By: Rabbi Menashe Sasson
Reporting from Jerusalem, Israel
HaShem, in His infinite wisdom, decreed that the 70 gentile nations should have a prophet, so that they would not be able to assert that if only they, like the Jewish people, could have communicated with HaShem through a prophet, they, like the Jewish people, would have been righteous. Bil’am, although lower in stature than Moshe, was that prophet.
Parashat Balaq opens with Biblical Medinat Yisra’el (the Biblical State of Israel) advancing on the Kingdom of Moab, after it had defeated the Amorite kings Sihon and Og.
Balaq, the King of Moab, fearing a military defeat because Moab was weaker than the Amorites, enlisted Bil’am to curse the Jewish people. King Balaq reasoned that Bil’am’s curse would assist Moab in defeating Biblical Medinat Yisra’el militarily.
The Parasha then chronicles Bil’am’s repeated attempts to curse the Jewish people, attempts which were thwarted by HaShem’s insistence that Bil’am bless the Jewish people.
The Torah is not merely a collection of nice stories. The word “Torah” [תורה], literally translated, means “to instruct.” As we learn from the Midrash, “The deeds of the forefathers are signs for the children.” Tanchuma, Lekh-Lekha 9. What the Midrash is teaching is that the purpose of the Torah is to teach us what we should do and what we should not do.
Thus, our task is to ascertain how the lessons of Parashat Balaq apply to contemporary times.
First, we see that Bil’am wanted to curse, but was instead forced by HaShem to bless the Jewish people. From this, we can learn the very valuable lesson of taking at face-value the statements of someone who says they want to curse you, that is, the statements of someone who says they want to harm you. Although our Parasha, referring to the Jewish people, states that, “Blessed is he that blesses thee and cursed is he who curses thee,” Bamidbar 24:9, it is nevertheless incumbent upon us to not rely on miracles and thus to take those actions which are necessary to defend Medinat Yisra’el.
Not only do Israeli-Arabs repeatedly and continually say that they would like to abolish Medinat Yisra’el as a Jewish state and convert Eretz Yisra’el into Arab-Muslim state, they continually take actions which are calculated to achieve exactly that result. Thus, the only cogent course of action is to deny them Israeli citizenship and to incentivize them to emigrate to an Arab country.
Second, our Parasha relates that Bil’am said the Jewish people are “a nation that shall dwell alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations.” Bamidbar 23:9.
A nation that dwells alone cannot, by definition, dwell among other nations. In other words, Medinat Yisra’el, the only Jewish state in the world, cannot dwell alone if it continues to allow non-Jewish Arabs to dwell among the Jewish people in Medinat Yisra’el.
As a corollary, it follows that the Jewish people cannot fully be a nation that dwells alone as long as a significant number of its members – Jews – reside in foreign lands. As we have previously discussed, it is incumbent upon all Jews, wherever they may reside, to make Aliyah (immigrate to Medinat Yisra’el), if it is possible for them to do so.
Third, one might ask, “If Jews the world over were to make Aliyah, how would it be possible for Jews with different Minhagim (customs) to coexist in a geographic area as small as Medinat Yisra’el?”
When speaking of the Jewish people, none other than Bil’am himself said, “How goodly are your tents, O Ya’aqov, and your dwelling places, O Yisra’el!” [מה-טבו אהליך יעקב משכנתיך ישראל]. Bamidbar 24:5. In its simplest meaning, this pasuk refers to the different tribes of Yisra’el all dwelling together, while at the same time maintaining their separate identities. According to Rashi, this means the tents were arranged so that their entrances did not face each other, thereby maintaining the privacy of each family.
Thus, we see, that Jews with different Minhagim, that is, different “tribes” of Jews can surely live together in the small geographic area that is Medinat Yisra’el.
Furthermore, once non-Jewish Arabs who are currently living in Medinat Yisra’el emigrate to Arab lands, there will be all the more real estate available in Medinat Yisra’el for Jews who make Aliyah!
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Menashe Sasson is a Sephardic rabbi and American attorney who resides in Jerusalem, Israel.