THE JERUSALEM JEWISH VOICE
THE WEEKLY TORAH READING -- A FIRST GLANCE
You can also read previous studies on this site.
This study reflects the teachings of Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch on Balak.
A. THE BACKGROUND, & AN OVERVIEW, OF BALAK
A smashing Jewish military victory over the powerful Amorite kings Sichon and Og was the grand finale of last week's portion. Israel then made its final desert journey-- north to Moav Wastes; the Jews camped by the Jordan, opposite Jericho, poised to enter the land. But they were quite vulnerable-- their inspiring leaders, Aharon and Miriam, were gone forever, Moshe soon to join them. Amalek inspired a wave of attempted holocausts; God's Folk, lacking faith and unity, self-destructed several times, e.g. in the incidents of the meat fressers, the spies, and Korach & Co.
"Balak" deals with the Moabite and Midianite response to the Jewish advance, which never threatened them-- God told Israel NOT to attack Moav and Ammon (Deut. 2:9,19-- but did Moav know this?); Midian was not even on their path (cf. Iran and Iraq today). Tho afraid to fight the Jews, King Balak and Rev. Bilaam try two new ways to foil Israel's holy redemptive mission-- 1) using their own spiritual forces and connections Upstairs, "Divine protektzia"; they try to move God Himself to curse "the people"; the nation of Israel, unnamed here, had not yet risen to its identity and destiny. 2) corrupting the Jews, tempting them with that very pagan sensual culture which they were to supplant-- cf. Rome, Las Vegas, Eilat, Israeli TV, and obscene portions of the Israel Festival. So Mei Eden's pornographic TV ads and sponsorship of profane alien culture taint Israel's soul, tho they claim to purify its water (Kolbotek indeed showed that cheap sink water is purer than any bottled water sold here, a few years back!).
#1 must fail unless #2 succeeds; so our biggest weapon against Arab insurrection is a truly Divine Israeli spirit, permeating every realm of life. Ishmael's progeny might then accept us as their spiritual leaders, leave Islam, and adopt Noachism; per Rav Eliyahuu Benamozegh, Christianity and Islam themselves will rid their religions of their non-Hebraic elements and lead their followers back to their Hebraic roots and Noachism, w/o discarding the authentic fine parts of their tradition, remaining Christians and Moslems; his great work, Israel and Humanity, was translated into English by our friend and reader Maxwell Luria of Tokyo; it was published, with other Jewish spiritual works, by the Catholic Paulist Press, itself an example of his prediction; meanwhile Asher Eder shows that even Islam admits that Israel deserves Israel-- see his booklet "Ishmael and Israel in Enmity or Peace?").
Israel is to lead the whole world back to itself and God. Our first major success is the USA; its many links to God and Divine Human Dignity were first forged by Pilgrims and Puritans-- they tried to apply God's Torah to their new society; tho they lacked the Oral Law and Rabbinic guidance, they accomplished much. So Israel, the USA's eventual spiritual big brother (tho material little brother?), may indeed be the most appropriate place to celebrate the 4th of July!
Rav Yehuda Henkin notes that non-Jews do most of the talking in Balak. 4 other Gentiles, Job & Co., conduct Scripture's longest dialogue. Judaism, unlike much of the East European Yeshiva world and its modern perpetuators, never claimed that non-Jews aren't worth listening to. Bilaam was the epitome of intellect and inspiration (24:16), but far removed from Torah (cf. R. Nachman's tale, The Wise Man & The Fool); his knowledge exceeded his good deeds-- he lived neither righteously, nor among the righteous (San. 105a-- "Bil-am" can be read "without a people", i.e. without Israel; cf. medieval Christianity). He was killed (Josh. 13:22) and barred from the world to come (San. 90a), despite his prayer that his soul "die the death of the just" (23:10). Balak complains to Bilaam that Israel violated international law, crossing the borders of Sichon and Og (without mentioning their attack on the Jews-- cf. Arab protests today; Numbers Raba 20:16).
Bilaam first sees Israel only as a unique and righteous nation, beyond his cursing range. In Bilaam's 2nd and 3rd prophecies, he blesses Israel, who are at war (23:20,24; 24:1f); in his 3rd oracle, he even combines their blessed military victory (24:8-9) with praise of their "tents" (24:5-7)-- their family and communal purity is modest and unsullied, even in wartime; conversely, together with moral sensitivity, the Jews know how to fight their enemies. When both are combined, Israel's enemies have no hope-- Balak despaired and sent Bilaam away! Israel pays no attention to other nations' responses, preferring to dwell alone (23:9; cf. the intifada, the UN, and most of the media, so well exposed by Alan Dershowitz, David Bar Ilan, etc. See our video-- Israel and the Media).
B. A SYNOPSIS OF BALAK
BALAK, SON OF TZIPOR, HAD INSIGHT INTO ALL THE JEWS HAD DONE TO THE AMORITES, INTO THE MOABITE TERROR OF "THE MIGHTY NATION", AND INTO THE MOABITE DISDAIN OF "THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL". (Abarbanel says that Balak knew that a war with Israel would end in his quick defeat, unlike Hussain in '67, or his friend and soulmate Saddam Hussain in Kuwait; so--) THE MOABITES SAID TO THE MIDIANITE ELDERS: "NOW THIS `COMMUNITY' (not a normal "nation" with land) WILL LICK UP ALL OUR SURROUNDINGS, JUST AS A BULL LICKS UP ALL THE GREENERY IN A FIELD (i.e. without limits OR with its mouth, a hint of the power of Israel's prayer)". (Thus) BALAK SON OF TZIPOR BECAME KING OF MOAV AT THAT TIME. HE (then) SENT MESSENGERS TO BILAAM SON OF B'OR, TO PETOR, ON THE RIVER OF HIS (Balak's or Bilaam's) HOMELAND, TO CALL HIM, SAYING: "WOW! * A PEOPLE HAS LEFT EGYPT; WOW!* IT'S COVERED THE FACE OF THE LAND, AND THEY'RE SETTLING DOWN OPPOSITE ME. NOW COME AND CURSE THIS PEOPLE, FOR THEY'RE TOO STRONG FOR ME; PERHAPS I'LL (then) BE ABLE TO STRIKE THEM, AND DRIVE THEM FROM THE LAND-- FOR I KNOW THAT WHAT YOU BLESS IS BLESSED AND WHAT YOU CURSE IS CURSED" (Num. 22:2-6; cf. 106 year old Rav Kaduri's track record-- he blessed a follower's falaffel shop in the Rova, which didn't fare well; he blessed Shas and Netanyahu, who succeeded; he cursed the building on Agrifas St., just past the shuk, which ruined his view; it's had problems finding tenants; are his successes simply the result of people believing in the efficacy of his blessings?-- cf. Baba Sali, whose son, Baba Baruch, supported Peres).
THE MAKING OF A KING: Balak, himself a MIDIANITE magician (Rashi 22:2), not yet king (22:2), OBSERVES and interprets the situation-- he concludes that Jewish Divine Power, via Moshe, defeated the mighty Amorites, conquerors of Moav. Balak's unique insights gain him the throne of Midian's former enemy Moav AT THAT TIME (22:4). Per R. Bachye (Introd.), however, Balak was already king in 22:2, but was ashamed of his title-- IN THE MULTITUDE OF PEOPLE IS THE KING'S MAJESTY, AND IN THE LACK OF PEOPLE IS A MINISTER'S RUIN (Prov. 14:28). The balloon of monarchy burst with the ex-slaves' Israelight destruction of mighty King Sichon-- no one trusted kings anymore; groups of Moabite elders consulted with Midianite cohorts instead. Even a successful kingship is lowly-- it depends on the continuing adoring approval of others: "there's no king without a people" (Kad Hakemach, New Year II; cf. Bibi).
