Friday, June 25, 2010

The Antidote to Anti-Semitism

A quick note on Parshah Balak, in honour of the bar mitzvah of my friend's eldest son (Mazal Tov!).

In Parshah Balak, we read how the King of Moav (Balak) summons the national prophet Bilaam to curse Bnai Yisroel. The Parshah then ends with the recounting of the episode involving Zimri and Cozbi.

The question that comes immediately to mind is why Balak summoned Bilaam at all. The Moavim knew that Hashem had commanded to refrain from attacking Moav (Devarim 2:19,19). Logically then, there should have been no fear of attack. Instead, Balak is so unnerved sheer magnitude of the approaching nation that he forms an allegiance with Moav's sworn enemies, the Midyanites, in an attempt to take down Bnai Yisroel (Rashi).

Morevoer, who was Bilaam? Bilaam was a relative of Lavan, from whom he learned black magic (Midrash/Zohar). It was, in fact, from Lavan that Bilaam learned how to discern the precise time of day when Hashem sits in judgement. By issuing a curse at that moment, Bilaam was able to obtain an unfavourable ruling from the Heavenly Court upon the cursed individual(s). That Bilaam is eager to curse the Jews indicates how he, like Lavan, enjoyed inflicting misery upon Hashem's people.

So what is really going on here? From the incident of Bilaam and Balak we learn how anti-semitism operates: an irrational fear/hatred of yiddin incites a rationalisation for one's hatred, and in turn, serves to justify in the anti-semite's mind any anti-semitic action s/he takes.

Yet, as always, Hashem provides the antidote to the problem with problem. Thus, we see that due to the piety of the Bnai Yisroel, Hashem was unable to find fault with them, and in turn cause Bilaam to bless instead of curse three times. As we know, the number 3 is a number with positive spiritual ramifications: Three Patriarchs, Three Matriarchs, Three Annual Festivals, etc. In Parshah Balak, with each attempt to curse, the given blessing that Balak utters proves greater than the previous blessing.

To underscore this point, the parshah ends by recounting the story of Zimri and Cozbi. Because of his supreme hatred of Bnai Yisroel (not to mention a blatant display of self-interest that is consistent with the legacy of Lavan), before leaving after issuing the curses, Bilaam attempts to curry favour (and monetary compensation) from Balak by telling the latter how to cause Bnai Yisroel's downfall. That Pinchas stops the plague by killing Zimri and Cozbi underscores that zealous adherence to Hashem's moral code (versus falling prey to moral squalor, i.e. consorting with the Midiyanite and Moavite women), we can continue to merit Divine Protection as individuals and as a nation.

Good Shabbos.

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