Living Torah by Rabbi Ari Enkin

Rabbi EnkinThis week’s Torah portion is ‘Balak’ (Numbers 22:2 – 25:9). Balak was the evil king of Moab. Balak was very unhappy that the Jewish people were so successful and victorious. He bemoaned the Exodus of the Jews from Egyptian slavery, the decimation of Egypt in the plagues and at the sea, the miracles that God performed for them during the last 38 years in the desert, and most recently, the Jewish victory over the Emorites.

Nevertheless, Balak is not deterred from trying his luck at destroying the Jewish people, but he’s no dummy. He knows that he stands no chance against the Jewish people with traditional methods. He knows he’d be toast. So he comes up with a new idea: destroy the Jews by supernatural means! Let’s cast a spell upon them, curse them, and wave a magic wand.

Just one thing: Balak never went to Wizard’s School. What do you do when you don’t have the skill you need to get a job done? Hire someone! Balak opened his local Yellow Pages under “Wizards and Magic” and found someone who came highly recommended: Bilaam. Bilaam was a proven sorcerer and master of the occult.

Balak sent messengers to Bilaam to request his services. When Bilaam heard what they were up to, he told them that he would need to ask God if he could comply with their wishes. During the night God told him straight out: “You can’t curse the nation for they are blessed!! Do not go along with their evil plot!” To make a long story short, Bilaam essentially ignores God’s warning, and instead of cursing the Jews, he accidentally blesses them. Big embarrassment there!

While there is much more to say on this week’s Torah portion (be sure to read it all!) I’m sure you’ve got the idea on what kind of people Balak and Bilaam were. Balak and Bilaam were evil tyrants who pursued evil for evil’s sake. Death and destruction was simply a hobby for them, a way to pass the days of their meaningless lives. They didn’t even care that the odds were against them — even if their own demise was likely. Balak and Bilaam are the type who would try to kill the Jews even if it meant their certain death, as well.

I’m unsure if we have enough fingers and toes to count the Balak’s and Bilaam’s of today. Let’s see: We have Hasan “Balak” Nasralla of Lebanon, Mahmoud “Balak” Ahmadinjad of Iran, Ismail “Bilaam” Haniyeh of Gaza, and in the headlines the most lately: Bashar “Balak” Assad of Syria. And there are more. Plenty more.

The common denominator is clear: From the Balaks and Bilaams of then to those of today, we have no shortage of maniacs who want nothing more than to destroy the Jewish people – even if they have to kill themselves and their brethren in the process. But some things never change. Yes, the Bilaam’s and Balaks can cause us pain and even loss – but they can never destroy us. What was true then is true now. As God Himself said: “You can’t curse the nation for they are blessed!”

Shabbat Shalom from Israel!

Rabbi Ari Enkin

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