Jewish kingship is only a concession to Israel's lack of faith in God and His Torah, and in their national religious identity-- they then want to emulate other nations' political structures, rather than trusting in God and His prophets and generals-- Abarbanel (would Israel be better off w/o a PM and parties today?); but religious leaders, e.g. Moshe and Dovid, who served as King, General and Chief Rabbi, must themselves be models of Torah, as well as worldly knowledge and savvy, to retain Israel's loyalty. Rambam, however, views monarchy as a mitzvah (M. T. Kings 1; see I Sam 8). In those Kabbalistic schools which propound the doctrine of the 10 sfirot (Divine Emanations), Malchut, Kingship, is the lowest. Each of the other 9 is associated with a specific vowel sign; malchut, kingship, only reflecting the others, has no vowel (voice) of its own (Rav G. Fleer, from Tikunei Zohar; medieval Rivash quotes earlier sources, who viewed this division of the One Indivisible God into 10 parts as even worse than Christianity, which only divided Him into 3!). Balak decides to fight fire with fire-- Moshe's only spiritual match was Bilaam, an outstanding theologian and wizard, who successfully cursed Moav itself for Sichon. The loser in litigation often takes his opponent's lawyer next time!
Moav itself was in no danger from Israel; but perhaps they feared that THE PEOPLE, i.e. the non-Jewish Egyptian mixed multitude, who accompanied Israel at Exodus, might attack them; perhaps Israel would incite others to seize Moabite land, and then take it from them-- a cow's owner wants meat, not grass-- yet he sends the cow out to eat everyone's grass, to get fat (K'dushat Levi)! The Golden Calf may have suggested a Jewish self-image, a "licking cow", a symbol of devestation. Moav, sunk in the sensual cults of Peor and Baal, bodily pleasure and power trips, indeed felt disgust at the very existence and mission of the Jews-- to establish a model State of Israel, a "kingdom of priests and holy nation" (Ex. 19:6); Moav sensed its pending existential bankruptcy (so Hitler blamed the Jews for civilizing pagan man!). Picture chasidic children's choirs and groups of radiant nursing mothers of 10 suddenly appearing on the beaches of Eilat! Many young pagan tourists and their Israeli cohorts might indeed experience revulsion or, hopefully, self-revulsion.
Balak insists that Bilaam COME, rather than curse the Jews from afar; apparently, the process was more efficacious if curser beheld accursed. Balak may want Bilaam with him, lest he inform Moav that the Jews would not attack them! Some say that the Jews were forbidden only to attack Moav ("do not harass Moav, nor contend with them IN BATTLE"-- Deut. 2:9); it may have been OK, however, to give them a good scare, then capture their abandoned cities (cf. '48); but Ammon was not to be disturbed in any way ("harass them not and do not contend with them"-- Deut. 2:19, w/o the limitation of "in battle").
Balak sent delegations to Bilaam in Padan Aram, homeland of both Bilaam's wisdom and Avram's faith and kindness. Bilaam told them to wait overnight (22:8, cf. Ruth 3:13), as he consulted GOD-- the personal essence of Divinity, Who appears to Moshe-- not just The LORD, the impersonal giver of natural law, as He appears to Noach; Elokim, Lord = 86 numerically, = hateva, nature. Yet only the lower aspect of Divinity, THE LORD, came to Bilaam, himself "stuck" in the laws of nature (despite his protestations of Divinity-- cf. The Nazi Mufti of Jerusalem, Faisel Hussani's kinsman), asking: "WHO ARE THESE MEN WITH YOU?". God thus "tricked" Bilaam into thinking that He has a weak memory-- Bilaam later tries to curse Israel, hoping that God "forgot" His previous blessing! Per Ibn Ezra, these words are merely God's conversation openers-- cf. His opening line to sinner Adam-- WHERE ARE YOU? (Gen. 2:9), and His first words to Cain-- WHERE'S ABEL YOUR BROTHER? (3:9). Yet they may also be moral messages: Uprooted Adam must now find his moral "place"; Cain must live with Abel's permanent departure; Rev. Bilaam must face up to his proclivity for Balak's malicious thugs and their money. God may be asking how Bilaam can disturb his contemplative preparation for Revelation with such noisy vulgar guests. Per Sforno, God simply asks: "What are these guys up to?".
Bilaam brags to THE LORD that KING Balak sent them, that Bilaam curse and drive away "the people" who threaten him, hiding his more destructive plans (cf. Germany's "resettlement" of Jews, following the advice of wicked old Martin Luther). Some say that Balak recalled Bilaam's bad and ultimately unsuccessful anti-semitic advice to Pharoh-- to destroy the Jewish people; advice wasn't enough-- Bilaam must now COME and personally curse them. But the Lord forbids Bilaam to go or to curse the blessed folk. Bilaam however, says only that: "God won't let me go WITH YOU", i.e. "you are not great enough delegates for me" (22:13). Balak believed that Bilaam was a master curser, tho not God's prophet; he wasn't just a good astrologer-- Abarbanel. He feels that Bilaam may be holding out for a higher fee, or fears that this is Mission Impossible. So Balak sent Rev. Bilaam more prominent emissaries, offering great reward and honor; he recalled Bilaam's A-1 track record in cursing. Bilaam replied: "EVEN IF BALAK WOULD GIVE ME HIS HOUSE FULL OF SILVER & GOLD, I CAN'T GO AGAINST THE WORD OF GOD MY LORD"-- wealth, not fulfilling God's Will, was indeed His Eminence's ultimate goal. Yet he offers to ask God again-- maybe He'll change His mind! Bilaam craves Balak's evil assignment.
The LORD then tells (permits) Bilaam to go! But he's only to speak what God commands. With evil zeal, Bilaam saddles his she-ass at dawn-- cf. Avraham at the akada. He, the princes and his 2 lads set off. The LORD is angry with this "holy hit man" (cf. Khoumeni), and sends His own "holy hit man", an angel, to kill Bilaam. Bilaam, unaware of the attempt, is saved 3 times by his she-ass (he'll thrice try to curse Israel); he beats her for detouring, pressing him to the wall and squatting-- twice by hand, finally with a stick (cf. Moshe's striking the rock, to get it to give water; Rav Riskin claims that he thus projects desire to strike back at the Jews, who are giving him so much trouble! One who tries to raise up folks on a low level is bound to be frustrated and affected by their primitive emotions; nevertheless, he is retired, as he can no longer lead and inspire them; only he who remains in his own holy ivory tower and does nothing to improve the rest of the world is not affected by the masses who are asses-- cf. There is no man so wholly righteous on earth that he DOES GOOD and does not sin, Ecc. 7:20).
God now punctures Bilaam's image as a "holy orator"; Ms. She-ass, equally eloquent, has far better perception of Divinity (22:28). Her supernatural mouth was created on Shabbat Eve at twilight (Avot 5:8), as other things which reveal Divine Providence (Hirsch). She berates him for hitting her-- she never hurt him, tho he's ridden her his whole life. Seemingly cool, Bilaam replies that he would have killed her, had he a sword. She laughed at the powerless astrologer-- "you're going to smite an entire holy people with your tongue, yet you need a sword to kill one little donkey?" (Mid. Raba 20:14). Rambam, however, claims that the whole story is only Bilaam's dream (or nightmare?), as are all revelations of angels (e.g. Yaakov's dream of battle with an evil angel-- Guide 2:42)-- otherwise, how do the princes disappear? Abarbanel counters-- the princes went ahead and left him alone to meditate! Others say that Bilaam took the trip with them, but dozed and dreamt atop his ass.
