge, despite an equally strong likelihood that it may have been an internal feud.

To be clear, the murder of the young innocent Palestinian is a reprehensible act regardless of who did it, and a young innocent person lost their life for no reason. Judaism does certainly not condone such acts and if indeed true, it should be unequivocally condemned, as stated so bravely by the mother of one of the kidnapped boys.  With that said, the rush to assume and condemn based on unconfirmed facts, is something we should all stay away from and be cautious of, especially due to the greater implications this will have on the ground.

Balak & Bilaam, Hate gone wrong!

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about an ancient king of Moav, Balak, and Bilaam, the spiritual leader of the nation of Midyan, who despite their hate for each other, were united in their common goal of destroying the Jewish people. After realizing that militarily, they didn’t stand too much of a chance against the Jews, they wanted to try an alternative method. Thus the King of Moav offers to pay huge sums of money to Bilaam if he could somehow succeed in spiritually cursing the Jewish people.

Both Billam and Balak knew that physical might alone won’t enable them to succeed. They realized that their only chance for any kind of success, was going to be through finding the weak moral and spiritual flaws of the people, which they could then use to bring about their downfall as a nation.

The story then takes an interesting twist, as Balak and Bilaam repeatedly try to approach the Jews from different vantage points to somehow find that weak link in their spiritual wall, that would allow them an entry point to penetrate. Time after time they failed, and eventually much to the chagrin of King Balak, Bilaam, starts sharing some of the greatest blessings and praises of the Jews that are ever recorded in the Torah. Even when Balak protested, Bilaam responds by saying I am a Prophet of G-d, and I can only convey the words that G-d conveys to me to say. You hear that, one of the greatest enemies of the Jews realized the unique spiritual strength and qualities of the Jews, and had admit to that and praise them for that.

Among the praises that Bilaam points out is, “Am Levadad Yishkon”, “a nation who dwells alone”. In other words he was praising the Jews by stating, that even though they are often alone and alienated in this world, they still maintain themselves, stay spiritually and morally focused, and hold themselves up.

Another verse which he quotes, which has become part of the daily Jewish prayer, is “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel”. The commentaries discuss what it was that Bilaam was praising and complimenting, and there are several ways of understanding it that are suggested by the commenatries. One explanation, is that Bilaam was praising the way in which the Jews lived with each other and the manner in which they had set up their tents and camps. In those times, people were not particular about respecting other people’s privacy and space, yet here Bilaam identifies the unique manner in which the Jews set up their tents, that ensured that the entrance of one tent did not face the entrance of another tent. By doing so, the Jews were being mindful of respecting each other’s privacy and modesty, ensured that they got along well with each other, and helped maintain a communal and national unity.  

Jewish Tents & Jewish Unity

This week, Jewish homes, synagogues, and JCC’s around the world and in Israel, were united with the families who experienced the terrible tragedies, and were united in their prayers, hopes and determination for a better future. Out of every tent of the Jewish people, came a resounding message of solidarity and oneness that expressed the beauty of these praises and blessings uttered 3300 years ago by someone who inherently sought nothing less than the destruction of the Jews..

Let us hope and pray that in the merit of the unity of our people, and in honor of all the extra Mitzvot, prayers, and good deeds that people have taken on in memory of the boys and in the merit of Israel, those who seek hate, will also experience Bilaam’s epiphany and recognition of the Jews spiritual bedrock. Like Bilaam, they too will  learn to see us for what we really are and ought to be, and instead of cursing and fighting the Jewish people, they will come to the deeper recognition of the divine mission that we are all entrusted with and the greater and common good that unites us all together. 

Shabbat Shalom 

 

 

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