The parsha this week concentrates itself mainly on a propaganda war against the Jewish people. Balaam is hired by Balak to curse the Jewish people. Cursing the Jewish people is translated in our world today as academic boycotts, biased news reporting, disinvestment in Israeli companies and projects, and hypocritical hand wringing over the plight of those who openly advocate the destruction of the Jewish state and its people. Cursing a people creates a climate of hostility and enmity towards that people. The Nazi propaganda effort against the Jews seventy years ago bore bitter fruit for all. The disinformation, forgeries and lies perpetrated by the KGB isolated Israel in the world. The Moslem world curses us daily and contributes greatly therefore to the atmosphere of Israel-bashing that is such an awful part of Western society and its intelligentsia and academics.
Balak therefore chose a shrewd and powerful weapon in Balaam – the master craftsman of innuendo, hypocrisy and curses. Balak is well aware of the power of such curses to undermine the innocent and justify the guilty – to create the Orwellian world that we live in today. And therefore to him, hiring Balaam was certainly a good investment. For curses certainly do work, perhaps not literally in the general sense of actually being translated into superstitious spells and immediate disasters, but rather in the long run of the public influence over others and the creation of a mindset that certainly can, in the fullness of time, turn violent and lethal.
God warns Balaam not to curse the Jewish people “for they are blessed.” Over the long millennia of our historical existence we have been cursed, reviled, murdered and seemingly doomed for extinction. Nevertheless, God’s statement to Balaam rings true. The Jewish people have remained a truly blessed people. There is no field of human endeavor that the Jewish people as a whole, and individual Jews particularly, has not excelled in and always to the benefit of all humankind. It is this very blessedness of the Jewish people that so infuriates those that curse us.
Balaam is crestfallen at the failure of his efforts to curse Israel. He is forced to admit that Israel’s tents are goodly and its dwelling places have an element of holiness to them. He sees them as an eternal people, unburdened by historical imperatives or current political correctness. His desire to curse them never wanes and he continues to attempt to destroy them by his advice and wiles, for after all his hatred of the Jewish people prevents rational or even self-beneficial behavior.
But deep down in his heart, he knows that his donkey is right. He will not prevail with his curses for the people of Israel, because, with all of its weaknesses and imperfections, it is a blessed nation. Balaam and Balak are not mere individuals. They are prototypes of the real enemies, open and sly alike, that we face. The parsha of this week, like all of the parshiyot of the Torah, is not ancient history. It is current events.
Rabbi Berel Wein