FEMINASSM: Bilaam had a female donkey, whereas Moshe, Avraham, and Meshiach (Zech. 9:9) use silent males (cf. secretaries). The Shunamite's is F (2K4:24). Staples are carried on she-asses, "good things" on males (Gen. 45:23-- cf. husbands' impulsive shopping for luxury foods with wives' practical purchases). D'vora speaks to riders of she-asses (Judges 5:10). Per some rabbis, Bilaam used the animal sexually. Great charismatic religious leaders, gurus, tho very learned and "spiritual", can be PERSONALLY corrupt. A truly great man integrates his knowledge with his total personhood (Rav C. Shlumovitz)-- true, a servant at the Red Sea experienced more than Ezekial's vision-- but the prophet used his experience to form his inspired personality, while, right after the Theophany at Sinai, Israel made the Golden Calf. Paul Johnson's work on the depravity and moral blindness of great Western intellectuals is now available in Israel.
ANIMAL RIGHTS? When God lets Bilaam see the angel, he bows down in awe; he was temporarily blinded (Abarbanel). He's berated for hitting the ass-- but for her, he would have been killed, while she would live. This implies that she died! Tho Balak's evil, and his ass A-1, God doesn't want His Image, even Rev. Bilaam, to be continually embarrassed by the ass who reproved him (Numbers Raba on 22:33). So an innocent animal which had sexual relations with a Jew is killed (Lev. 20:15-6; see Rambam's dubious and morally questionable extrapolation, rejected in halacha, in M. T. Isurei Biah 12:10-- censored in the Vilna edition; cf. M. T. Evidence 11:10, but also see M. T. Rebels 3:3; those who grow up emotionally deprived may vacillate between insensitivity and great sensitivity, between imitating non-loving caregivers and striving for human love and kindness). Human dignity and benefit supercede animal life-- modern man will "sacrifice" animals for wallets, shoes, and hotdogs, yet ridicules doing so for higher needs, e.g. closeness to God, via sacrifices. God may have feared idolization of the talking donkey (cf. Barnum & Bailey, Moshe's grave and snake, The Wall). Bilaam acknowledges his stubborn sinfulness and offers to return home; the angel tells him to continue, but to guard his tongue.
God now uses Bilaam, as Pharoh, as His tool to proclaim Israel's Divine choice-- Abarbanel. Bilaam's blessing will now discourage others from attacking Israel. The talking donkey teaches Bilaam that Jewish destiny transcends natural law and astrology-- God intervenes-- cf. the Shoah and the rebirth of the State of Israel. God dictates Bilaam's speech, as the ass'. Bilaam may not even reveal all of Israel's future failures and tragedies to her enemies.
THE MESSAGE: God may aid one to pursue his chosen path, while simultaneously condemning it. Human dignity may demand that one not be forced, only taught, to be good (cf. compulsory religious legislation and forcing children to be observant). God first only let Bilaam go "with them", physically-- "etam". So Noach only walks "et haelokim", "with the Lord"-- he obey His rules, but isn't at one with Him, "im haelokim"; once Bilaam also went with them in spirit-- "im", God was angry. Afterwards the angel tells him to go on, even in spirit, with the Moav Mafia. Only then does Rashi note that God doesn't restrict Bilaam's free will, and even aids and abets it (Vilna Gaon).
Balak greets Bilaam, but deplores his delaying tactics, as an attempt to get more honor. He sends food to Bilaam's dotel, rather than catering a royal banquet-- 22:40. Bilaam tells Balak that he can only deliver the LORD'S word, but doesn't reveal His wishes-- maybe He'll change His mind (cf. Christianity and Islam). Bilaam's curse was only to weaken the Jews-- then Balak could fight them.
3 ATTEMPTS TO CURSE ISRAEL-- STRIKE 1: Balak first takes Bilaam to fashionable Baal Heights to curse Jewish national "BAAL"-- Israel's physical power. Bilaam tells Balak to bring sacrifices-- 7 bulls and rams for burnt offerings; "7", as Shabbat, symbolizes the harmonious connection of all aspects of God and man, of heaven and earth. The bulls symbolize the realms of power and activity, the rams-- those of fate and passivity. But God sends Balak a message via Bilaam-- Israel is A PEOPLE THAT SHALL DWELL APART FROM OTHERS (as a priest from his community), AND SHALL NOT RECKON ITSELF AS OTHER NATIONS (23:9-- in its values, destiny and usual cause-and-effect factors). Jewish greatness comes from intensive internal development as a national social body, not from powerfully imposing upon other nations. Normal criteria of physical power may not apply to a true Israel; it survives great bloody empires, e.g. Assyria, Rome, and the Crusaders. WHO COUNTS THE DUST (material basis) OF YAAKOV? (23:10)-- Jewish strength is not in numbers (cf. "religious" politics). ... MAY MY END BE AS HIS-- Bilaam hopes to share Israel's transcendance of bodily death, by development of their inner Divinity (see our Chukas study). Balak's so informed. He's now even angrier than before.
STRIKE 2: Balak then took Bilaam to The Field of the Seers, where he repeated the sacrifices atop a hill. Bilaam now tried to curse a second condition for a nation's future-- mental and spiritual talent, clever gifted men and prophetic seers who can force fate-- Seers. Here too he seeks Jewish weakness before He who judges the ACTS (bulls) and decides the FATE (rams) of mortals. Bilaam now tells Balak to STAND UP and pay respect to the Jews-- their spiritual gifts far exceed his and Papa Tzipor's, only gleanings from Avraham's wealth of Aramean knowledge (23:18). Balak himself is a descendant of Avraham's pupil and nephew Lot (Numbers Raba 20:19), the ancestor of Ruth, via Eglon (Nazir 23b, Sotah 47a).
God can't be swayed by conjuring; He blesses Israel, who eventually won't abuse their great spiritual gifts, and then won't need correction. Their national consciousness is that God's their only ultimate King (not even Begin or Bibi!); He reciprocates by giving them extraordinary influence, tho they're NOT a people of mystical gurus. FOR IT'S NOT OMENS THAT YAAKOV NEEDS, NOR MAGIC IN ISRAEL (23:23-- cf. Jewish mysticism, amulets). At this moment, the Jews see God's path in history. Yaakov-Yisrael needs no mystical divination-- they receive the bright clear word of God via Torah, without having to seek it; man broadens his perception in 2 ways: 1) by communing with primal natural forces, the way of witchcraft and Rev. Bilaam. 2) by reaching out beyond nature to God Himself, and to the Divine Image within man, without magic and divination. This way, linked to perfect human morality, is Yaakov-Israel's (see Faith & Folly, Y. Hillel-- $15 from TOP).
STRIKE 3-- HE'S OUT: After Bilaam refuses even not to bless the Jews, Balak tries once more to curse "the people" from another viewpoint-- the top of P'or, overlooking Moav Waste. A nation can be blessed with all physical and spiritual gifts while rushing irrevocably to ruin. The internal cancer which reverses all blessing is immorality, dissolute debauchery, sex as a snack-- see The Penguin Book of Infidelities for British and European examples. P'or, a pagan cult which deifies the primal animal side of man (F. Perls?), wrecks mighty nations, e.g. Moav and Rome-- cf. Las Vegas.
