The View from Al Jazeera
This week’s parsha, Balak has to be one of the strangest parshas in the entire Torah. Parts of it are straight out of a Looney Tunes cartoon or the movie, Shrek with a talking donkey speaking to its master – and making more sense than him in fact. We have seen lots of miracles in our Torah but this one is definitely the most original and entertaining.
It is not just this odd episode that is unique. Most of the parsha is told from a perspective and viewpoint that we normally don’t hear. And this is that of the enemy.
The Torah switches gears from speaking about the ups and downs of the Israelites and their 40 year travels in the desert and we suddenly find ourselves tuning into Al Jazeera and getting their take on things. We are used to hearing of the glorious redemption from Egypt and the not so glorious kvetches, complaints and outright rebellion from the perspective of Moshe, the Jewish people and God Himself. But in parshat Balak we hear of fear and trepidation of Israel from the perspective of the surrounding nations. It is kind of like the Netflix series, Fauda, where, for the first time we see things from the viewpoint of Hamas and other Palestinians, in Arabic no less.
Balak , the king of neighboring Moav, makes no bones about the fact that he is petrified from the Jewish nation moving en masse towards his country. Hearing of the success and power of the Israelites, he fears that his nation will be overrun. So, to ward them off, he attempts to enlist the services of the #1 gentile prophet, Bilaam to utilize his spiritual and prophetic powers to curse the Jews.
It is ironic that Balak has the clarity to realize that physical might alone will not succeed against the Jewish people. He understands that God is the source of Israel’s triumphs and must therefore battle them on their own turf. Perhaps he can find a chink in their spiritual armour so to speak.
What is striking throughout the parsha is the persistence and single-mindedness of both Balak and Bilaam to do harm to the Jewish nation. Bilaam is told by God not to take part in Balak’s enterprise and is forced to tell Balak’s messengers as much. But when Balak persist, Bilaam begs and pleads with God to allow him, much the way a little kid badgers his parents until they relent. And like a parent, God responds with an, “Ok, but…”
You would think that the stubborn and talking donkey along with an angel blocking Bilaam’s path to Balak would dissuade Bilaam and convince him of God’s unhappiness with his choice. But Bilaam doesn’t pick up on the not so subtle hint and keeps pressing to meet Balak so he can curse Israel and get paid handsomely for it.
Balak is just as relentless as he tries every which way to get Bilaam to curse the Israelites but Bilaam can only parrot what God tells him. Try and try and try as they do to curse, only blessings come forth from Bilaam’s mouth per God’s prophecies. Three times does Balak try to bribe a curse out of Bilaam and not only are they not forthcoming but Bilaam gratuitously adds another wonderful prophecy about Israel.
The entire event brings to mind an idea expressed in the shortest of the 150 Psalms. Psalm 117, which we read whenever we recite the Hallel prayer on holidays, says as follows: “All nations – Praise the Lord! Laud Him, all you nations. Because His kindness over us (Israel) is powerful and God’s Truth is forever. Halleluya – Praise the Lord.”
The commentators note the oddity of why the nations of the world should praise God for what He does for us. We could understand that they would wish to sing His praises for what He does for them, but why for Israel?
The answer is that only the non-Jewish nations have a full appreciation of the huge kindness that God does for us because only they know how many times they have tried to harm us and were unsuccessful. We Jewish people are often completely oblivious to the machinations and designs of many leaders and nations who try to hurt and curse us. Time and again God foils their plans without us even knowing that danger lurked. We go about our affairs in ignorant bliss while God protects us over and over again from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and plots from the nations of the world who look to undermine us.
One can only imagine the endless talk and evil plans that go on in Iran, Gaza, many of the Arab nations, and their enablers – such as the leftist elites of Europe and elsewhere – in their hatred of Israel and plans for her demise. Like Balak and Bilaam they persistently attempt to hurt God’s Blessed and Chosen People, thankfully to no avail for the most part. And that is largely due to the invisible Iron Domes that protect Israel and stop most attempts without us even knowing that they took place.
The Psalm is portending the future when the United Nations of the world will finally cease calling for our destruction and give up their plans to curse and harm us. They will recognize not only our right to exist but also know that we are a source of blessing for them as well. And at that time we will together sing God’s praises for our redemption; one which will serve to redeem them as well from their bonds of hate and self-destruction.
You say I took the Name in vain
I don’t even know the Name
But if I did—well, really—what’s it to ya?…
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool ya
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but