Portion Balak – My Bar Mitzva - and the Arabs in Israel

Portion Balak – My Bar Mitzva - and the Arabs in Israel


So this is my Bar Mitzva Portion, but I can never understand it. The world's greatest Israel hater (Balak the king) asks the world's greatest curser (Bilam the sorcerer) to help him knock off the Israelites before they get to Israel.  Did he pay a down payment? Did they sign a contract? No!

Something is fishy here, and it gets fishier!.

There are offers of rewards by Balak, and there are limiting contractual phrases (like Bilaam saying "whatever the L-rd puts in my mouth I can say").

In my mouth? Is there a contract? Do anti-Semites believe their complaints - or is the truth that they use hatred to control others and push their greedy agendas?

G-d said "Don't go" to Bilaam. But then Bilaam gets the Holy One to change his mind.  He is "allowed" to join Balak – but with some reservations?  Doesn't sound like the G-d of Abraham Isaac and Jacob to me. And - Doesn't sound like the G-d who knocked off the Egyptian army at the Red Sea.  !

What is the purpose in this strange story? And the purpose for today?

So my Bar Mitzva was on Thursday July 4th so family members wouldn't have to drive on Shabbat. I read the Torah, someone took a movie of my grandfather having an Aliyah – and ever since then I have wondered why that was my Portion.

So this week a son of friends called me before his unit gets settled in to Gaza. Great kid! And I shared what I had studied that evening from the Mahara"l of Prague. (I paraphrase here).

Bilaam pronouned curses that our Houses of Worship and Study be separated from the heart of the Israel-Almighty relationship – but the curses were turned into ETERNAL BLESSING for ALL Jewish Houses " Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov…".

And his cursing of the homes of Israel was turned into blessings by the Almighty -  "Mishkenotecha Yisrael" - they were and shall be blessed.

So who knows how to turn the curses of people who attack us into eternal blessings?

Reb Shlomo Carlebach  ztz"l, taught us that when he went to Israel in 1967 after the Six Day War, that the Arabs he met in the former Jordanian Egyptian and Syrian territories were HAPPY that Israel won that war. The previous bosses kept them impoverished for their own purposes.

 G-d's miraculous victory gave us an opportunity to forge friendships – and to turn curses into blessings of cooperation!

Okay – so politicians did not share Rabbi Carlebach's vision, and here we are today...

So today (Friday) one of my neighbors asks advice for a family member who married an Israeli Arab criminal and is estranged from her family.

So I said "Invite them – and him - over. I would like to meet them." He shrugged me off saying "You are American and grew up with gentiles and blacks and irreligious Jews – but here that won't work."

 :So that's IT!  It is my connection to the Portion of Balak! 

Know the curses out there.  There is the curse - BUT there is the promise that the Almighty can overturn every curse and forge them into blessings.

Someone I know subsidizes an art program for school kids from a rabidly anti-Jewish Arab town. Maybe that's their part in transforming hatred into cooperation. Maybe my part is now to meet the Arab criminal and make it possible for the children to be reunited with their people - and make the father a friend of Israel?

May we all live up to the opportunities in these times of Balaks and Bilaams.  We have to somehow defeat the anti-Semites, and to put in some efforts to turn the cursing into blessings. 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Andy Eichenholz