Everyone I know that has a blog, or uses any social media at all, seems to have had a lot to say in recent weeks about the horrible tragedy(ies) of the past few weeks. I have been keeping quite quiet (yes me, quiet). I haven’t felt that there was anything that hasn’t been said by lots of other people. And the truth is that I have been so heartbroken and sad that there has been little room for me to think or feel anything else. There isn’t much to say about that other than “I am heartbroken and sad”, which I did.
Having a chayal boded (a “lone soldier”) living with us helped me feel like I was taking care of my own little corner of the IDF. Helping in our own way. That will be a topic for another post, at another time.
Everyone around me here in Gush Etzion has been helping in their own way, heroically, going so above and beyond. They did because Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali were all of our boys… but they also did because that’s what people here do. It is one of the many reasons we are just blessed to be where we are. I wrote a dvar Torah for work this week, but I have decided to share it here too. This is what I finally have to say…..
Some thoughts on Parshat Balak:
What a difficult week it has been for Am Yisrael. When I sit down to prepare this week’s email, I am immediately struck by just how full of hope we all were just one week ago.
For the past several days it has been difficult at times to work, concentrate, move on with business as usual. As some of you know, I spend a fair amount of time on “social media”. As a result, one of the hardest part of contending with this tragedy, for me, has been the amount of hate expressed around the world. Two “bad guys” committing an inhuman criminal act was made far worse by the apparent dismissal by some and outright celebration by others.
But our one constant as a nation is always the study of Torah, and as Meryl Lee Avraham [my colleague, mentor, teacher and friend] expressed so beautifully last week, “It is amazing how every week when we read the parsha, we can find relevance and insights to what is currently happening.”
In this week’s parsha, Balak, King Balak from the kingdom of Moav petitions the grand wizard Bilam from the kingdom of Midian to curse the Jews. Balak has seen the Jews’ military success as they have forged their way to Israel. He is worried about our numbers, and has seen that military acumen is not going to be a successful way to stop Am Yisrael. He asks Bilam to curse the Jewish people.
It makes sense; since Moshe’s relationship with G-d is clearly helping Am Yisrael, certainly a different Navi should be able to counter that better than swords and arrows. Bilam makes it very clear from the beginning that he can only say what Hashem tells him to. He brings sacrifices to G-d, but instead of curses, only blessings spill forth from Bilam. After several attempts to change location (maybe they need to find Moshe’s “magic mountaintop”?) it is clear this just isn’t going to work. “Mevarechecha Baruch v’orerecha arur”, “Blessed are they who bless you, Accursed they who curse you.” (Bamidbar 24:9) is Bilam’s reminder in his blessing, to the promise made to Avraham by G-d.
Almost the entire parsha is taken up with this strange story which seems to be about our enemies, not us, and a thwarted attempt to foil our entry into Eretz Yisrael through a spiritual plot, rather than a military one. However, the end of our parsha begins a different narrative. It describes the inappropriate relations that the Israelite men were having with Moabite women. It what seems like an abrupt change of subject, that begins with “So, while this was going on [with the non-Jews] and the Israelites were in the place called Shittim, they started being inappropriate with the women of Moav. And these Moabite women enticed them to join in some Baal Peor worship, which made Hashem very, very angry – “Yachar Af”, incensed.
The result of this was a plague in which 24,000 Israelites died!
Not only is this particular chapter added on after a long, fluid narrative, but the rest of the story of their relations with the Moabites continues immediately after in next week’s parsha, Pinchas.
So why is it here? Why not just tell the next story… next?
The Midianites and Moabites aren’t really allies, but they form an alliance of sorts in an attempt to destroy Am Yisrael. We are told a great deal, in detail, about the Ancient non-Jewish world’s perception that they cannot destroy us militarily. That our real power comes from our bond with Hashem. So it is there that they will try to undermine us, and bring us to our knees. It specifically states that Balak’s concern was our size, our numbers: “…they are too numerous for me; perhaps I can thus defeat them and drive them out of the land.” (Bamidbar 22:6). Balak’s efforts, through Bilam don’t work. He can’t cut down our numbers. He cannot get the greatest spiritual guru of the age to curse the Jews. Hashem just won’t let it happen.
… And still, a few lines later, Hashem strikes down 25,000 of our men? How can that be?
The answer, was that the only way for us as a people to be cursed was to bring it upon ourselves. No nation can come from the outside and truly address the “Jewish problem”, or find a successful “final solution”. Military might won’t work, spiritual leadership won’t work. No tactic can help an outside people or force destroy the Jews. We all know that this has been proven out over thousands of years. Certainly not for lack of trying!
The reason it is so important for the parsha to include the plague at Shittim, the licentious behavior of the Jews, and its disastrous consequence is to remind us that we are not invulnerable. We are our own worst enemy. The non-Jews cannot curse us no matter how hard we try… but if we stray from Hashem’s ways, become comfortable and are “romanced” by the world’s peoples, cultures and religions, we won’t maintain Hashem’s protection. They can’t take it away from us; we can take it away from ourselves.
The past few weeks have been so trying, such a strain. We maintained such hope. Everywhere around me the people of Gush Etzion have been looking for every opportunity to do more mitzvoth to merit the safe return of our boys. There have been extra shiurim, gatherings to say tehillim, chessed drives, and more, all in the merit of Gil-Ad, Naftali and Eyal. At times it has felt like the support for the terrorists involved was shockingly overwhelming. Worse, the silence and apathy from much of the Western world felt isolating. The reminder that there are so many people out there who still want to curse us, to bring us down, to drive us out, added great insult to injury.
But we came together as a people, clinging not only to each other, but to Hashem’s ways. It is in the studying of Torah (to prepare this) that I have found the most solace in a most difficult week, and it is in the studying of Torah that we will guarantee ourselves Hashem’s ongoing protection.
We couldn’t do enough to save those boys’ lives. But we know the warning encased in the last narrative of our parsha. We do not run into the arms of a different people, seeking approval and connection there. We respond to the greater attempt to once again address the “Jewish problem” by crying out to – and clinging to – Hashem.
May the tremendous Achdut, unity, and swelling of mitzvoth that were there the result of this terrible tragedy remain an indelible imprint to bring blessing to the memories of Eyal, Naftali and Gil-ad, z’l. — Shabbat Shalom.