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Balak – Death Will Not Part Us

One is left wondering what inspired the Prophet Bilaam to praise the Israelite nation as he did. Bilaam found beautiful things to say about this nomadic nation, which had been shifting in the wilderness for nearly 40 years by this time. This is not the image we have of the people. All we hear from them is bickering and complaining. The food, the water, their homesickness of Egypt.

Look at our nation today. The people are divided by various ideologies and worldviews. The Knesset resembles a cat fight more than a Parliament and we are at each others throats constantly for one reason or another.

The events of the past few weeks have shown us a glimmer of what Bilaam saw.

The missing boys became the center of our national attention. For the past few weeks we have held our collective breath, hoping and praying for the safe return of the boys. Vigils were held in Jewish communities around the world as well as rallies in their support. The ‘Bring Back Our Boys’ campaign dominated Jewish websites and social media. Tens of thousands of school children have been reading Psalms daily in merit of the boys’ safe return. People around the Jewish world made resolutions to be better. Here in Wellington some of us observed Shabbat until later than required on Saturday night. Every morning I anxiously scanned the news headlines, hoping that the boys had been found and were home safe.

We woke up to the tragic news on Tuesday morning (NZ time) that the bodies had been found in a shallow grave of rocks. There was an audible ‘thud’ as our hearts dropped and our silent cry filled the air. We had grown close to the boys during the two and a half weeks they were missing. They had become a central part of our lives; we had built a relationship with them. We all lost three sons, three brothers, three grandchildren. The Jewish world was plunged into mourning and sadness.

How could this happen? What about all the prayers, the millions of Jews around the world who’s thoughts were filled with hope for the boys? Where did those tears go? Was it all for naught?

“How can I curse, when God has not cursed; how can I anger when God has shown no anger.” (Numbers 23:8) Bilaam’s opening words of prophecy ring true for us this week. There is nothing we can say, no words. We are simply devastated.

When Aaron’s two sons died during the dedication of the Tabernacle Moses had a small consolation to give Aaron. “That is what God spoke, ‘I will be sanctified through those nearest Me, thus I will be honored before the entire people.'” (Leviticus 10:3) God chooses his sacrifices from the greatest souls.

The unity and mutual support within the Jewish people these last few weeks has been incredible. Everyone joined hands and hearts, first in hope and prayer, later in grief and sorrow. It was surely reminiscent of Mt. Sinai, when all of the people stood as ‘one man with one heart.’ (Rashi’s comment, Exodus 19:2) We set aside our differences and joined our voices. We became one.

The praises of Bilaam now don’t seem so distant. “How goodly are your tents O’ Jacob, your dwelling places O’ Israel.” (Numbers 24:5) The Jewish household has been repaired, if only for a short while. We have seen a glimpse of what Bilaam saw, a nation who ‘dwells alone, and is not reckoned among the other peoples. Who can count the dust of Jacob and put a number upon the ranks of Israel.’ (Numbers 23:9-10) Our love for our children, for our fellow Jews has been demonstrated. Not one member of our nation is dispensable or a mere number. We have indeed all lost three children. And finally, “He will not lie and rest until he eats his prey…” (Numbers 23:24) We will not rest until the perpetrators will have been brought to justice.

When the Jews of Shushan and the entire Persian empire were threatened with annihilation at the hands of Haman, Esther sent a message to Mordechai: “Go gather all the Jews who reside in Shushan; and fast on my behalf and don’t eat or drink for three days, night and day. Thus I will approach the king, and if I am lost, I am lost.” Esther’s first line of defense was the unity of the nation. ‘Go, gather the Jews.’ Bring them together in unity. Our first and most powerful response to any danger is to circle the wagons, to come together.

Our boys, our children, our brothers, have brought us together, united in prayer and sorrow. They made the ultimate sacrifice, and have sanctified God’s name through their trial. Life may return to normal, and we hope it does. But let us remember who we are, what this ordeal has taught us. We shouldn’t need others to remind us of our powers through such challenges. We should be aware of them without reminders.

Rabbi Jonathan sacks wrote a great insight. A fundamental aspect of the Jewish faith is our belief in the next world. Curiously, there is no explicit mention of this in all of the written Torah, and not very much is said in the Oral Torah. Yet, it remains a basic tenet of our faith. Why is there so little attention in our literature to this doctrine? Rabbi Sacks writes that the Torah was well aware of the danger brought by too much focus on the afterlife. It is easy to see the next world as the kind of end which justifies any means, but the end never justifies the means. The Torah’s caution is vindicated many times over in our generation as it has in other generations. We have discussed this recently and we find Bilaam has noted this long before us. “Woe,” says Bilaam, “who can live when the name of God is invoked.” (Numbers 24:23) Who can live in a time where God’s name is used to justify violent actions and terror! #gallery-1 { margin: auto; } #gallery-1 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 33%; } #gallery-1 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-1 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

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