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Old adversaries return to plague the Jewish people. Bilaam, according to midrash, was one of the advisors to the Egyptian Pharaoh. He was the one that advocated the enslavement and eventual destruction of the Jews in Egypt. His plan was thwarted by the intervention of Heaven. Nevertheless, a substantial number of Jews were destroyed in the centuries of Egyptian bondage and slavery.

One would have thought that Bilaam would have taken the hint and relented in his efforts to destroy Israel. But as this week's Torah reading amply illustrates, he once again intensifies his hatred against the Jewish nation. But now he intends to kill them with kindness. He showers them with compliments and noble rhetoric. He wishes to lull them into believing that he is really their friend and admirer. And by so doing, he will corrupt them with the sexual immorality for which he himself is so justly famous.
The Jewish people, like all people, are moved by flattery and compliments. Everyone wants to hear others say nice things about them. In Yiddish there is a famous folk-saying that no one ever received a slap for flattering someone else. Therefore, it is no wonder that the flattering words of Bilaam are remembered and treasured by the Jewish people even until today.
We have ignored the sinister hateful message that lay behind these words and merely bask in the nice things that he said about us. But the truth is that thousands of Jews died in the desert because of him and the advice that he rendered to Balak, the Moabites and Midianites. Bilaam was truly a bitter enemy.
What I have always found difficult to understand is the motivation behind the hatred of Bilaam for the Jewish people. After all, he is a man of great intelligence and gifted with prophetic qualities. The rabbis of the Talmud even allowed him to be equated with our great teacher Moshe in certain of his qualities. He is a man of academia and of the cloth. He has wealth and honor, position and power. So why squander all of this on an irrational hatred of the people that have done him no harm and have not threatened him in any way?
This question is not restricted to the ancient Bilaam found in the Torah reading of this week. It is just as valid a question in our time, as to the attitude of certain members of academia and religious leadership. Their preoccupation with demonizing the State of Israel particularly and the Jewish people generally is baffling to any thoughtful observer of current events.
The only conclusion that can be drawn is that such hatred is beyond logical explanation and rationale argument. Bilaam serves as a prototype for much of what we see and experience in our own time. On the surface, most of our enemies decry anti-Semitism and claim to be only friendly critics, with our welfare and benefit in mind. They are full of unsolicited advice and remain almost willfully blind to the realities of the situation in which we find ourselves and must operate within. Again, Bilaam is our most insidious and consistent enemy.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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