A Nation That Dwells Alone

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s parsha, Balak, describes the attempts of that king to defeat the Jews, not through direct military confrontation, but through the curse of Bilam.  At first glance this story seems strange and far fetched.  What was the nature of the power that Bilam possessed?  Also, why did Balak fear the Jews?  What had they done to him to warrant his concern that they posed a threat to him?  He had witnessed the decisive defeats that the Jews had handed to two mighty Amorite kings, Sichon and Og, and this would naturally be a cause of concern.  However, these were defensive wars fought by the Jews in response to unprovoked attack.  There is no indication that they were planning any actions against Balak.  If that were the case Balak would have known about it.  According to Torah law we are obligated to offer an enemy the terms of peace before engaging in hostilities.  No mention is made of any such terms being proffered to Balak.  We know that no military action against him was in the works.  In fact, he was entirely safe insofar as the Jews were concerned.  Indeed, if he was so afraid of them he could have spoken to Moshe and expressed his desire for positive relations.  In addressing the rulers of Midian the representatives of Moav said, “Now the congregation will lick up all around us as the Ox licks up the grass of the field”.  According to their own words they were concerned that the Jews would consume the vegetation and resources in the area surrounding them.  However, no mention is made that the people of Midian were in any danger of being afflicted at the hands of the Jews.  What was the underlying cause for the attempt to solicit the fearful curses of Bilam against the Jewish people?

In describing the feeling that Balak’s nation had toward the Jews the verse states, “Moav was terrified of the nation because they were mighty and Moav was disgusted with their life because of the children of Israel.”  In my opinion we need to understand the emotions of Moav on a deeper level.  They were consumed with feelings of “fear and loathing.”  In their message to Bilam they said, “Behold a people has come out of Egypt and have covered the face of the earth, and are located across from me.”  They knew all about the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt and their miraculous escape.  One would have thought that they would have had sympathy for them and a desire to support and champion their cause.  Had the Jews remained a small and powerless people vulnerable to the persecutions of all they would not have been so bothered by them.  However, this slave people had escaped and grown to become a powerful force who would not back down from the mightiest warriors such as Sichon and Og.  They must be special and unique, a chosen people.  The success of the Jews which reflected their special relationship with G-d was too much for Balak to bear.  It made him disgusted with life itself, just as the Egyptians had become disgusted at the phenomenal growth of the Jews.  Balak was too fearful to confront them openly.  He hired Bilam to divine the inner weakness of the Jews and thus topple them from within.  The hatred of Balak is alive and well today.  The success of the Jews in building from nothing a modern, advanced and thriving democracy is too much for her Arab neighbors to bear.  Their endless hatred and demonization of Israel is an expression of their frustration and disgust.  Unable to defeat Israel on the battlefield they seek to undermine her self confidence by orchestrating a propaganda campaign in which the entire world condemns her as an aggressor.  We should not be affected by the hatred of the Arabs and their fellow travelers in the West for it is rooted in their inner insecurities and inability to look within and confront their flaws.  Let us remember the words of Bilam who said, “Behold it is a people that dwells alone and is not counted among the nations.”  This is indeed a blessing.  We must realize that our strength resides in our unique mission to study and live by the eternal truths of Torah.  This will earn us the approval of Hashem and fortify us against any denunciations of unstable and immoral people.

Shabbat Shalom