Parsha Balak 5770: What Levels of Evil are Deemed Tolerable in the Camp?

by, Moshe Burt

In previous years when speaking about Parsha Balak, about Bila’am’s scheme to lure Jewish men to immorality and avodah zora, as well as connecting Pinchas’ action, in killing Zimri and Kosbi in the act of co-habitation before the Assembly, this author referred back to a posuk in Parsha Ki Tisa;

You shall annoint Aaron, his sons and their descendents as Kohanim…

But Pinchas was omitted by the posuk in Parsha Ki Tisa as he was born in Mitzrayim, before Yetziyot Mitzrayim, before Matan Torah, to Aaron’s son Elazar, heir to Aaron’s position of Kohen Godol. The Kohanic inheritance and lineage would only kick in after Matan Torah, thus by the annointment of Aaron and his sons, Pinchas Ben Elazar fell through the cracks.

It was after Balak contracted Bila’am to come and to curse the B’nai Yisrael but, compelled by Hashem, he could only bless the Jews from 7 different vantage points. Upon Bila’am’s leave of Balak, he proposed a scheme which he saw as undermining the Kedusha and status of B’nai Yisrael — that Hashem cannot tolerate immorality and avodah zora.

Thus we see;

  • Bila’am’s scheme to seduce Jewish men to avodah zora by way of immorality (co-habitation)
  • The resultant plague killing 24,000 Jewish men

Zimri, the prince of Shavet Shimon and the most prominent individual to take part in this act of physical lust, displayed a distorted and false perception and rationale in bringing Kosbi into the Camp and co-habitating with her before The Assembly. His alleged “L’Shem Shemayim” model; bringing co-habitation with Moabite women into the camp of B’nai Yisrael lest men go looking for it outside, i.e., the Midianite/Moabite Bazaar where the co-habitation was an enticement and seduction to the avodah zora Ba’al Pe’or, was cover for his (Zimri’s) true motivations and intentions — “In your face, Moshe,” just as Korach’s true motive was lust for power covered by rationale of accusation of nepotism against Moshe Rabbeinu and Aaron.

What is seen here is toleration of immorality within the Jewish Nation for the sake of expedience; preemption, through institution of a purportedly “L’Shaim Shemayim”, “sanitized” version of co-habitation inside the camp, of Jewish men going to the Midianite/Moabite Bazaar and being seduced, by way of immorality, to avodah zora.

We learn, as related by R’Rafael Katzenellenbogen regarding words of R’ Sonnenfeld; that Zimri’s distorted sense of “acting for the sake of Shemayim” evolved from;

“…a novel, misleading ideology, that evil must be tolerated by incorporating it into the Camp of Israel, to dissuade the lustful man from finding himself in the camp of idolaters.” (Studies in the Weekly Parsha, by Yehuda Nachshoni, Parsha Balak, page 1115.)

We learn in next week’s Parsha Pinchas that there was much dispute in The Camp as to Pinchas’ action. There were those who wanted Pinchas killed for killing another Jew and Hashem thus conveyed the Kahuna upon him in recognition of the justness and Kiddush Hashem of his action.

And so, this Parshat HaShevua goes off in a different direction, although one could question whether the thrust of the direction is conceptually the same.

Gemura Megillah, Perek 3, daf 24, amud alef (Chapter 3, page 24A) cites Mishne Perek 4, Mishne 9 which states:

One who says: “Good men shall bless You” [as a praise of Hashem] — this is the way of heresy.

On this posuk of Mishne, the Artscroll Shottenstein Edition gemura page 25A1, footnote 1 states:

For he does not include among those who praise G’d, and the Sages teach us (Kereisos 6b) that any public fast that does not include the transgressors of Israel is not accepted. They derive this from the inclusion of… galbanum, which emits a foul oder, among the ingredients of the incense offered in the Temple [Beit HaMikdash]. Similarly, the wicked must be considered as part of the congregation of Israel. [Rashi; cf Ran, Meiri]

Questions need to be asked regarding application of this concept, perhaps in the context of learning Tanya as related to the spiritual part of a Jew — Cheilik Eloka Mi’mal — one who has an innate G’dly portion from above, i.e., even one with the neshama level of a “toe-nail.”

At what point is one’s evil such that an individual loses this Cheilik Eloka Mi’mal and loses even the merit of being as galbanum — included in the ingredients though emitting a foul odor? At what point does one’s evil preclude one from being rendered as part of the Kehal?

What are the paradigm contemporary cases? Ariel Sharon and his geirush of 10,000 Jews? Bernie Madoff’s multi-billion $ Ponzi scheme ripping of countless families, companies and Jewish chesed funds?

What about cases of lesser magnitude, but every bit as evil? What of the cases ranging from scams, corruptions, thefts and sins on a national or local levels via exploitation of the governed to gangsterism and to even toleration of domestic evil? At what point does one lose, forfeit even the most fundamental merit in Olam Haba — in Shemayim — in the next world, as well as being considered as disincluded from the Kehal in this world?

The deeds in question don’t reach the grave level of Zimri’s distorted model and his illicit union with Kosbi — for which they were both caught in the act and legally killed by Pinchas in one fell-swoop according to citings in gemura Sanhedrin and citings of rulings by the Lubavitcher Rebbe and other prominent commentators. Would the answers to these questions seem to call upon a righteousness comparable to, or approaching that of a Pinchas?

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!