RABBI WINSTON'S WEEKLY PARSHA PAGE

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Parshas Balak

What's In A Name?

FRIDAY NIGHT:

And Balak, the son of Tzippor, saw all that Israel did to the Amorites. (Bamidbar 22:2)
Historical context is everything. You can learn the exact same concept twice, but at different times in your life, and thus understand it differently. This is not only because your personal database has expanded and that you have intellectually matured in the interim. It could be also that the historical setting within which we learn an idea has shifted, providing new insight into an old idea, as we shall see.

The Zohar teaches:

What is the (spiritual) root of Amalek Above? For, we see that the souls of Bilaam and Balak come from there. For this reason, he (Amalek) is included in their names, in the 'ayin-mem' of Bilaam (bais-lamed-AYIN-MEM) and the 'lamed-kuf' of Balak (bais-LAMED-KUF)... (Zohar, Ki Seitzei, 281b)
Elsewhere in the Zohar (Balak, 194a), it says that Balak and Bilaam were fully aware of this spiritual reality, and counted on it to fuel their plan to interfere with the Jewish people's entry into Eretz Yisroel.

What the Zohar does not mention, however, is that the remaining letters after 'Amalek' that are removed are:bais-bais-lamed, which spell, in order, 'Bavel,' the Hebrew name for Babylonia, the place of the first Jewish exile after the destruction of the First Temple at the hands of Nebuchadnetzar (3338/423 BCE). It will become clear that this is much more than an etymological coincidence.

Knowing this little piece of Kabbalistic wisdom helps to unravel a mystery. That Balak was afraid of the Jewish people is not hard to understand. As the parshah begins, he saw what the Jewish people had done to the defense system of Canaan, and he panicked. That Bilaam hated the Jewish people is certainly not difficult to fathom, for they were the anti-thesis to his very being and expertise.

Rather, the question is, why panic and hate to the point of suicide, because that is what it amounted to. Even though at the end of the day, Bilaam caused 176,000 Jews to be killed between the plague from G-d and the court decisions of the Sanhedrin against those who worshipped Ba'al Peor, still, Balak and Bilaam did not live to enjoy their evil handiwork.

However, when we learn from the Zohar HaKodesh that the souls of Bilaam and Balak are rooted in Amalek in the world Above, our question is answered. After all, that is the essential trait of Amalek: suicidal hatred for the Jewish people and anything Jewish, as Rashi makes a point of explaining:

Remember what Amalek did to you along your way when you left Egypt. He confronted you on your way, and attacked the feeble stragglers who trailed behind you, while you were tired and exhausted. He did not fear G-d. (Devarim25:17-18)

...He made you cold and lukewarm after you had been boiling. For, all the nations were afraid to war against you, and this one came and led the way for others. It is like a boiling hot bath into which no living being could enter, until a wild person came and jumped into it. Although he scalded himself, he made it cooler for others. (Rashi, Devarim 25:18)

That's Amalek, sending trains carrying hapless Jews to extermination camps instead of soldiers to the eastern front to defend against the Russian offensive. Or, Arab suicide bombers who murder innocent people, and often just at a moment that peace seems workable and concessions are about to be made.

We see that it was Balak and Bilaam in this week's parshah, who prepared to risk everything just to stop the Jewish people dead in their tracks. Did the Jews have plans to take over Midian from whence Bilaam hailed? Were the Jewish people even allowed to attack Moav over which Balak ruled? The answer is no in each case, so why such intense, suicidal hatred?

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SHABBOS DAY:

Bilaam said to G-d, "Balak, the son of Tzippor, king of Moav sent them to me." (Bamidbar 22:10)
What makes matters worse is that Bilaam was no atheist, as we see in this week's parshah. Just the opposite, he was a non-Jewish prophet who spoke with G-d, albeit on G-d's terms and not his own. So then, what was Bilaam fiddling with, if not fire?

So, one of my children told me, regarding his brother, during an emotional low point,

"I hate him!"
Now, very little hurts a parent more than hearing one of his or her children say this about another family member. However, with a faked projection of calmness, I answered, "No you don't. You don't hate your brother."
"YES I DO!" came the emphatic reply, taking me aback somewhat. However, still refusing to be dragged down to his level of the discussion (for the time being), I countered,

"You CANNOT hate your brother," I assure, trying to sound the wiser of the two of us, "because good people only hate evil, like Amalek for example. Even G-d hates Amalek, and He made him. However, your brother is far from being evil, thank G-d, and he certainly is no Amaleki. Therefore, though you may not like him right this second, you certainly don't hate your brother."

Sounded good to me. However, in response to my apparent soliloquy, I received no kudos, just,
"I DON'T CARE! I HATE HIM ANYHOW!"
Pause. Realizing that my strategy was failing me at the moment, I shifted tracks and presented the following evidence for my side of the argument.