Now Bilaam knew that he was finished, that Moav could never match Yaakov in this most basic realm; Moabite mothers probably told their daughters to marry Jewish men-- they make better husbands. Bilaam could no longer defy God's wish to bless Israel; he turned toward the desert, symbol of his existential bankruptcy (cf. the Y.K. goat sacrificed to the devil, Azazal-- it's sent to die in the desert, a symbol of the empty remains of a life devoted to animal-man; the experience of the desert, a wasted meaningless life, can itself engender repentence and return to God; thus the scapegoat is also brought "before God", before being dispatched to the desert, per Rav J. Soloveichik; so Esav's descendant, Ovadia, predicts eventual destruction of "the mountain", the false claim to transcendant revelation, of Bilaam's colleague, Esav. Bilaam now proclaims: "HOW GOOD ARE YOUR TENTS, O YAAKOV, YOUR DWELLING PLACES, O YISRAEL!" (24:5)-- The Lord's spirit rested upon him, as he viewed Israel's camp-- houses, families, and tribes, all arranged per PATERNAL DESCENT, instant evidence of Jewish sexual modesty and morality (cf. the lack of clear paternity among promiscuous Arctic Inuits, Great Lakes Hurons, British and continental royalty, nobility and clergy, and the Playboy "culture"). Material, spiritual and moral welfare flow from generation to generation, each father teaching his true son.
Balak then tells Bilaam to get moving fast or else. But Bilaam appeases Balak, teaching him how to exploit interim Jewish male weakness (cf. the corruption of modern Yiddishists in I.B. Singer's Meshuga)-- Moav prostitutes its daughters, who seduce Israel and call them to their idolatrous feasts; perhaps they started with the hangers-on, the non-Jewish mixed multitude; many Jews wound up worshipping the P'or idol in orgiastic revelry (cf. Sylvester parties and H.U. Overseas Students bashes, ignored by the administration, countered by Jeff Seidel's successful religious programs for the students, despite his harassment by hostile OS officials; Jeff's popularity and appreciation among the students, far exceeding that of many of their teachers and staff, is shown by his front cover photo in the 1996 yearbook). Ultimate Jewish triumph is almost ruined by a "Prince" of the tribe of Shimon; the Torah just calls him a "man"; it has no respect for jetset princes and morally bankrupt kings (or actors and actresses). He brazenly brings his cheap Midianite "princess" (or Italian MP), just called a `woman' here, before Moshe and the congregation-- they were weeping at the tabernacle entrance. Pinchas speared the two linked hedonists thru their stomachs with one blow, ending the plague; 24,000 Jews died, all 100% linked to P'or. Bilaam's enlightenment would appear temporary-- he dies in Israel's war with Midian (Num. 31:8,16).
The Jews are forever forbidden to marry male converts from Moav and Ammon and their descendants, due to their meanness and missionary moral decadence (Deut. 23:4-5, Neh. 13:2; cf. Soap)-- see E. Kitov's The Book of Our Heritage on Shavuot (new edition, 3 vol., $50 from TOP); he claims that Egypt and Edom's love-hate relationship with Israel is redeemable, unlike Ammon and Moav's cool indifference (cf. marriages).
C. BILAAM IN RETROSPECT
Bilaam calculated the exact moment of God's wrath-- FOR HE'S A MOMENT IN HIS WRATH, THO LIFE IS ALWAYS HIS WILL (Ps. 30); it thus appeared that his "curse" CAUSED an ensuing calamity (A.Z. 4, San. 105b). Full of hate, Bilaam stresses God's rare, howbeit necessary, negative moment; Jewish prophets love life, mourning even Moav's fate, as they proclaim it (Jer. 48:31, Is. 16:7-- tho Moav helped Israel's enemy, 2K24:2). The Jerusalem Talmud (Sota 8, 20d) equates Bilaam with Barachel the Buzite of Job 32:2; it puts him on a much lower level of prophecy than Moshe. Sifre Deut. & Numbers Raba (14:20) see Bilaam as greater in some respects! This would contradict Rambam's claim that moral perfection is a prerequisite of prophecy (M. T. Y'sodei Hatorah 7:1-- Prophecy is bestowed only upon a very wise sage of a strong character, who is never overcome by his natural inclinations in any regard ... and is physically sound; cf. Daot 4:1, Kidd. 76b, Ned. 38a, Shabbat 92a and Shemona Prakim 7, where he claims that natural character traits are obstacles that prevent us from appreciating the Divine Presence; see my psychological portrait of Rambam in our Chanuka study. Rambam might consider Bilaam a mere magician). Both Bilaam and his father B'or were among 7 non-Jewish prophets, who preceded Moshe (B.B. 15b, Seder Olam Raba 21, T.J. Sot. 5:6). ALL later prophets were Jewish; one day all Jews will be prophets, with a direct line to God (Joel 3). Non-Jews will then be taught by the Messiah, who will also successfully direct the great final aliya (Genesis Raba 98:9-- vs. the latest JR article on the demise of aliya?).
Historical Psalm 106 doesn't mention Balak's scheme, JUST Israel's subsequent sin; it retells the Gold Calf saga out of context, just before the sins of the spies and Shittim, implying their connection with the Calf episode. "THEN THEY JOINED THEMSELVES TO BAAL P'OR AND ATE OF SACRIFICES TO THE DEAD". Moshe also mentions only the Jews' sin with Baal P'or, ignoring Balak and Bilaam, in Deut. 4:3: "YOUR EYES HAVE SEEN WHAT GOD DID REGARDING BAAL P'OR, FOR ALL THE MEN WHO FOLLOWED BAAL P'OR WERE WIPED OUT FROM YOUR MIDST BY GOD, YOUR LORD". Perhaps Balak and Bilaam just provide a tempting excuse for another orgiastic Golden Calf Disco; only the Jews themselves are ultimately blamed-- there's no "legal agent" for sin.
D. BILAAM'S CHURCH
The similar original Christian belief, replacement theology-- that God rejected the Jews and changed His mind about their unique Israeli priestly mission-- enabled the Rabbis to safely use "Bilaam", literally "without a people", as the ostensible object of their disputes with Christian doctrine (many Christians even claimed to be the "New Israel", living in God's "New Jerusalem", e.g. England and New England-- cf. Yair Davidy's Lost Israelite Identity, The Hebrew Ancestry of Celtic Races, $20 from TOP). Korach was a similar symbol; the letters of his name also spell RACHOK (far-off, detached) and HAKOR (to criticize or investigate to destroy-- L. Solonche). The United Church, as much of the Catholic Church, e.g. Paulist Press, has now repented, acknowledging the continued validity of God's Covenant with the Jews. In San. 106, Resh Lakish interprets Bilaam's statement: ALAS, WHO SHALL LIVE AFTER GOD HAS APPOINTED HIM (Num. 24:23), as meaning: WOE TO HIM WHO RESURRECTS HIMSELF WITH THE TITLE `GOD'! R. Avihu comments on 23:19: GOD IS NOT A MAN THAT HE SHOULD LIE ...-- if a man tells you that he's God, he's lying.
