Friday, July 4, 2014

Donkey Chatter - Reflections on Parashat Balak 5774

Every week, my Elianna asks me, "Abba (Dad), what does the parashah say about the news?" This is a very old and profound idea: hidden references to the week's current events can be found in the weekly Torah portion. Study the parashah diligently enough, we are taught, and Gcd can be heard whispering to us between the headlines. How does this week's parashah speak to current events?

This week, we read of the miraculous talking donkey who brays to the wicked Bilaam, "Why have you hit me these three times?" The Hebrew construction for the phrase 'these three times' is very curious: "Zeh Shalosh Regalim," literally, 'this three legs." Why the odd verbiage?

The Kli Yakar says that this is a not-so-veiled reference to the three pilgrimage festivals. Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot are collectively known as the three "Regalim," i.e. the holidays that we ascend by foot to the Temple Mount.

By using this odd language, the donkey is saying, in effect: "You endeavor to curse and thus destroy the people who celebrate the pilgrimage festivals; the very pilgrimage festivals through which all the nations of the world are blessed. Don't you see that In destroying them, you are destroying yourself? So...which one of us is the ass?"

The lowly donkey sees that to which the Great Seer of Visions is blind; the beast of burden speaks plain truth to the ersatz Prophet of Gcd. 

In another reference to our parashah, the Talmud in BT Taanit 20A says: better to suffer the curse of Ahiyah the Shilonite (who cursed the Jews by comparing them to reeds [I Kings 14:15]) than the blessing of Bilaam (who blessed us by comparing us to cedar trees.[Numbers 24:6]) Why? Because cedars, though tall, strong and proud, are susceptible to being uprooted by heavy winds and rain, whereas the reed bends to incredible force but never breaks.

The Torah calls out to the Arabs: don't you see that in attempting to destroy the Jewish people you will only succeed in destroying yourself? The donkey calls out to Iran: don't you see that a nuclear first strike against Israel will trigger a massive second strike which will most assuredly result in your annihilation? The A-lmighty will never permit you to succeed, because your success would herald oblivion for the entire world. 

We Jews are like the reed of the sea from which we emerged as a nation; we will bend to incredible pressure but never break. The dirt is still fresh over the graves of Ayal, Gilad and Naftali, the three teens murdered near Hevron. The entire Jewish people is numb from grief. But we nonetheless endure. Our enemies can kidnap and murder helpless children; a Cossack can rape, pillage and murder in a defenseless shtetl; an SS officer can shoot little children with one hand while playing Schubert with the other. But they will never prevail; they only bring upon their own heads the destruction they sought to inflict on their victims.

The most curious thing about this parashah? It never had to happen. The opening verse states that Balak ben Zippor, King of the Moabites, saw everything that Israel did against the Amorites." If true, he would also have known that we had no beef with the Amorites; we asked only to transit their country on our journey to the Land of Israel. They responded by attacking us. We defended ourselves in what turned out to be a miraculous conquest of their land, Six Day War style.

Balak could have learned from the Amorites' mistake and allowed the Jews to transit his land in peace. Instead, he chose to follow the Amorites' path in war.

There are Arabs who are willing to live in peace with Jews. I know because I've met them, worked with them. But they must be extremely circumspect, lest they are silenced, intimidated and murdered by the PLO, Hamas and Jihad Islami. 

Let us pray that our neighbors find within themselves the courage to ignore their blind leaders and pay heed to their talking donkeys.

Shabbat Shalom.

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