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Parsha Balak 5773: Historical Parallels — Today’s Bila’ams, and Motivations for Toleration of Evil in the Camp
Once again, we’ll begin discussing our Parsha Balak 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…
But Shem Mishmuel (translated to English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski), pages 347-351 cites the posuk of the donkey’s speech to Bila’am and comments:
“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.'”
The word usually employed by the Torah for “times” is pe’amim, but in this verse, an unusual form, regalim, usually denoting “festivals” is used. Rashi quoting Chazal notes:
These three times — It is a hint that he [Bila’am] wanted to uproot the Jewish nation, who celebrate three pilgram festivals each year.
Shem Mishmuel then cites Arizal who suggests that it was not Bila’am’s intention to destroy the entire nation, but to eradicate Jewish observance of the mitzvot of the three festivals: Pesach, Shavuot and Succot.
He then cites The Maharal who pointed out that each of the three festivals signified combatting one of the three cardinal transgressions:
idolatry (Pesach), sexual immorality (Shavuot) and Succot which equated with murder (which relates to jealousy and an evil eye).
Shem Mishmuel then summarizes Maharal this way:
It is clear that the character development engendered by the correct celebration of three festivals represents the complete opposite and negation of the personality of the wicked Bila’am. It is small wonder then that he tried to eliminate the observance of this mitzvah, more than any other, from the Jewish people.
Shem Mishmuel adds from Chazal:
Bila’am wished to curse Klal Yisrael nd destroy their ability to observe the shalosh regalim [the three festivals], which so contradicted his very nature. Hashem subverted his evil designs, and he was forced to bless them time and again, strengthening their ability to observe the very mitzvah he hated most.
And just as Bila’am and his she-donkey might have inspired the TV creation of “Mr. Ed”, so too we can look at Bila’am’s hatching the plot of 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 all of Bila’am’s foibles with his donkey, and having utterly failed in his machinations 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 eruv rav — the Mitzri “groupies” 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.
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.)
Zimri’s 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. Zimri’s “In your face, Moshe” demeanor appeared as motivated by lust for power, just as Korach’s true motivations were covered by rationale of accusation of nepotism against Moshe Rabbeinu and Aaron.
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 in Bamidbar, in the period just before the Jews were to FINALLY enter Eretz Yisrael, 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, to preempt 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, i.e. same gender relationships, spousal abuse,
“sanitization” of child abuse — at home, in the street, at school 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, Beit HaShalom, Federman’s farm, Ulpana, etc., or construction freezes — real or de-facto, the political/governmental toleration of construction of an Arab city in the Jordan Valley (Area C of the Shomron under Israeli security control), or feigned trepidation over the UN, or of a “Super Power” — all eminating from lack of Torah rooting, disdain for Torah; how closely do today’s tolerations correlate with Zimri’s model for toleration in Bamidbar?? How closely does contemporary blind hatred for the mitzvah — for the connection of a Jew to his land seem to correlate with both Bila’am’s attempts to eradicate the very mitzvot which make the Jews Hashem’s unique and prototype people, and the lack of emunah which gave rise to the toleration of evil, of immorality in the Camp in BaMidbar? And how can a certain sector tolerate in its midst a criminal element (K’noyim) who plot‘Revenge Lashes’ for IDF Soldiers, taking out revenge on innocent soldiers for governmental decisions? How do we tolerate a government in our midst which
releases a blood-stained murderous Fatah terrorist sentenced to 26 years simply because the terrorist went on a hunger strike in prison?
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 gay rights and same-gender marriages? And 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 brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone 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!!!
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.