The Koran rewrote the O.T., Only Testament, changing Divinely chosen Yitzchak to Yishmael, in the saga of the Akada. While the Church has dropped its "replacement theology", Islam has not yet done so, leaving this distortion in the Koran; its elimination might well be part of an overall peace settlement with the Islamic world. Rambam (Letter To The Jews of Yemen) sees this basic lie as the terrible side of Islam, despite their wonderful lack of idolatry; they didn't even make Mohammad Moshiach Now; so he praised The Medieval Church for preserving the original Hebrew text of the Tanach, while condemning its deification of a man and its worship of statues.
But many modern Christians, as Moslems, would not attribute Divinity to any man. Jesus himself might have been shocked at being deified in the Nicene Creed in 325; Per Yaakov Emden, even the founders of Christianity only intended to bring non-Jews closer to the Torah and their 7 Laws of Noah; others later distorted their teachings (end of Sefer Hashimush). Rav Riskin (in a TOP video of his Christmas Eve lecture at the NCSY Israel Center, A Jewish View of Jesus) believes that Jesus and his followers thought that he was Messiah, in the traditional Jewish sense of a great human teacher (cf. Bar Kochba); but he realized that he wasn't, when he died without bringing the world to peace (cf. Ramchal and the Rebbe, l'havdil squared). Rambam (Letter to the Jews of Yemen), however, considers Jesus evil, trying to draw Jews away from God's eternal Torah. Who knows? Who cares?-- Jews just have to master and keep God's Eternal Covenant and ignore those who claim that He "changed His Mind"; Jesus is simply irrelevant to us; nevertheless, we must confront Christianity and develop an approach to it, given its huge power and attraction, especially to alienated lonely Jews, seeking family and spirituality, yet ignorant of their own traditions; our mission to bring all men back to Eden and its Noahide Code, codified in M.T. Malachim (8:10), also requires that we first "spy out the land", know what others think, feel and believe.
True pictures of great hassidic leaders, well annotated and duly witnessed, have recently appeared in English on Bobover (Nor By The Light of the Moon), Ruzhiner (The Golden Dynasty) and Chabad Chassidut; Shaul Shimon Deutsch, in Larger Than Life, claims to give an honest uncensored account of the Schneerson family-- the Rebbe himself advocated honest complete reporting of history. We see that even the greatest rabbis and charismatic religious leaders are still human, still so far from being the Messiah, a great human being who will bring the whole world back to God and their innermost selves; tho they affect tens, even hundreds of thousands, they still have limited impact, even on their own kith and kin. The Lubavitcher Rebbe and his brother Leibel were taught secular subjects, including Zionist and Haskala literature, by top-flight modern Zionists and official Orthodox rabbis, e.g. Israel Eidelsohn (Bar Yehuda) and Menachem Brustien; they grew up in predominantly secular and modern Orthodox Yekaterinoslav, where the main synagogue had a mixed choir, with female soloists, and their protesting father was the Habad rabbi.
Their parents valued secular knowledge and technology, and understood the need for future Torah leaders to be savvy, aware of the world around them; the Rebbe's mother even spoke Hebrew; but they backed off for a while when Leibel-- Yisroel Arye Leib-- first became a Zionist, joining Brustein in Tzerei Tziyon, then a Trotskyite Marxist, who fled Russia, disillusioned with Soviet communism. Tho the Schneersons lost a son to secularism, their other son, the Rebbe, would probably have just been another rosh yeshiva, instead of the greatest Jewish leader of his era, had he not explored all Jewish and general knowledge; so only Hirsch, who went to public, rather than Jewish, schools was the only rabbi who could blend modernity and tradition-- "nothing ventured, nothing gained". The middle Schneerson brother, Beryl, was severely retarded, institutionalized, and murdered by the Nazis.
The rebbe's cousin, friend, neighbor and fellow student in their local modern yeshiva was later to become famous Israeli poet Avraham Shlonsky; Zalman Arane, later Education Minister of Israel, attended the same yeshiva, closed by the Bolsheviks in 1919; religious Jews were persecuted in the 20's by the infamous Yevseksia, who believed that the only life-saving escape for Russian Jews was complete secularization and/or assimilation. Many Yevseksia leaders were sons of great rabbis; their head, Shimon Dimanstein, who studied in the city of Lubavitch, was ordained by Rav Chayim Ozer. Thank God, we have not suffered poverty and pogroms; we cannot judge those who did.
"These seasoned Zionists had been hoping for a long time to get the Schneerson children under their wing. They knew that the Rebbe RaShab was staunchly against secular Zionism (unfortunately, he did not distinguish and join religious Zionism; probably as a result, the Rebbe never accepted Rav Kook's deep insight, that the restoration of Israel to its land is the beginning of the gradual growth of our redemption). The Zionists of Yekaterinsolav had opposed the appointment of Reb Levik (the Rebbe's dad) as rabbi, since he was a relative to the Rebbe RaShab. Yeshia Schor, close to Leibel, brought the boys complex mathematical problems of Austrovsky; both were impressed by Menachem's abilities in math and astronomy. Mordechai and Rivkah Guber wanted to get the Rebbe too under their Zionist wings. But the Rebbe would not follow his brother. He did not associate himself with the Gubers then, perhaps out of respect to his parents' views. Years later, the Rebbe corresponded with them, and expressed delight in reading their Zionist books. Yisroel Aryeh Leib would not be ultimately satisfied with Zionism. Eventually he became a Marxist, an avid follower of Trotsky. He published four articles about Marxism, under the pen name of Bidoy Petrob.
"Emanuel Brustein was very distressed that his prize student had become a Marxist. He once met the Rebbe's father and expressed his sorrow for losing Leibel. Rabbi Levi Yitzhak responded: `I too felt sorrow. When I found out that Leibel became a Zionist ...'. In 1924, Leibel began to attend the University of Leningrad. He studied under famed Russian scientist S.S. Vasil'ev, with whom he published: "Kinetics of the Decomposition of Nitric Oxide in Electric Discharge". For Shabbos, he would stay with the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, who failed to bring him back to the fold. Rav Kook also failed with Louis Brandeis and asked the Rebbe to give it a try! Chasidim loved Leibel because he had a phenomenal memory and could discuss with anyone subjects ranging from Chasidus to mathematics. Leibel was, in a sense, a contradiction. Although, while in Russia, he still wore a skull cap, and even learned Chasidus, his worldview was not typically chassidic (Philosopher Max Dessoir expounded weltanschauungen, one's conception of the course of events in, and of the purpose of, the world as a whole, forming a philosophical view or apprehension of the universe; deep pervasive human needs lead to intellectually less disciplined worldviews. He greatly influenced his young students, e.g. the Rebbe, The Rov and Heschel).
Eventually, Soviet Communism lost favor with Leibel and he became a dissident communist. When the crack-down on dissidents began in the late 1920's, Leibel was in danger and had to escape from Russia. However, it was impossible to leave with a passport that had the name Schneerson on it. A long-time friend of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok, Mordechai Guraru, had drowned while swimming. Since passports then had no photos, Leibel was able to use his passport to cross the border. He called himself Mark Gurari thereafter (from Volume 1).
