Weekly Torah Commentary – Balak June 21, 2013

Historically, as this parsha opens, Balak, the king of Moab, had just lost half of his kingdom in a war with the King of Sihon. It was a crushing defeat and when the news reached him that the children of Israel were approaching his region, he panicked.
What Balak, the king, did not know was that G-d had commanded the Israelites NOT to attack Moab but to travel around it. Therefore, Balak’s panic was a result of his assumptions; it was not based on actual fact.

How often this happens even today. We make assumptions subjectively when we don’t really know the objective reality of a situation or another person. Assumptions cause untold problems between people that could be entirely avoided if we were not so quick to jump to conclusions, based not on the situation but on our preconceived notions.

Balak sent messengers to Midian, we read in the text. Why Midian? It was a long journey at that time.

Midian is where Moses had lived for many years, you will remember. Midian is where his father-in-law’s family lived. Balak wanted to know something about the leader of these wandering ex-slaves. Perhaps if he understood something about their leader, he would be in a better position to defend his kingdom.

Historical sources tell us that the messengers returned to Balak with one vital piece of information. The messengers were told by the elders of Midian that the power of Moses was in his words.
Hearing this assessment and convinced in his own mind that he would suffer another crushing defeat if he had to war against Israel, he called upon Bilaam, the ‘prophet’ of the region to come and curse the children of Israel who were approaching his kingdom. Perhaps, he reasoned, if Bilaam curses them, then I will be able to conquer and destroy them.

This brings us to the second principle which Balak failed to understand. True, he was an idolater who did not acknowledge the one true G-d of the universe. However, even in the days before email, telephones and telegrams, the word of what G-d had done to deliver hundreds of thousands of slaves and form them into a nation had spread far and wide throughout the entire region. Balak would have known how Israel had conquered the Amorites. He would have known about the battle with Amalek. His very fear was based on the assumption that this was a people not to be taken lightly and if they reached his kingdom, destruction came with them.

He would also have heard that their G-d was with them and perhaps that frightened him more than anything. Who knows?

But at any rate, what he did NOT understand is that when G-d has blessed a people, to curse them is a study in frustration.

What G-d has blessed is blessed; no man can reverse G-d’s blessing.
THIS is the second principle that Balak did not understand.

The destruction of the Jewish people has been the goal of many a historical Balak, even to our own day. The names change but the objective remains the same.

While tempted to fear at times when the threats against Israel and the Jewish people rage around us, this week’s parsha reminds us that no curse is more powerful than the blessings of the covenant of Hashem with Abraham and his seed. Whom Hashem has blessed is blessed.

My favorite verse in this week’s portion is this one: G-d is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man that he should deceive.
What He has promised, He will fulfill.

In Tune with Torah this week = Made any assumptions lately? Formed any opinions by subjective thinking rather than the honest truth of a situation? Re-visit those decisions or attitudes and re-evaluate lest you fall into Balak’s trap of acting on insufficient and incorrect assumptions.

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