Balak - weekly Torah portion

Naturally Balak is very worried of the fact that the Israelites are getting closer and closer to his land. As the custom was in those days he seeks an expert to come over and spoil these efforts of the People of Israel to reach the promised land. That man, Balaam, receives a clear warning on his way, and notifies ahead of time that he can prophesize only according to what the Lord commands him to say. Well, it is no wonder that Balak, after hearing the words, “Behold, a people rises like a lioness, And as a lion it lifts itself; It will not lie down until it devours the prey, And drinks the blood of the slain.” complains to BalaamThe words in Hebrew “גַּם-קֹב לֹא תִקֳּבֶנּוּ; גַּם-בָּרֵךְ, לֹא תְבָרְכֶנּוּ” are translated to “Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all!” which I found in several of the translations. I would like to suggest a reading which is a little different, using question marks (remember, the Torah has not punctuation marks nor does it contain vowelization) – “you not cursed him? You have not blessed us?” Balak is furious – he can probably understand the Balaam would not curse the Israelites but why on earth did he not bless the people of Moab?! He understand that in what Balaam said those who are going to be devoured and lay slain are the people of Moab, they certainly deserved some kind of a blessing from that prophet, he thought. Balaam answer to Balak is simple and cold, “Whatever the Lord speaks, that I must do”. Balak tries a different strategy, another place to attempt a curse on Israel, the result of which we know perfectly well, “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!”.

This attitude of those who wish to curse, every time from another location in the hope that it will succeed is well known, and not unique to Balak. We witnessed that ourselves over the past couple of weeks. Our Reform Movement and leadership were cursed over the Kotel and was cursed over the conversions. They had buckets of venom to spit. Nevertheless those who heard them understood that these were empty words, baseless and without real foundation. It is only an attempt to grab assets that do not belong to them. They try to claim as their own asset the Wall, the Kashrut, marriage, divorce, and conversions. The chutzpa goes sky high. In one of the debates on television a representative of the Orthodox rabbinate accused that as the Reform Jews abroad do not carry the burden of military service in Israel and hence have no say in what happens here. Our very own Rabbi Kariv, president and CEO of the Israel Reform Movement, asked him who of his family members served in the military? he stuttered and murmured that they carry a different kind of burden. Again the same kind of self-righteousness and self-proclaimed supremacy that tries to portray these political snatchers as if they represent religion, as if they represent some kind of divine truth, as if they represent the true will of the people.

This is a despicable argument because the Haredi Jew from Brooklyn and Los Angeles also does not serve with the IDF and still has things to say about what he thinks needs to happen in Israel. To the Reform Jews living in Israel he can of course not preach of military service, it is sufficient to take a look at IMPJ’s board and understand that this is complete nonsense. Our parents, we and our children serve with the IDF, we serve the society we live in at large, and we fight for the right of every citizen of this country; and yes, we also look for the rights of those who were unfortunate enough and arrived at our country as refugees. Some of our opponents tried to argue that the conversion bill I necessary to prevent the conversion of work seekers, as if our rabbis do so. That has not truth in reality. However, these Balaam of today try to spread this curse upon us, but this did not work as people heard what they were really saying.

What we are really hearing, we and those who support our causes in Israel and throughout the Jewish world, is that we are very successful in what we are doing. We have an haredi-orthodox self-proclaimed establishment that is fearful for its fate. They therefore feel obliged to fight as if there is a sword lay on their necks. They are trying to use the law to fight us but fail to understand that each such attempt causes another stone to tumble down off of their towers of unrestrained monopolies of our religion. They see what we build, they see what we achieve, and they understand that Israel’s future in pluralism. The withdrawal pains are understandable but we cannot continue to agree to the existence of this chocking monopoly on religion in our lives. Today we say thank you to those sons of Balaam who put us on the map over and over again, showing the beauty of Jewish diversity, the Jewish debate, and the ability to live together, side by side; “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!”.

Shabbat Shalom.

Reuven Marko, 14 Tamuz 5777, 7 July 2017

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