In Volume 2, Deutsch chronicles formative years of the Rebbe in Latvia and Germany; he avidly read newspapers, and was fascinated by astronomy, politics and military science; he studied Natural Philosophy, while his wife persued German and mathamatics, at the University of Berlin, despite The Previous Rebbe's passionate protests. He was close to many future leaders of Judaism there, including Rav J. Soloveichik and Rav Y. Hutner; both feared long ago that Lubavitch would present the Rebbe as the Messiah. The Rov once told me that, unfortunately, most Chabbadniks lost sight of the Rebbe as an outstanding human being, in their determination to make him a superhuman magician. The rebbe and his wife nursed Mark back to recovery from very contagious typhus in Berlin in 1930 and remained close to him, despite his ongoing abandonment of traditional Judaism. The Rebbe later sought the previous rebbe's blessing for him: "My brother, Yisroel Aryeh Leib, son of Chana, should be written and signed for a good and sweet year. He should organize himself in the best circumstance for him. He should be able to make a good living peacefully. Only goodness, kindness should meet him in all his days. Good which is visibly good. His wife Gina should be written and signed for a good and sweet year in all ways. Only goodness and kindness should meet her. Good which is visibly good. Their daughter, Dalia daughter of Gina, should be written and signed for a good and sweet year. Her parents should raise her in a comfortable environment. May they have much happiness from her in all ways". Deutsch does not reveal her fate.
The Rebbe's nephew, Shalom Ber Gourary, writes: "... while the Rebbe walked around Berlin in a beret and a well-tailored suit, his brother wore a pair of slacks with his shirt out. While my uncle's hair was short, Leibel's was long and wild. However, it was clear that they really cared for each other ... I remember that both of them were physically very strong, and would challenge each other by locking their arms on one another's shoulders and wrestling ... for long periods". Leibel emigrated to Palestine in 1933, with an anti-religious woman, Regina Milgram, whose parents were killed in the Lodz Ghetto. They came to Israel in 1933, married in 1939, and had a daughter, Dalia; he was a librarian, then failed in business-- his T.A. clothing store at Nachalos Binyamin #3, was a disorganized mess, with no regular hours; he even became anti-religious, according to Rabbi Binyamin Althaus; his store was open on Shabbat; he walked in front of the Chabad Shul at #23, with his Shabbat cigar in hand. After the war, he returned to science and emigrated to England. On May 8, 1952, he suddenly died at 43 in Liverpool, where he was working on his Phd; Dr. H. Frohlich published his notes on Self Energy of Slow Electrons in Polar Materials in Philosophical Magazine, 3/53.
Leibel is buried with his wife in Safat. He is treated as a scholar and saint on his stone; perhaps he repented at the end. In Vol. 2, Deutsch presents official information on the Guraris, including his wife's employment, after his death, as a religious teacher in Mercaz L'inyonei Chinuch in London. This would indicate that she indeed became religious, unless the job was only a conduit to support her; Deutsch ignores this fact; his evidence of her antagonism to religion, calling Chasidim "religious fanatics", is indeed a reasonable conclusion of even a modern religious Jew. The Guraris indeed sent their daughter to Jewish schools. But, reports David Posner, formerly of Liverpool, they had no connection with the organized Jewish community there, and did not live in a Jewish area.
Yanki Tauber, a leading Habad thinker and writer, notes that many habadniks dispute both the accuracy and conclusions in Deutsch's work; the books are not well edited, containing mistakes in spelling, indexing, etc. But their opposition may stem from Deutsch's attempt to return to what he claims is the original chabad movement, before it became corrupted by Messianism and deification of the Rebbe. He himself has hassidim and may emerge as a new great chabad leader. I urge everyone to read the books, replete with fascinating pictures, testimonies and documents from all stages of the rebbe's life. We hope to have them available soon.
E. BILAAM'S SPIRITUAL LEGACY
Bilaam had uncontrolled passion for wealth (cf. Korach), pleasure and vanity, the opposite of Avraham, per Avot. 5:22: "WHOEVER HAS THESE 3 THINGS IS A (true) PUPIL OF AVRAHAM OUR FATHER AND 3 OTHER THINGS, A PUPIL OF WICKED BILAAM. A GOOD EYE, A HUMBLE SPIRIT, AND A MODEST SOUL-- HE'S OF AVRAHAM'S PUPILS. AN EVIL EYE (selfishness-- the term has no mystical connotation here or in Proverbs, only in later talmudic passages, possibly reflecting Babylonian "science"), A HAUGHTY SPIRIT AND AN UNBRIDLED EXPANSIVE SOUL-- OF THE PUPILS OF EVIL BILAAM ...".
An ambitious self-serving, tho even ultra-Orthodox, rabbi or religious politican may be a de facto graduate of BU (Bilaam's University), rather than YU, which perpetuates Avraham's Jewish role model, to be "a stranger and a settler" (Gen. 23:3)-- fully in this world and greatly contributing to it's welfare, yet, simultaneously, fully transcending it; a kind simple gentile farmer may be a summa cum laude grad of Avraham's YU. The mishna continues: "WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE ... ? AVRAHAM'S PUPILS EAT (but not fress) IN THIS WORLD AND INHERIT THE WORLD TO COME, AS SAID: `TO MAKE MY FRIENDS INHERIT (true) SUBSTANCE AND I WILL FILL THEIR TREASURIES (meanwhile-- Prov. 8:21, see 8:19)', WHEREAS WICKED BILAAM'S PUPILS INHERIT GEHENOM AND DESCEND TO THE PIT OF DESTRUCTION, AS SAID: `LORD, LOWER THEM INTO A PIT OF DESTRUCTION-- MEN OF BLOOD AND DECEIT, THEY WON'T HALVE THEIR DAYS, AND I WILL TRUST IN YOU'" (by David, betrayed by alleged friends with "smooth tongues"-- PS. 55:24; one who lives only to 33-34, as the Talmud describes Bilaam (Jesus?), has not halved his alloted days of 70 years-- San. 106b; cf. Mozart and Rav Nachman-- l'havdil?). Perhaps otherwise pious, even inspiring, Jews, but driven by lust and pride, are descendants of the many holy Jewish mothers who were raped by wild pagans, in so many Diaspora settings-- cf. The Rape of Tamar, by Naomi Regan.
F. HOW ANIMALS AND PLANTS PERCEIVE THINGS
The Rabbis don't view the ass' perception of the angel as miraculous. Animals have far better instincts than humans; they may be in closer touch with primary forces in the universe, able to take in their stride experiences which would frighten humans to death. Solomon, in learning their language, may also be learning secrets of reality (see King Solomon's Ring, Lorenz and our 4/93 study). Only Prophets experience angels (Abarbanel). Plants, even closer to earth than animals, may perceive still more reality, per Tompkins and Bird, "The Secret Life of Plants". "Far from existing inertly, inhabitants of the pasture appear to perceive and react to their environment at a level of sophistication far surpassing that of humans (p. 10) ... plants are sentient even to orientation and to the future ... plants, which react so certainly, so variously, and so promptly to the outer world, must", says France, "have some means of communication with it, something comparable and superior to our senses". He insists that plants are constantly observing and recording events and phenomenon of which man, entrapped in his anthropocentric view of the world, subjectively revealed through his five senses, knows nothing (p. 12). "Sentinence", says Backster, "does not seem to stop at the cellular level. It may go down to the molecular and beyond. All sorts of things ... conventionally considered to be inanimate, may have to be reevaluated" (p. 24). Likewise, in Korach, we discussed the higher and deeper communication of silence over that of speech, of the cohen's incense over the levite's songs, of the silent, but awesome orbitting of astral bodies, of the silent awe of God.
Joshua 24:9 describes a battle: "BALAK, SON OF TZIPOR, KING OF MOAV, AROSE AND FOUGHT YISRAEL AND CALLED UPON BILAAM BEN B'OR TO CURSE YOU"; but in Judges 11:25, Haftarat Chukas, Yiftach addresses Ammon: "NOW ARE YOU ANY BETTER THAN BALAK SON OF TZIPOR, KING OF MOAV? DID HE EVER STRIVE WITH YISRAEL, DID HE EVER FIGHT THEM?"-- NO battle ever occurred! FOUGHT may denote only a DESIRE to fight Israel, tho realizing that it's "mission impossible", or an occult battle.
