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Balak(Numbers 22:2-25:9)

Know Thine Enemy

Sometimes words are meaningful not only because of the words themselves, but because of who said them.

“G-d does not see any iniquity in Jacob...” (Numbers 23:21)

These words were said in this week's parsha by Bilaam, one of the greatest anti-semites in history.

Between you and me, does that sound like the words of an anti-semite?

Anti-semitism is not like any other hatred. It’s not a hatred of a perceived fault. Rather, it’s a hatred of a virtue.

Bilaam hated the Jewish people because they didn't possess anything vile. In other words, he hated their essential goodness.

Rabbi Noach Weinberg tz''l pointed out that Bilaam could have chosen to join the Jewish people but didn't. Therefore, he was left with only one option -- to hate them.

Mark Twain actually theorized this reason for anti-semitism -- that people create immense hatred when they see others behaving better than themselves. He noted that half the Jewish community of London were refugees from pogroms in Europe, and were being supported by the other half -- a feat he pointed out would be hard to match amongst his Christian brethren.

It is for this reason that the most virulent hatred towards Israel and the Jewish people comes from countries with the worst human rights records.

It should also be apparent therefore, how utterly futile and maybe even counterproductive it is to explain to these people Israel's virtues – this will do little to pacify their hatred.

Nevertheless, as noble it may be, to be a people without iniquity, Bilaam’s words come after a long run of extremely serious and disappointing indiscretions by the Jewish people. Surely the Torah is purposeful in placing Bilaam's words after such an extensive list of national and personal failings, including but not limited to, the infamous rebellion of Korach against Moses, and the catastrophe with the spies of Israel.

These disasters and immense moral lapses were surely not missed by Bilaam, and no less by G-d. So why then does Bilaam proclaim that G-d does not see iniquity in the Jewish people?

The answer is, as Bilaam himself knows and therefore hates, G-d doesn't see iniquity in the Jewish people because it simply isn't there.

Let me explain.

Barbara Walters interviewed a terrorist in an Israeli prison and asked him, “Do you want to kill me?” (Barbara Walters is Jewish).

He replied, “No, I don’t want to kill you, but it’s the will of allah.”

Now Barbara didn’t, but she should have asked him, “So you think you are better than your god?”

Iniquity is doing something that you know is really wrong.

Just remember this very important point. Every Jew you encounter, including the Jews that Bilaam saw, are always trying to do what they think is right. When they mess up, it’s because they made a mistake – in hindsight they wish they hadn’t have done it.

As much as you might think you are objective and clear thinking, G-d does not see iniquity in the Jewish people. So if there is a Jew somewhere to whom you ascribe dastardly motivations, G-d disagrees. That Jew is only making a mistake.

The question therefore is, do you think you are more insightful than G-d?

After all is said and done, you simply can't hate people who make mistakes.

That's what an anti-semite does.

***

BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER:

Question 1: Who do you have less than loving feelings for, and why?

Question 2: Do you identify their wrong as maliciousness or the product of a mistake?

Question 3: Realize how easy it is to turn your feelings around when we characterize another’s actions as mistakes – something we do regularly with our children or friends.

Published: January 12, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 9

(9) Michael, June 23, 2013 6:44 AM

"Barbara Walters interviewed a terrorist in an Israeli prison and asked him, “Do you want to kill me?” (Barbara Walters is Jewish).
He replied, “No, I don’t want to kill you, but it’s the will of allah.”
Now Barbara didn’t, but she should have asked him, “So you think you are better than your god?”"

This is the wrong question. You seem to misunderstand his response. He's not saying that he is going against his god, he's saying that he doesn't want to kill Jews, he is simply fulfilling his god's will by killing Jews. It's nothing personal.

(8) Anonymous, June 22, 2013 4:42 AM

not everyone makes mistakes some are dastardly motivations

Some people are really dastardly do not be naive. Being naive is a sin.

(7) Antonino Vetrano, June 20, 2013 2:52 PM

Hate Ignorance

Love DOES cover the multitude of "sins". The pointing finger is not alone, three others are pointing back at the accuser, the one who hates, the ignorant and the one who is about to change his mind..

(6) Anonymous, July 5, 2011 8:56 PM

Thank you! Toda!

"It’s not a hatred of a perceived fault. Rather, it’s a hatred of a virtue." This piece alone gave me a lot to think about it... what a perception! thanks for sharing. It makes me think if that is not the same of envy.. as Envy would be the fact that you are not worried to have that for yourself.. you just want the other one to be without... That is evil. And.. just trying to see if that feeling was already inside me... anyway.. there is a lot of thinking here.

(5) margaretanne bolland, June 25, 2007 3:46 PM

reiterates the saying "a truly wise person learns from another mans mistakes". So simple yet we can be too proud and stubborn to follow it as we all think we know better than our elders. Thanks for the reminder.

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