Balak: Much Ado About History

Throught the longterm eyes of history: 70 C.E. versus 2011 C.E.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

I’m all for peace talks with the Arabs.

The Talmud Sanhedrin(91b) deals with the World to Come, and the Resurrection of the Dead.

Reish Lakish raises a contradiction between Jeremiah 31, in which the dead will come to life exactly as they were in their previous lives, with all their imperfections and blemishes( “the blind and the lame”); and between Isaiah 35,6, “then the lame will leap like a hart, and the dumb will sing”, implying that they will arise healed as good as new. Reish Lakish  answers that they will come to life with their blemishes, and be cured.

Rav Tvi Y. Tau ( Emunat Iteinu, vol.8, page 195) writes that Reish Lakish refers not only to the Resurrection of individuals, but even more so to that of the Nation of Israel. For 1,900 years, Israel was flung on the trash-heap of History, not merely given up for dead, but slaughtered by the millions.

On May 15, 1948, the miracle of Resurrection occurred. And as foreseen in the Talmud, we did come to life with the old blemishes which destroyed the second Commonwealth and Temple. But, as we shall see below, with vital differences. 

Certainly, the old blemish that destroyed Israel in 70 C.E. was reborn with the rebirth of the modern State.  Sinat chinam, hatred of one’s fellow Jew, brought about the Destruction of the Temple, and Exile. This refers not merely to sinat chinam of  individuals, but to  the vastly more destructive factionalism : of terrorist Sikari’i, of Tzeduki vs. Perushi, of Essene vs. all of his contemporaries.

And in modern times:  we’ve suffered from Irgun vs. Haganah, to Likud vs. Labor. We have Chareidim who will have nothing to do with the antireligious, and kipot serugot who want the secession of Yehuda/Shomron.

We also have the far Left who deny Rabbis their right to speak, write and teach. They have arrested Rabbis Lior and Yosef for corroborating halakhic opinion; and six years ago, in the name of their so-called  “greater good”, the Left threw the Jews out of Gush Katif,  and stifled dissent by shutting down Arutz7 as a radio station. 

Yet there are major differences between the blemishes of 70 C. E. and those of the modern State; and these differences have to do with history. Indeed, 1900 years of history have passed. These years have purified the National Soul of Israel with the experiences, trials, Torah-learning, and persecutions of our long Diaspora, the Galut. The blemishes have returned with our Return, but they are in a much weakened  state.

Jews are not the same as then, when sinat chinam was literally capable of spilling Jewish blood in civil war. “Aval be’emet”, writes Rav Tau( page 197), “ b’eit Geulah anachnu, uvyadeinu l’hagbir chayil , Torah, Emunah, U’kedusha “ – "but in truth, we are in the times of the Redemption,  and it is within our power to gird strength, Torah, Belief and Holiness to finish off this weakened enemy of factionalism and infighting".

Truth is the key to our Torah reading this week, Balak. I’ve written before ( “Dunno’ Much About History”, Arutz7/Judaism/,2009) that Rav Matis Weinberg explains that the essential evil of Bilam was his deconstruction and fractionalization of history.

By stressing the “rega” , the moment, as opposed to the grand overall historical plan, he could strip history of all meaning, and use “soundbites” and out-of-context actions to paint any particular moment in a bad light.

This was the way of Bilam’s ancestor, Lavan the Aramean, the ramai, obfuscator of Truth; thus, Lavan and Bilam pitted themselves against the great pillar of Truth, Avraham Avinu, Abraham our Father, and all who followed his path in life. This is why the two are contrasted as paradigms in Pirkei Avot ( Ethics of Our Fathers ,5,19).

The “rega” that Bilaam was able to discern was the “daily moment of G-d’s wrath “which is mentioned in Gemara Berachot 7a. Rav Weinberg explains:  this refers to the “rega achad v’chiliticha”( Exodus33,5   ),” in a moment I, the Lord, will destroy Israel”, for the sin of the Golden Calf( Eigel). This was the old relationship of Almighty-to-Israel which Moses changed with his prayers, the 13 midot harachamim, attributes of mercy.

Moshe deflected G-d’s previous “rega”, fragmented approach, which Bilam sought to tap into,  to one of “u’vyom pakdi u’fakadti”, an “overall historical approach” in which a little bit of G-d’s anger over the golden calf is spread over all of history, so that for any sin of the Jewish nation, a bit of the punishment is for that long-ago sin.

Rav Tau  uses a Midrash( Tanchuma Vayigash,8) to show that Bilam is alive and well, in modern anti-Semites and in the media.

This Midrash also deals with the Resurrection of the Dead: “As a man went, so will he come back. If he died lame, or blind, so shall he return….so that the reshaim, the evil ones, can not claim that these resurrected ones are not the same ones who passed away”.

Rav Tau: these reshaim are the anti-Semites, “who well recognize the causes of the Destruction (Churban), and are certain that sinat chinam is so deeply rooted in the Jewish Nation that it will never be able to unite and resurrect its national life.But this is the very reason that G-d has resurrected our Nation with all the old blemishes: to show to all the world that with the strength of the light (Kookian Ohr) of Torah, and through the ohr ha’segula ha’yisr’eilit, the inner treasured soul of Israel, we shall prevail over these faults of our past.

"This inner soul is hidden from all human eyes, as no non-Jew can discern it” except for the lone prophet of the goyim, Bilam (who sang the famous “how good are thy tents, O Israel”; Numbers 24,5)."

So why do I welcome peace talks? Try listening to CNN, or better yet, talk to Arabs: you’ll hear the voice of Bilam every time. This might wake up a few people ( although there are none so blind as those who will not see).

Look at pictures in the New York Times of Israeli soldiers striking Arabs, a fragment of deconstructed,”rega” history; the Times never shows the Arab rock-throwing that led up to the picture.

Or, take the Twitters of Rasheed Mendenhall, star running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers: the day that the US announced the altogether justified killing of Bin Laden, Mendenhall twittered ( how apt a verb, from the noun 'twit' ) that al Quaida couldn’t have brought down the Twin Towers, and that it must have been an inside job.

Think the genius Rasheed made up that historical “factoid”? Arab language  internet  “news”  was filled with such nonsense on that day.

Or talk to any Arab about the Yom Kippur War. Ask him who won, and you’re  likely to be surprised to find out that Egypt did. Then ask him which side of the Suez Canal the Israeli Army was on when Sadat begged Russia to force a cease-fire in the UN, and if you get any answer at all, you’re likely to hear that it was only Sharon, as if he was “fragmented “ off from the “whole” of the Israeli Army.

Finally: a quote from the new book of our “peace partner”, President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who writes that the US itself bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 so that it would have an excuse to drop the atomic bomb (which, incidentally, was invented in 1945). Peace talks, anyone?

Rav Tau finishes with a plea to study our history, including Talmud, Midrash, Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, etc.

For the Arabs and their allies, history simply didn’t occur; thus they will brainlessly try to turn the clock back to 1948, or 1967, as if nothing occurred then or since. 

That is why Rav Tau says it is so vital to really understand the forces that destroyed our once thriving nation, for only thus can we understand the forces that will lead to “the completion of the process of purification from these blemishes, to finish with our own hands ( not as some gift dropping from Heaven) the repair of the illnesses of the past, and the rebuilding of the Nation of Israel”.