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BALAK
Num. 22:2-25:9.
Shabbat, July 15, 2000 - 11 TAMUZ 5760

Note: While only one day of Shavuot is observed in Israel, Diaspora Jews celebrate two days, and marked Shavuot’s second day this year on Shabbat, replacing the weekly Torah portion with Shavuot reading; consequently, since Shavuot, the reading in Israel has been one portion ahead of the Diaspora. This week Diaspora Jews will catch up, reading both Chukat and Balak. For comments on Chukat, click here.

From the Torah Outreach Program

Afraid of Jewish Divine influence in the corrupt Middle East, the Moabites appoint Midianite mystic Balak as their temporary king. He seeks the aid of wizard Rev. Bilaam, the archetype of all “holy men” who condemn and curse Israel (cf. M. Luther).

His name literally is “without a people”- he’s a precursor of those later religious leaders who proclaim themselves the heirs of Israel’s Torah, while rejecting the people of Israel (cf. Khumani).

Such pietists today ignore Jordan’s recent destruction of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues and their rendering the Wall a trash heap; yet they ardently protest the arrival of Jewish neighbors, in an abandoned, once Jewish, hostel, near the Moslem shops surrounding their churches.

God tells Rev. B. to decline the high salaried position, but Bilaam keeps trying to get God to change His mind about the Jews and Balak’s mission. God finally lets him exercise his free will and go with Balak’s diplomats, but tries to kill him. Bilaam’s talking she-ass saves his life and he reaches Moav.

Ch. 23:Bilaam examines the Jewish people twice, from every standpoint, to discover their faults and curse them. But he only finds good traits and is forced by God to utter blessings.

Ch. 24: Bilaam gives up right away on Balak’s third attempt to have him curse Israel; instead he sings their praises, inspired by God. His words enter the Torah for eternity: “How good are your tents Yaakov, your dwelling places, Israel.”

Indeed, the strength of Yaakov, he who dwells in tents (Gen. 25:27), has always been his two abodes-- family and study hall.

Capable, energetic Esav remains to this day a wandering man of prey-- be it in business, hunting, or conquest; Israel’s prime focus is on family--each faithful Jewish home is another link in the chain of world redemption, stretching from Avraham to the Messiah. Together they form the collective House of Israel, one big family. Its inner strength and impact upon mankind come from Torah and prayer, the union of home, yeshiva and synagogue.

Ch. 25: The portion ends with a temporary setback, the opposite of this great ideal--discos come to Israel. Cheap pagan women first entice the Jews to abandon their tent of family; soon after, they also abandon the tent of Torah for Moabite idolatry. Moshe and the faithful were grief-stricken.

God orders the killing of the ringleaders. Twenty-four thousand Jews, lost in passion, die in a plague. Later, 24,000 proud pupils of Rabbi Akiva, lacking respect for each other, would also be stricken by Divine plague.

The building of a Jewish model nation requires heroic self-conquest, of both passion and pride. This self-conquest then becomes the basis for the conquest of all evil in the world. The plague only stops when Pinchas, Aharon’s grandson, spears and kills the charismatic jet-set leaders, a Jewish prince and a Midianite princess, who publicly fornicate before Moshe.

THE HAFTARA of Balak, Micha 5:6-6:8, speaks of the messianic age; the Jews, scattered among the nations to whom they have given so much, will be brought back to a redeemed and purified, enlightened and enlightening, State of Israel. God does not need our gifts, only our selves: “He has told you, man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: only to do justly, to love loving-kindness, and to walk modestly with your God.”

Torah Outreach Program, based in Jerusalem, provides a study of every Torah reading and Jewish Holiday, giving exact citations and interfacing modern culture and knowledge with the Torah and Jewish tradition. By its own description, Torah Outreach Program is apolitical, open, modern Zionist, and “truly traditional,” believing that the written and oral law are from God. Visit their website at Torah Outreach Program.

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