<I>Balak</I>: "How Goodly Are Your Tents"

In past years, in trying to understand the meaning behind the <I>rasha</I> Bila'am's <I>"bracha"</I>, I would relate the <I>"bracha"</I> to <I>B'nai Yisrael</I> by way of Rabbi Aba Wagensberg's analogy wherein he asked a question regarding the "curse" of the <I>nachash</I> (the snake in <I>Gan Eden</I>).

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Moshe Burt,

Moshe Burt
Moshe Burt
Moshe Burt
In past years, in trying to understand the meaning behind the rasha Bila'am's "bracha", I would relate the "bracha" to B'nai Yisrael by way of Rabbi Aba Wagensberg's analogy wherein he asked a question regarding the "curse" of the nachash (the snake in Gan Eden).

Rabbi Wagensberg cited the "curse" of the nachash - to crawl on his belly and eat dirt - and mentioned the quote from the 23rd Psalm, Mizmor L'David, "My rod and my staff, they comfort me," showing the attributes of both "strict punishment (the rod) for sin and support for me in times of my affliction." (Artscroll Tehillim, chapter 23, pages 44-45)

He then asked regarding the curse of the nachash, "Wasn't this the greatest bracha possible, to make a creature totally self-sufficient for all time? Or was Hashem totally divorcing himself from the creature, leaving it a pariah -- unloved and not cared for?"

And, conversely, were the brachot conveyed upon B'nai Yisrael by Bila'am really brachot? Or were these brachot the worst possible curse upon B'nai Yisrael? Was it to be understood that when everything is going well, perfect, for too long, we have to wonder what we are doing wrong?

The Midrash Says explains that "Bila'am's unarticulated curses bore fruit, too. All of the evil intentions he entertained in his heart were realized during our exile as a result of our sins..."

"Better are wounds inflicted by a friend than the kisses of an enemy."

The Midrash Says continues: "When the Jewish prophets spoke to the people, their word always contained admonitions and warnings. Bila'am's blessings, on the other hand, consisted only of praise and compliments. Upon hearing them, the Jews held their heads higher than before. Hence, they were not on guard against sin, and stumbled in Shittim."

But, in truth, didn't B'nai Yisrael, by virtue of their communal modesty, privacy and kindness unto their neighbors, their brothers, merit the brachot? Wasn't Bila'am compelled to give the brachot? Weren't the words emanating from Bila'am's mouth the expressions of Hashem's love for B'nai Yisrael?

"Mah tovu, ohalech'cha ya'akov, mishkenotecha yisrael." - "How goodly are your tents, Ya'akov; your dwelling places, Yisrael." (BaMidbar 24:5)

The bracha delivered through the lips of Bila'am, the rasha, is recited daily upon entering the Beit Knesset. The great importance attached to "Mah tovu" lies in the fact that it is a statement of appreciation for the foundation of Judaism -- the Jewish family.

I believe that this bracha is not just talking about one's immediate family. It is relating to one's extended family -- the kahal, B'nai Yisrael.

"The interaction between the various family members provides the structure that Judaism needs to thrive on. It is the family that passes down Hashem's traditions from generation to generation. It is the family that makes the individual feel part of... the Jewish nation. For the Jewish nation is, in reality, one big and cohesive family... This cohesiveness has enabled Judaism to survive in the darkest of times, during anti-Jewish oppressions, within the ghettoes and throughout days of poverty." (Lilmod Ul'lamed, Parshat Balak, page 149)

This cohesiveness has enabled Judaism to survive expulsions, inquisitions, pogroms, blood libels, the Holocaust and, in modern days, the 56-plus year Arab war of extermination against the Jewish people. And this cohesion will enable us to survive this evil, cynical attempt by the current self-interested, non-Torah-connected Israeli political leaders to expel Jews from Gaza, from Gush Katif, for which Torah and Tanach are replete with references showing that it is part of the Land of Israel. (History, too, shows conclusively that there was a continuous Jewish presence in Gush Katif throughout our history up until 1929, when the Jews were expelled by Arab pogroms. History will further show that B'nai Yisrael returned to Gush Katif in the 1970s after but a 41-year hiatus, following Israel's great and miraculous victory in the Six Day War in 1967.) We will never again be moved, not from Gush Katif, not from the Shomron, not from Hevron, not from Jerusalem's Old City, nor from Beit Shemesh, Ramla, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Tsfat, etc. The land of Israel is indivisible.

This closeness, this brotherhood, this cohesiveness among B'nai Yisrael has brought us to a beautiful event, a Hachnasat Sefer Torah -- a dedication of a Torah scroll -- on Sunday, July 4, in the little beachfront community of Shirat HaYam, which is home to 15 families, mainly young newly-married couples in their mid-20s with young children. Once again, a Sefer Torah, this one with a life dating back to a Sefaradi kehilla from Brooklyn, connects a new generation of Jews yet to kiss, hold, read from and dance with it to many hundreds or thousands of Jews who have held, kissed, read from and danced with it in its former abode in Borough Park. And Shirat HaYam will become a makom Torah, with its own Sefer Torah, connecting it, G-d willing, eternally to the land, to Gush Katif.

May we be zochim - through our internal and private middot and drachim - modesty, humility - and our other mitzvot, chasadim, tzedakah, total honesty and having ahavat chinom for our fellow Jews and for kol klal Yisrael on all levels, personal, business, learning, etc. - to have our tefillah reach Shemayim, unimpeded, un-garbled. If we will care enough about our brother to help him and treat him, at all levels -- baderech, at business, at home -- as we would want to be treated ourselves, if we finally recognize that the Emet of the unity of B'nai Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael overrides the various agendas of the self-interested politicos, then Arafat and the Arabs, Dubya, Cheney, Zinni, Powell, and Clinton, before them, and yes, even the small minority of self-styled Israeli elitists, the latter day erev rav who currently run the media and institutions here, are all as nothing. Then we'll be zochim to demand, compel Hashem to do "what he wants to do, to bring us the Moshiach and the Ge'ula Shlaima, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hayra v'yameinu -- speedily, in our time," like achshav -- immediately -- chik-chak, miyad, etmol!





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