"If you truly hated your brother, then why is it that when you are NOT angry with him, you seem to get along just fine with him?"

Pause, this time from his side. Judging from the smoke coming from his ears, I could see that I had thrown a monkey wrench into his argument and stuck his gears. Thus, he could only plead the Fifth Amendment, or rather, the child's version of it simply by being adamant about his assertion even though he knew it no longer held water:

"I don't care, I still hate him."
Yet, one day that same son, even in the midst of a similar but less hostile episode told me:
"But you should know, Abba, if anyone ever picked on any of my brothers, in a second I would beat them up."
The bully, that is, not his brothers. Not that doing so was an acceptable solution to the imagined problem. However, the statement is enough to show how one child's 'hatred' for another not only stops short of self-destruction, but even ends when the well-being of the object of such negative feelings is threatened. This is true not only of one sibling for another, but of one adult for another, in a world where such hatred can become more serious and intense.

Except, of course, if the object of that hatred is a Jew and the one doing the hating has Amaleki roots. For such a person - or people - the hatred is so intense and internal, that it begins to take on a life of its own to the point of compulsive obsession, at which point Reality becomes a distant concept, except for the hater's own twisted and demented perception of it.

One can assume that Hitler, may his name and memory be erased, had no plans of dying in the process of implementing his 'Final Solution' to what he perceived as the 'Jewish problem.' Likewise, one can also assume that Bilaam had planned to retire comfortably after completion of his contract to curse the approaching Jewish nation. And, Balak certainly had no plans of dying along the way to saving himself from the invincible Jewish people. Wouldn't that have been counter-productive?

However, to the soul that has been cursed with the venom of Amalek, the only thing counter-productive to survival is desisting from attacking the Jewish people.

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SEUDAH SHLISHIS:

Bilaam answered (Balak) and told him, "Even if Balak were to give me his house filled with silver and gold, I cannot transgress the word of G-d, my G-d, to do a small thing or a large one." (Bamidbar 22:18)
Yeah, right! But he went with Balak's messengers anyway, and he cursed away along side Balak just the same. It was as if Bilaam had a death wish! His obsession with cursing the Jewish people just didn't make sense for someone who wanted to live.

Now, fast-forwarding in history somewhat, we ask the question, who said this?

"When over long periods of human history I scrutinized the activity of the Jewish people, suddenly there rose up in me the fearful question whether inscrutable destiny, perhaps for reasons unknown to us poor mortals, did not with eternal and immutable resolve, desire the final victory of this little nation."

Which righteous gentile was brave and bold enough to make such an observation about the Jewish people and publish it?

The answer is, none. Rather, it was one Adolf Hitler, one of the EVILEST gentiles to have ever lived, recorded for posterity in 'Hitler's Words,' op. cit., p. 64 (1925). Nevertheless, just the same, Hitler risked it all just to find out if he was right, which, thank G-d, he was, verifying even the words of another historical observer, Mark Twain:

"If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream stuff and passed away. The Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone. Other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. (Mark Twain, "Concerning The Jews," Harper's Magazine, 1898)
This is not to say that Mark Twain was a great friend of the Jewish people either, and there are some quotes to prove the point as well. However, what counts here is his observation, one which echoes Bilaam's, and Hitler's (though he would make his for another 27 years), because they all imply the same thing: there is something supernatural about this people we seem to disdain, which spells danger more for us than it does for them.

So why then do they attack anyhow?

The profound answer to this profound question is in the way 'Amalek' is spelled: ayin-mem-lamed-kuf, and can be divided into two parts: ayin, and mem-lamed-kuf. The letter 'ayin' is pronounced exactly as the Hebrew word for 'eye.' The final three letters spell 'malak,' which means 'severed.' Together, they mean 'severed eye.'

Severed eye? Severed from what?

From the brain - or at least they act as if that is the case, since their actions do not match reality. They see one thing and yet believe something else altogether different until they force their vision to resemble what they want to believe more than what they actually see. And, they do this to the point that they convince themselves that they are going to succeed even when history and the odds are against them - to the point of obsession. To the point of suicide, if need be.

However, there is still one piece of the puzzle we have only alluded to at this point, and that is the 'Bavel' aspect. Bavel, if anything at all, represents punishment for the Jewish people. It is the place that people who were supposed to have been loyal to Torah went as a result of being disloyal. If so, then what connection can it have to two of the worst enemies the Jewish people have ever known?

