This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Balak (5772)
This week’s Torah portion tells an amazing story of ultimate Anti-Semitic curses transformed to blessings.
Balak the king of Moav hires Bilam, the infallible sorcerer from Midyan to curse the Jews but instead he prophesized the ultimate blessing: the arrival of the true Jewish Messiah when the world will be filled with meaning, peace and blessing.
But at first glance this is not understood. G-d is the king of the Universe and the Jews are His chosen people. Why didn’t He just bless the Jews without Bilam’s curses? Why does He need Bilam’s curses to bring blessings?
There must be a deep message here and in order to understand it here is a story (Sichat HaShavua #1331).
This story occurred less than ten years ago when Rabbi Mordechi Eliyahu, one of the Chief Rabbis of Israel received an official invitation from the President of France Jacque Chirac to visit his country.
Chirac was known as a hard line, pro-Arab leader that was constantly pushing Israel to cede territories to the Palestinians thus bringing French-Israeli relations to an all time low.
Rabbi Eliahu, on the other hand, was a very outspoken individual with little patience for the formalities that are the essence of French culture. So the members of the Israeli embassy there was understandably very tense and apprehensive that the Rabbi might say or do something that would make things even worse than they were.
But as soon as the Rabbi arrived they calmed down. His outgoing and friendly demeanor put everyone at ease and it was obvious that the meeting would be nothing other than formalities and smiles.
But they were wrong. For instance, at the first leg of the visit at the official tour of the French National Museum the Rabbi demonstrated what seemed to be a shameful ignorance and insensitivity to French heritage.
When he was shown the throne of Napoleon he asked if it was for sale, if so, for how much and how long ago did Napoleon live. Then when shown one of the rooms of King Louis the Fourteenth he asked if this King was a moral person which caused everyone to blush and even laugh behind the Rabbi’s back. The tour guide explained that the chair of Napoleon was of great historical and national importance and was certainly not for sale and regarding King Louis; although he was not known to be a particularly moral person but nevertheless France is proud of him as part of their heritage.
Afterwards they returned to the office of Chirac for an official ceremony where, after many introductions and formalities, Rabbi Eliahu was invited to say a few words that would be simultaneously translated into French.
Rabbi Eliahu began by describing in detail his tour of the museum and his questions that caused everyone to laugh.
At this point the Rabbi’s wife noticed that the translator was not paying attention to every word her husband was saying and, realizing that her husband was making some sort of point, requested that the chief Rabbi of France, who was also present, should take over the task.
Rabbi Eliahu continued, “In my visit to the Museum I learned that the chair of Napoleon was not for sale because of its historical importance and that King Louis, although not a man of pure character is nevertheless revered and honored as a French hero.
“I noticed that you expected me to honor these men also and were surprised when I did not do so although I am not French and do not even live in France.
“If so, my dear friends, I ask the same thing from you: We Jews also have our founders: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob but not of two or three hundred years ago and of questionable character like yours but of three and four thousand years ago and of impeccable integrity and selflessness.
“Is it too much to ask that just as you expect us to respect your founders and kings so you should, in turn, respect ours?
“For instance, over three thousand years ago Moses brought us to the Promised Land and some four hundred years afterwards our King David and King Solomon secured the city of Jerusalem.
“That is our history.
“Does it not make simple sense that just as you expect us to honor your heritage so you should honor ours? If the chair of Napoleon is not for sale then how can you expect us to sell parts of Israel and Jerusalem?”
The members of the Israeli embassy were in panic: this was exactly what they were afraid of! In the moment of silence that followed they were certain that Chirac would simply storm out of the room in a fury.
But they were in for a big surprise. All of the French officials present, including the President himself, stood and gave the Rabbi an ovation!
In fact Chirac warmly shook the Rabbi’s hand, called one of his assistants and whispered something in his ear that caused him to leave the room and return in just seconds with a small, velvet box.
Chirac asked for silence and then announced, “This medallion is usually reserved for visiting presidents but I have never heard words like these. They so impressed me that I am presenting this to you.” And when he finished speaking the crowd applauded again.
Perhaps this answers our question. The reason G-d created (and creates constantly) this world is for man to transform it to ‘heaven on earth’. In other words, to reveal in its every detail that G-d is ONE; this is the motto and mission statement of Judaism and it is for this we were ‘chosen’ by G-d.
Namely, it is our job to do as Rabbi Eliahu did to Mr. Chirac in our story, wake the world up to this fact….so that ALL mankind will join us (see Rashi on Deut. 6:4).
And the first to really realize this was Bilam when his curses were transformed into blessing.
This serves as an inspiration and a surety to us that with NO DOUBT the good in everything can be revealed.
Let this be a lesson to us as well; when we are confronted with difficulties, disappointments and crises we must remember that they are G-dsent tasks given to us in order that we transform them by positive thought, speech and action.
And just one more good deed, word or even thought can make it happen sooner.
Then prophesies and blessings of Bilam will come to fruition with….
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