Parsha Balak 5771: Historical Parallels — Toleration of Evil in the Camp: Then and Now

by Moshe Burt

Sefer Shem Mishmuel, translated to English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski (page 347), relates that:

While journeying to meet …Balak, with the intention of cursing the …Jewish nation, …Bila’am had difficulties with his donkey. The animal kept stopping [or straying off of the path], frightened by an angel that Bila’am was unable to see. Bila’am lashed out at the animal, and after the third time a miracle occured:

Hashem opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Bila’am. “What have I done to you, that you hit me these three times?” (Sefer Bamidbar Perek 22, posuk 28, as cited in the Sefer Shem Mishmuel, page 347)

To start this Parsha HaShevua on the lighter side, it comes to mind that the Bila’am’s actions toward his donkey, and the resultant historical (or is that hysterical?) she-donkey’s dialogue and rebuke, might have been the inspiration behind a famous long-running American comedy series, back in the days when American TV was still clean and somewhat pure. You know the one:

Hello, I’m Mr. Ed!

A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
and nobody talks to a horse of course,
that is of course unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed…

And just as Bila’am and his she-donkey might have inspired the TV creation of “Mr. Ed”, so too we can look at the Ba’al Peor and sense it’s possible parallels and analogy within contemporary perceptions, actions and rationale amongst the institutions, intelligencia and governance of Medinat Yisrael, as well as, yes — certain streams of liberalized “religious thought.”

We learn in our Parsha, that after having utterly failed to bring Hashem to curse B’nai Yisrael, Bila’am left Balak with a scheme to seduce Jewish men to avodah zora by way of immorality (co-habitation), thus evoking Hashem’s wrath. The resultant plague killed 24,000 Jewish men and was only ended by Pinchas’ zealous act in slaying Zimri and Kosbi in one stroke of his spear.

The Midrash Says (by Rabbi Moshe Weissman, Parsha Balak, pages 350-351) indicates that Bila’am’s Ba’al Peor scheme began by attracting airev rav — those who accompanied the Jews out of Mitzrayim. But, then the attraction lured members of Shevet Shimon. The account states that Hashem revealed those who sinned by removing The Clouds of Glory from above the guilty ones.

The Midrash Says (page 351) describes how:

….It was for these people Pinchas later prayed and whose deaths he averted.

The members of the Tribe of Shimon were very distressed because many of their kinsmen had been sentenced to death. They came before their nassi, Zimri, and reproached him, “How can you keep silent in the face of so many deaths?”

Zimri reacted by brazenly challenging Moshe in public.

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., at the Midianite/Moabite Bazaar where the co-habitation was an enticement and seduction to the avodah zora Ba’al Pe’or, seemed a 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.

R’Rafael Katzenellenbogen is cited in Studies in the Weekly Parsha, by Yehuda Nachshoni referring to R’ Sonnenfeld who noted 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.

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.

How very much it seems that the contemporary toleration of evil, of immorality and “sanitization” for the sake of expedience parallels its Sefer Bamidbar model.

How closely does the toleration of evil eviction and displacement of Jews from their homes and communities, i.e. from Gush Katif, Amona, or subsequent construction freezes — real or de-facto, or feigned trepidation over the UN, or of a “Super Power” — all eminating from lack of Torah rooting and disdain for Torah, correlate with the lack of emunah which gave rise to the toleration of evil, of immorality in the Camp in Bamidbar?

How closely do certain liberalized “novel, misleading ideologies” of tolerating evil by incorporating it into the Camp of Israel regarding family purity issues by certain contemporary so-called “poskim” mirror the Bamidbar model? And civil rights for gays? What about attempts to brand Israel as a “gay and swingers paradise” for economic gain? Or acceptance and embrace of evangelical financial and political support?

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 — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to stand up to prevent the eviction of Jews from their homes and to prevent the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone 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 — the Ultimate Redemption bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim” — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.