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MELAVE MALKAH:

Israel camped in Shittim. The people acted immorally with the daughters of Moav, who lured the people to sacrifice to their gods. The people ate, and prostrated themselves to their gods. Israel got involved with Ba'al-Peor, and G-d became very angry with Israel. (Bamidbar 25:1-3)
Herein lies the answer to the question just asked, and an insight into a terribly destructive phenomenon amongst the Jewish people today, as the following excerpt reveals:
Homemade Anti-Semitism (in Israel)

We are witnesses to a new phenomenon, a rather dangerous one, in the media in general, and on the Internet in particular. Whereas in the past we were faced with anti-Semitic attacks from Neo-Nazi organizations and other fascist groups, we are now being presented with the same type of hate literature, only this time "homemade," blue and white.

The Net has provided the opportunity for "wholesale" incitement, and the ability to reach an audience many times larger than fliers, rallies and even the local press. In addition, whereas in the other forms of media there are certain limitations and guidelines, albeit far from being 100% effective, on the Net even these are virtually non-existent. An additional advantage for the hate mongers who wish to spread their message in the most efficacious manner, the Net offers images, sound, animation and sophistication. The cost is minimal and the service is available for any and all.

It didn't take long before these "hate spots" started popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm, and their popularity is quite alarming. Instead of the condemnation and outrage we would have expected, these spots have gained acceptance and even support from prominent Israeli figures and the press. In fact, many of these spots have material from leading Israeli journalists, politicians, and other dominant figures ...

Haredim are dehumanized on the Net and portrayed as unruly mobs and even wild beasts. The words, "bloodsuckers" and "parasites" are an important part of the verbiage that have become almost synonymous with Haredim. The transition from this verbal violence to actual physical violence is an easy one, as we have too often been witnesses to ...

The article goes on to list some of the websites themselves and the vitriolic anti-Charedi venom that flows from their pages without remorse or shame.

It is obsessive, to be sure, because it is a reaction that goes far beyond anything the Charedi world has ever done to prompt such a response. Albeit large gaps exist between the religious and secular worlds around the world, something that is amplified in the Jewish state itself. And, albeit the Charedi have a lot to rectify and even apologize for before we can expect 'Shalom Bayis' between the disparate groups of B'nei Yisroel. We know we lack purity and have holes within our own walls in need of repair.

Granted, at this moment in history, we're not as loveable to the non-Charedi world as we ought to be. Granted, at this moment in time, much anger has been generated, so much so that it is overwhelming any positive feelings that might be possible between both worlds. However, the level of hatred of brother for brother these days being spewed forth from these websites is one that is usually reserved for the likes of Amalek!

And it is obsessive to the point of suicide. In fact, just about every attack against the Charedi world has resulted in some kind of national disaster following on its heels. Yet, they see absolutely no connection between the anti-Semitism they feel towards their Charedi brothers and the anti-Semitism the rest of the world feels towards them. How can that be?

In fact, it is Zionism that is bearing the brunt of worldwide anti-Semitism today, and the policies of the secular Israeli community, not the religious one. Over the years, as Jewish anti-Semitism has increased, so too has gentile anti-Semitism increased against those who perpetrate the former, though, in the end, we all suffer together, as we have in the past.

It is a dangerous pattern, one that ought to suggest to the perceptive observer of history that maybe 'inscrutable Destiny' has a say in all of this. Just in case. Just to be safe. Just to be cautious.

However, it doesn't seem to register in their minds. The ship has a hole in its bottom and is sinking, and the captain is fighting with his first officer. Together they will drown, G-d forbid, but they'll also kill each other on the way down.

And Amalek laughs all the way to his own ultimate destruction.

The Talmud asks, "Why was the place called 'Shittim'?" and answers, because the Jewish people did a 'ma'aseh shtus' there - a stupid act (Bechoros 5b). That is, they placed such an emphasis on secular and promiscuous activities that they abandoned G-d and Torah just to fulfill their desires for them. They gave up eternal pleasure for temporal pleasures, and HATED anyone who represented the opposite, which means you-know-who. The result at that time was the destruction of 176,000 Jews. Thousands of years later, the result was exile into Bavel - the 'bais-bais-lamed' of Balak and Bilaam. Today, it is resulting in the unraveling of the Zionist dream, and the quickly eroding pride in the accomplishments of the last fifty-four years of the state's history. Who knows what will come next!

In the end, Amalek and anything Amaleki will get it, as Bilaam himself prophesized:

When he saw Amalek, he spoke in a parable and said, "Amalek was the first of nations (to attack Israel), but his end will be that he will perish forever." (Bamidbar 24:20)
But if we don't put mind and eye back together again soon, it won't be too long before he infects and takes down many Jews, G-d forbid, along his way.

Is it any wonder then that Pinchas ben Elazar ben AharonHaKohen saves the day by seeing reality as it was:

Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aharon the priest saw... (Bamidbar 25:7)
And, for doing so, he merited to become Eliyahu HaNavi who will usher in the Period of Moshiach, may it come speedily in our time.

Have a great Shabbos,
PW

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