"And Bilaam the son of Beor they slew with the sword"
These words, which actually form the latter half of the complete verse, starkly report the demise of the heathen prophet Bilaam. It is mentioned in the context of the war between Israel and Midian, almost as an aside, a not-so-consequential fact. Indeed, compared to the blazing headline - front page account of the Balak-Bilaam conspiracy to curse Israel, which takes up the entirety of the Torah reading of Balak, these few words would seem to form a very minor item buried somewhere in section two of the morning tabloid. Rashi's commentary on the verse can be understood to support this: "Bilaam tried to employ Israel's strength, the power of prayer, (literally, the power of the mouth), and use that to destroy them by cursing Israel. Israel employed the nations' weapon of choice, the sword, to destroy Bilaam. As it is said, 'You shall live by the sword.' Gen. 27:40" That is, as far as Torah is concerned, we have much more to gain and to learn from the in-depth description of Bilaam's failed attempts to curse Israel, and his ultimately partially successful plan to ensnare Israel in idolatry, than we do from an in-depth study of the military campaign which ensued. Israel knows how to use the sword when compelled to.
Ironically, the outward semblance of reality might have appeared quite the opposite. Many of our sages agree that Israel was completely unaware at the time of Balak and Bilaam's attempts to curse the nation. Being that Balak's initial communication with Bilaam was via diplomatic channels, it is entirely possible that the clandestine mission was only known to its chief participants, and no one else. What the world saw was this: Israel began feigning friendship with Midian by mingling with its women. Israel then deepened its insidious conspiracy by pretending to adopt the Midianite idolatry. Finally, when Israel's evil deception was complete, and the innocent, peace loving Midianites' guard was lowered, Israel struck, ruthlessly destroying Midian and usurping her lands. In other words, the Balak-Bilaam conspiracy never made it into print, never was revealed by the blogs. But Israel's surprise attack and murder of the prophet Bilaam was front page news. And to further tighten the screws, when CNN and the NY Times, and Al Jazeera all sent their investigative reporters to discover the "truth," they returned with the report than, unbeknownst to anyone, Bilaam's final days had been spent blessing the nation of Israel: "How goodly are thy tents." (Numbers 24:5)
Guilty as charged! Culpable! Condemned!
The state of Israel today is often chastised by its own ardent supporters that it must dramatically improve its public diplomacy so as to effectively combat the lies and calumnies that are constantly being directly at her. Go ahead and explain that Bilaam and Balak were planning to destroy Israel with praise! You might as well complain that the world is holding Israel up to a double standard of justice! After all, Israel "came up" with the Ten Commandments: Shouldn't Israel of all nations, abide by them? Go ahead and complain that Bilaam and Balak conspired to ensnare you with their women and their idolatrous culture! Do you want to be friends or do you not want to be friends? Do you want to be treated as equals or are you better than the rest? You might as well claim that the Palestinians are conniving to flood Israel with millions of Muslim Arab "refugees." After all, Israel caused the refugee problem!
Conventional wisdom would say, "stick to your guns!" But Torah is teaching us here something far more potent, far more certain: "Stick to the Torah!" Stick to the truth as it is presented in Torah, for the way in which truth is communicated by Torah is purposeful. This is why the Torah, and Rashi's understanding of it, is completely and utterly relevant and meaningful to us today. Israel need not be stroked by the nations, as Bilaam pretended to do, nor should Israel suffer the indignity of the nations' curses. Israel need not hold itself up to the perverted requirements of the godless rhetoric of hate that the world seeks to impose upon Israel under the banner of their twisted morality. Israel received Torah at Sinai, the source and the benchmark for human morality! Shame on the nations!
But know this: That when push comes to shove, that when Israel is forced to defend itself against murderous enemies who seek her annihilation, she can likewise master the arts of the nations. She can handle the sword and prevail against the very best, and the very worst of them.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK, as Rabbi Chaim Richman, recently back from his travels in the USA, and Yitzchak Reuven join forces once again, just in time to usher in the three weeks of contemplative introspection concerning the Holy Temple which was destroyed 1941 years ago. Are we any closer to building the Holy Temple today than we were a year ago? Are the three weeks of "mourning" helping to ready us for restoring the Divine service or has it become a cathartic device to "let us off the hook?" The prophet Ezekiel enigmatically describes the idolatrous cult of Tammuz, the eponymous namesake of our current month of mourning. Why did our sages adopt the name Tammuz? What do we learn from the Rambam's and Rashi's understandings of the Tammuz blasphemy? Is our current festival of mourning and fasting leading us somewhere or are we stuck fast?
Rabbi Richman has just returned from America humbled and gladdened by the courageous souls he met along spiritual byways and highways. All roads lead to the Holy Temple. Do we dare takes the steps we need to take?