Weekly Torah Commentary — Balak July 6, 2012

There are a number of very interesting issues in this week’s Torah portion. It begins with Balak, the king of Moab, sending messengers to the Gentile prophet, Bilaam, requesting that he curse Israel. The prevalent notion at that time was that whomever Bilaam blessed would be blessed and whomever he cursed would be cursed.

It would appear noble Bilaam told Balak he could only prophesy what “God puts in my mouth.” And in fact, in giving his declarations, he blessed the Jewish people. However, the reality is that Bilaam, himself, had little use for Israel. As a gentile prophet and a sorcerer, he was threatened by the children of Israel, as was Balak. Therefore, when we look a bit deeper into the scenario, we realize that though Bilaam spoke what Hashem told him to speak – blessings over Israel – his words were at odds with the inner attitudes of his heart. In other words, he said the ‘right thing’ but internally he didn’t agree with it and even opposed it.

Blessed is the man or woman whose words come from his heart and in whom there is no internal dichotomy. Selah!

This parsha also speaks to us about the concept of “enemies”. On a surface level, we could say that enemies attack us as a matter of conviction; they attack because of who they are and who we are which in their minds is totally incompatible. However, the wiser among us understand that sometimes – emphasis on sometimes – come against us because of an opening that we have given them. We have to be careful as this statement could be misunderstood, but our Sages teach that in certain places in Torah — this being one of them — the enemies of Israel were allowed to come against us that we might recognize our own weaknesses and failures and repent.

I am reminded of the time when Amalek came against Israel soon after they had left Egypt. The people started complaining — so soon after seeing such great miracles –and questioned both God and Moses, asking “Is God with us or not?” The very next verse says: “Then Amalek came and fought with Israel.” Several commentators make the point that the positioning of these two verses is a message to us. Amalek was not only the physical enemy of Israel, but also the spiritual enemy for the numerical value of the Hebrew word for ‘amalek’ is the very same as the Hebrew word for ‘doubt’ which is ‘safek’. Doubt is an enemy to faith and this was at the heart of their complaining. Amalek’s attack was in direct response to their ‘doubting’ God’s goodness and faithfulness to them.

Therefore, we are taught that whenever we suffer an attack of some kind, it behooves us to examine our own hearts to see if there is some lesson we need to learn, something about the nature of the ‘attack’ that points to a weakness in ourselves. That said, we must not interpret an ‘attack’ as simply a sign of failure which draws punishment. Note that the children of Israel renewed their faith immediately and defeated Amalek! However, it does mean that Hashem desires that we learn a
spiritual lesson from every hardship of life or every attack of an ‘enemy’.

And when it comes to the enemies of the people of Israel, history has shown that they are subject to their own divine retribution. Therefore, even if our national sin opened us up for attack, that in no way justifies their hostilities and agression.

As I said earlier, this concept can evoke a great deal of discussion but the bottom line is that based on the fundamental principle of personal responsibility, we must accept that all our actions, physical and spiritual, have ramifications. This is why Moses sent Joshua to fight Amalek in the valley while he positioned himself at the top of the mountain to intercede. If we hope to defeat
our spiritual as well as our physical enemies, the war must be fought on both fronts.

In Tune with Torah = if we are conscious of any ‘enemy’ in our life at present (even an internal personal one like fear or anxiety) or we are concerned about a national enemy, let us with open hearts turn to Hashem and ask for His enlightenment within our own soul that each of us may take whatever steps may be necessary to defeat both personal enemies and national enemies.

Shabbat Shalom

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