G. THE HAFTARA is MICHAH 5:6-6:8.
Jewish (or Israeli) powerlessness is only a surface impression. On a deeper level, God's FIRSTBORN PEOPLE exert an imperceptible dewlike influence upon their hosts; this will EVENTUALLY result in a powerful reshaping of the whole world toward justice, love, and God from Israel. First the Jews must see their own false economic and military security destroyed (Oslo?). Micha reminds us of Balak's scheme: "PLEASE REMEMBER, MY PEOPLE, WHAT BALAK, KING OF MOAV, PROPOSED AND WHAT BILAAM, SON OF B'OR, ANSWERED HIM FROM SHITTIM TO GILGAL, THAT YOU MAY KNOW THE RIGHTEOUS ACTS OF GOD ... With what shall I come before God, and bow down before the Lord, most high? Shall I welcome him with yearling calves as burnt offerings? Will God be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriad streams of olive oil? Shall I offer Him my firstborn son to pay for my sins, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? ... HE'S TOLD YOU, O' MAN (non-Jews too! See Sifra and B.K. 38a on Lev. 18:5), WHAT'S GOOD AND WHAT GOD WANTS OF YOU-- ONLY TO DO JUSTICE AND LOVING-KINDNESS (charity with a smile; good interpersonal and societal relations come first in building a religious personality) AND (then) TO WALK MODESTLY WITH YOUR LORD" (a healthy Man-God relationship stems from healthy Man-Man relationships; but the Talmud (Makkot 24a) also takes the 3rd phrase as referring to interpersonal relationships, e.g. helping brides marry and burying the dead, all to be performed as a modest partner of God; cf. Proverbs 11:2-- When an arrogant sinner comes along, disgrace comes too; but with modest ones, tzinuim, (comes) wisdom.
M. Hirsch sees here (6:8) an illusion to Amram and Yocheved's 3 kids, whom God has sent before Israel (6:4)-- Moshe exemplifys justice (San. 6b), Aharon loving-kindness (ibid), and Miriam modesty. God has no need of animal sacrifices unless one sacrifices, brings near to God, his own animal nature thereby. But Balak erred-- he believed that God needed human gifts and was bribable by sacrifices, a reflection of his own values. Man creates God in his own image; my understanding of God (e.g. nasty or nice) reflects my own inner Divine soul's origins, experiences and development; Bilaam, tho given Divine prophecy, retains the evil folkways and values of his culture.
Balak's arrogant religious leader (Bilaam) uses his knowledge of Divinity to hurt people or to sell blessings (if a kotel begger holds out one hand to bless you and another to take your $$, bless him instead, free!-- he probably needs a blessing more than you do!). Balak looked only upon the external aspects of Israel; his spiritual hit-man, Bilaam, was finally forced to recognize Jewish spiritual achievement via their tzniut-- "how beautiful are your tents, Yaakov". Bilaam's a gun for hire, as many lawyers. Moshe, in contrast, is the most humble, the most other-oriented of all men-- he teaches all how to WALK MODESTLY WITH OUR GOD. From SHITTIM TO GILGAL does not locate the site of Bilaam's attempted curses, which took place elsewhere. Yisrael sins at Shittim at the end of our portion; they're redeemed upon entering Yisrael at Gilgal. There too God did not require sacrifices, but true return to Him via interpersonal kindness and religious modesty; He only required sacrifices at Pesach, when the people had already repented (Malbim). Some Christians try to render blood atonement a mystical entity, rather than viewing sacrifice as a means to bring man closer to God and his inner self-- when the system was abused, the prophets told Israel that their lips (prayer and confession) would suffice to achieve atonement and return to God, until the time is ripe for the third temple, wherein animal sacrifices will achieve their true purpose (Hosea 14:3); meanwhile no one's blood is needed or even desirable for atonement, not even that of Isaiah and God's true suffering servant, the people of Israel (Is. 40, 53), so often spilled in the name of "the prince of peace".
Gila Manolson teaches Jewish Sexuality at Isralight; in The Magic Touch ($10 from TOP), she claims that universal adoption of halachic sexual standards-- no m-f physical contact outside of marriage-- would vastly improve the whole world (but Shaalot Yavetz, II:15, would permit concubinage today). She applies the above Calfian conflict, physical externality vs. inward spirituality, in defining tzniut, modesty, in Outside Inside, A fresh look at tzniut ($10 from TOP); modest dress, especially modest deportment, prevents myself and others from ignoring my divine spiritual essence, confusing it with my body, accomplishments, or moral mission. Tzniut is to cultivate and project a deeply rooted internal self-image. One should feel "inhibited" about displaying oneself as a body; a married woman even more so, about broadcasting a sensual or undignified message; yet we must not feel ashamed, in any way, of our bodies. Rav J. Soloveichik noted that Judaism strongly opposes nudity-- not because the body is ugly, but because it is holy, the "ark" for the oral Torah, for the divine soul.
Gila's fine book would be more convincing if backed up by traditional citations, tho it reads easier w/o them. She should also spell out the possible leniencies allowing women to sing before men, e.g. group singing and sacred lyrics (see our Vayera study), and note that one is being lenient in the enjoyment of shabbat, oneg shabbat, by not allowing female guests to join in zemiros, or by causing men to leave the table.
*WOW!, OH!, INCREDIBLE!, GOODNESS ME!, IT'S FOR REAL!, LOOK! I'LL BE DARNED!: Interjections draw attention to, or emphasize, something-- there are 19 in our reading-- 17 are uttered by someone quoted, 2 by the Divine narrative itself. 6 expletive forms are used, cited by verse and speaker: HALO: 22:30-- the ass, 37-- Balak; 23:12, 26, 24:12-- Bilaam. HENEY: 22:5, 11-- Balak, 32-- the angel, 38, 23:20--Bilaam. HAN: 23:9, 24--Bilaam. V'HENEY: 23:6, 11, 24:10, 11-- Balak; 25:6. HEN'NE: 24:14-- Bilaam. V'HENO: 23:17.
