"You shall not curse the people because they are blessed."
Certainly we have all watched cartoons in which the protagonist is relentlessly pursued by his deadly adversary, who incessantly plots to completely and utterly annihilate our animated hero, attacking him with arrows and cannons, flattening him into the ground with steel safes and pianos, running him off cliffs, steamrolling him into the pavement. The fun never seems to stop!
In the two-dimensional world of animated cartoons we can afford to kick back and allow ourselves a few guffaws. But did you ever wonder how it would be if the characters suddenly became real-life flesh-and-blood human beings? Would it still be so funny? If we take it one step further, and identify our hero as the nation of Israel, and the untiring, implacable foe as all those who have risen up in every generation determined to destroy Israel, we see before our very eyes the scourge of anti-Semitism that has plagued, not just the Jews, but the entire family of nations, for thousands of years.
Scholars of history and sociology and anthropology have long tried to determine when the heinous crime of anti-Semitism first began. One really needs to look no further than this week's Torah reading of Balak, and the words and actions of the heathen prophet Bilaam. Bilaam, just like Wile E. Coyote of Roadrunner fame, tried employing every angle under the sun, literally, to get a bead on Israel, and destroy her. Bilaam went first to this hill and then to that. He peered at Israel from the north, the south the east and the west. Bilaam attempted to manipulate G-d Himself, reminding the Almighty of His children's transgressions, "Come, curse Jacob for me," hoping to "invoke [His] wrath against Israel." (ibid 22:7) He sought to highlight with his words what he thought were Israel's weaknesses, but they proved to be her strengths. Israel's fabled modesty, "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!" (ibid 23:5) did not reflect timidity, but virtue. Israel's long suffering in the face of her enemies, "He crouches and lies like a lion and like a lioness; who will dare rouse him?" (ibid 23:9) reflects not her lack of will but her sublime confidence in the ultimate triumph of good over evil. In short, Bilaam tried to strip away from Israel her trust in the righteousness of her path, to cause her to doubt her G-d given innate knowledge of right and wrong, to objectify, dehumanize and demonize Israel. Sound familiar?
The astonishing thing is that Bilaam knew all along that it was impossible to curse Israel. He heard it himself from G-d, and even repeated the futility of his efforts to Balak, ("What the Lord puts into my mouth that I must take care to say." ibid 22:12) But he proceeded apace in spite of this. Certainly today's haters of Zion are likewise keenly aware of the abject vanity of all their efforts but that hardly seems to dampen their enthusiasm. For Israel, like the cartoon victim, no matter how many times she is flattened or crushed or blown up or shot out of a cannon, will always bounce back, regain her composure, and continue upon the path that G-d has determined for her.
Life is not a cartoon, however, and the enemies of G-d and Israel are capable of inflicting much pain and anguish upon Israel, even if they never can attain their ultimate goals. Nor is there anything charming or agreeable about today's Bilaams. Some among them utter curses and mean every word. Others mouth vacant blessings and confessions of love and promises of security, and intend not a word of it.
Bilaam himself gave voice to the unalterable truth that the nation of Israel is "like gardens by the river, like aloes which HaShem planted, like cedars by the water." (ibid 24:6) Our roots run deep, fed by the waters of Torah, and planted by these waters we shall not be moved. The Bilaams of today can take center stage, and capture the world's imagination. They can and do wreak much havoc and destruction along the way. But ultimately can they divert, even by a fraction, the destiny of all human kind that G-d has promised? Can Bilaam stand between Israel and the land? Between Jerusalem and the Holy Temple? Between the nations of the world and the knowledge of the One True G-d?
"You shall not curse the people because they are blessed." (ibid 22:12) Every Bilaam is cursed by his own self-awareness of predetermined failure. And, in the end, that's all folks!
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Yitzchak Reuven, on his own again in the studio, talks about Bilaam the prophet and the objectification of Israel, then & now. Bilaam, a man in possession of tremendous intellectual and spiritual capacity sought to bend right and wrong to serve his own ends and the ends of Balak, a fellow hater of Israel. Thinking very highly of himself Bilaam imagined he could outwit G-d and put and end to Israel. To the world's discredit, he has many followers today. What is the connection between the coming redemption and the breaking of the heat wave? And don't forget: Speak only good about the land of Israel and the people of Israel during this fateful month of Tammuz!