Bilam and the Curse of Love

Rabbi Reuven Mann

One of the most enduring features of Jewish History is the unique phenomenon of anti-semitism.  No people’s basic right to exist has been as opposed as that of the Jews.  There is something about the Jewish people that intrinsically arouses hatred and resentment which all too frequently spills over into violent persecution.  We should not think that anti-semitism is a thing of the past.  Despite all the scientific and social progress of mankind it has been unable to free itself from this disease.  The Jews have experienced two kinds of enemies, those who seek to attack them physically and those who use more subtle and sophisticated methods.  This week’s parsha, Balak, deals with a king who used cunning in battling the Jews.  Balak realized that Israel was too powerful for him to defeat in conventional war.  He solicited the services of Bilam, the sorcerer, who was renowned for his special abilities and had the reputation that “those who he blessed were blessed and those who he cursed were damned.”

The commentators try to discern the particular talents of Bilam.  The Torah does not believe that any human has magical powers and maintains that super natural phenomena such as miracles can only be brought about by Hashem.  According to some Rabbis, Bilam did not have the ability to bless but only to curse.  He was a genius who studied societies and was able to discern their weaknesses and anticipate when they would experience calamities.  When he sensed that their moment of collapse was near he would pronounce a curse against them and when the calamity occurred people would attribute it to his curse.

Balak hired Bilam to uncover the deeper weaknesses of the Jews which he then could exploit to weaken them from within.  Because of His great love for us Hashem prevented Bilam from discovering and publicizing the secret vulnerabilities of the Jews which, if known, could have caused us irreparable harm throughout our history.  Nevertheless, Bilam did inflict a great wound on us by his advice to have Midianite women seduce the Jewish men into immorality and idolatry.  The plan brought forth a plague from Hashem which wreaked havoc on the Jews until it was terminated by the heroic deed of Pinchas.

This clearly demonstrates that our worst enemies are not military foes but those who seek to undermine us from within.  We need to recognize our great susceptibility to the seduction of “alien cultures.”  This past week we celebrated Independence Day.  We are loyal citizens of America and must be grateful for all the freedom and opportunities this country has afforded us.  However, the American experience has been disastrous to the spiritual well being of the Jews.  Physical persecution always brought the Jews together and strengthened their commitment to Torah.  Sadly, the same cannot be said about the phenomenon of acceptance and love.  The challenge of anti-semitism is not only to be addressed in terms of external antagonists.  We must face and deal with the “enemy within.”  We must study Torah with vigor and strengthen our commitment to mitzvot so that we forge a Jewish identity that is so strong that it renders us immune to the appeal of assimilation.

Shabbat Shalom.