Y. Steinberg (Biblical Dictionary) says that these exclamations proclaim something as being beyond dispute, or demand that a past or present event should be experienced now, in its full impact. YF: Sometimes the Bible so proclaims that a seemingly future process is going on right now-- "WOW! I AM SENDING YOU (now!) ELIYA THE PROPHET, TO BRING FATHER'S HEARTS BACK TO THEIR CHILDREN (& V.V.)"-- Malachi 3:23; 3:24 states that the world will be destroyed otherwise; thus every moment must produce some seeds of rapport between parents and children, teachers and pupils, rabbis and the folk, for society to continue. We all owe a huge debt to those good empathetic parents and rabbis who develop these seeds, e.g. Rabbis Adler, Gold, Tropper and Riskin in Jerusalem, true "chief rabbis of the spirit"; official "chief rabbis of ritual" are important too-- we have to know which restaurants are kosher, once outreach rabbis convince people that God really cares about what they eat. Originally Orthodox Rav Dovid Hartman recalls how he studied Chullin day and night and was prepared for the most complex ?? of kashrut which his ocngregants would bring-- but, when he finally became a rabbi, nobody had any such ?? on their agenda. You bring your ?able chicken to some rabbis, to others your ?able soul. The Torah's frequent enthusiastic interjections may also serve to keep those who study God's Word full of life and enthusiasm; otherwise Oblomovian ennui and Esav may prevail--
Toldot Yaakov Yosef (1780) notes many comparisons and contrasts between the individual and national names Yaakov and Yisroel (23:7,10,21,23; 24:5,17. Cf. Is. 43:1, 44:1,5,21,23; 45:4, 46:3; 48:1,12; 49:5,6). He claims that Yaakov refers to the Jewish masses, Yisroel to their holy scholarly leaders. When the people are filled with God's spirit and Torah, THE VOICE OF YAAKOV, then THE HANDS OF ESAV cannot harm them (Gen. 27, Deut. 31). If the people, however, sense lethargy, lack of joy and enthusiasm, in Torah scholars, they'll avoid Torah study completely-- "THIS PEOPLE I HAVE FORMED TO ME, THEY ARE TO RELATE MY PRAISE-- BUT YOU'VE NOT CALLED TO ME, YAAKOV, BECAUSE YISROEL WAS WEARY OF ME" (Is. 43:21, see Yoma 86a). "HOW GOOD ARE YOUR TENTS, YAAKOV..." (24:5)-- synagogues and study halls (San. 105b; cf. "YAAKOV WAS A SIMPLY PERFECT MAN SITTING IN TENTS"-- Gen. 25:27), "YOUR DWELLING PLACES, YISROEL..."-- the dwelling among them of God's Presence; the folk come to pray and learn only when their leaders hardly ever leave their Torah study, bringing God's Presence into their assembly. So Rav Dovid Lifshitz z"l inspired many by his own constant vital inspiration.
Rav Jose Faur claims that relatively poor and unsophisticated, but greatly inspired, Torah teachers of yore, men of true faith, tho often operating under terrible conditions, transmitted the essence of God-awareness and the Talmudic reasoning process far better than their well-financed and trained sophisticated contemporary counterparts, e.g. Flatbush Yeshiva; the low level of today's Jews reflects that of their rabbis, often nebechs who are unfit for anything else. YF: but the holy, but narrow, rebbes of yore remained effective only so long as the Jews were cut off from the modern world; they may have been less successful than Flatbush, etc. in today's free and flourishing modern world of free choice, a challenge only gradually being met by the hitherto insular authoritarian world of Orthodoxy.
Yaakov Yosef says that Bil-am (meaning "without any people"!) first curses "Yaakov" that the Jews be poor, unable to support scholars, who then have to leave their studies (cf. Zohar Vayishlach 171a, vs. Avot, Rambam, Hirsch, Rav J. Soloveichik, etc. who believed that non-Levite scholars should support themselves). When the curse changes to blessing, Bilaam prays that "Yaakov", the folk, form protecting shading tents for "Yisrol", the scholars, who pray and study. Bilaam curses "Yaakov", the folk, that they sin; the result is a stain in the soul of "Yisroel", the leaders, influenced by their followers (cf. some American rabbis). The final result of BilAM and BaLAK's duet, their last letters, is AMALEK, personification of evil creativity. Better are the curses of Achiya than the blessings of Bilaam (San. 105).
H. IF I WERE A WOMAN....
Kalonymous ben Kalonymous ben Meir** (1286-after 1328, called Maestro Calo) was born in Provence, but was active mostly in Italy, as a poet and parodist. He studied Torah, philosophy and medicine, and was a prolific author. As the pagan temptresses of Balak project a negative female image, let's balance it with his paeon to the fairer sex in Stone of Choice (Even Habochen; in J. Rothenberg and H. Lenowitz's fascinating Exiled In The Word-- Poems and Other Visions of the Jews from Tribal Times to Present; Rochelle Owens' working is based on a translation in Israel Zinberg, A History of Jewish Literature). The quote that ends this poem is from the morning prayers. Could members of Israel's Chief Rabbinical Council, Aguda or Shas' Councils of Sages, Agudat Harabanim or the RCA compose such a poem? Pardes, Israelight, Milah and Yakar people might-- cf. Thank Heaven For Little Girls!
"Damn the one damn/ Let his tongue split/ Spit on the one/ The onanist who gave/ My father the "good" news;/ You have a son!/ Pity the fathers, yes/ And the mothers/ Who have male children./ What a joke!/ And what a terrible burden. Armies, armies of prohibitions/ And commandments lie in wait,/ positive, negative and eternal./ Who can fulfill these obligations?/ No matter how responsible he is/ Who can fulfill 613 commandments?/ Who can do it?/ It's impossible./ I'm a sinner and a lawbreaker.
"It would have been wonderful/ To have been born a girl-- with flowing/ Hair and green eyes/ And be expert at a spinning wheel/ Or crocheting with my friends/ During dusktime, the girls and I/ Would drink coffee/ And eat cookies, telling stories,/ Planning shopping trips to the city/ Etc./ People would be impressed/ At my talent for crocheting/ I'd create the loveliest patterns!/ Then, at the appropriate time,/ I'd marry a beautiful youth/ How he would adore me/ We would touch each other everywhere/ His gifts, gold and diamonds,/ Would adorn me/ And he'd carry me around on his hands/ kissing and hugging me.
But my fate/ The bitterness of it./ I was born a man/ So God willed it./ I can't be changed./ I can't be changed/ From a man into a woman./ I will accept it in love/ And thank the Holy One, blessed be He,/ With the words:/ `Blessed are Thou, Lord, Who has/ Not made me a woman.'"
I. IS HEBREW U. GOOD FOR THE JEWS?
Kolonymous pointed out many errors in brilliant learned Yosef Ibn Caspi's Tirat Kesef and Sefer Hasod; but his main objection was Caspi's lack of respect for Biblical personalities, rendering his books unfit for public use.
The integrity of the Tanach, especially of the Torah, is of prime concern for the survival and well-being of both the Jewish people and the State of Israel; our Divine mission as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex. 19:6) lacks authenticity if we reject the Divine unified origin of the Torah itself, a process started by European enemies of the Jews, perpetuated in the Documentary Hypothesis taught in most universities and all Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform Jewish seminaries. There are only two Jewish "theologies"-- 1) that God Himself gave a unified written and oral law, changeable only within its own parameters-- the "Orthodox" or "truly traditional" view. 2) that He didn't, the view of almost all Conservative, and all Reconstructionist and Reform clergy. The Tanach and its heroes are not just a source of information to Jews, a glimpse into ancient history and archeology; given and inspired by God, it serves as our guide to life, values and the universe; its revered heroes inspire us, without overlooking their faults, also to be studied and avoided.
I disagreed with erudite speakers at the Hartman Institute Rabbinic Seminar, e.g. Moshe Greenberg, may God heal him soon, David Hartman, who has come out of his theological closet, and Israel Knohl, who claimed that the prophets contradict each other-- if so, they're not prophets! I demonstrated how alleged contradictory texts, e.g. Ezra and Isaiah, regarding the desirability of converts, simply dealt with different types of converts-- Isaiah welcomed sincere enthusiastic converts, while Ezra wouldn't dream of converting the corrupt idolatresses who had married Jews in his time. Rambam (M. T. Tshuva 3:8) rules that one who says that prophecy does not exist and that knowledge is not communicated from the creator to the heart of man is a heretic.
**Sefardim often bear their parent's name; a local fire-and-brimstone Chassidic Cotten Matherian zealot, who helped drive the Shlomo House out of the Rova, unaware of this custom, piously protested such a name at a local brit!