Monday, July 2, 2007

Parashat Balak

Jewish tradition has mapped the Torah onto the year and sectioned it into weekly portions, so that in a year's time, the Torah will be read entirely. The portions are named and sequential, so that they are recognizable and read and referred to in the same week, across the board. Last weeks section, called a parasha, or parsha, was Parashat Balak.

Parashat Balak recounts the story of King Balak of the Moabites, who sends for Bileam (Balaam, Bil'am) to curse the Israelites. When Bileam sets out to do so, he rides a donkey that is stopped three times by an angel. Three times he hits the ass and only by the third time understands he is to bless the Israelites in stead.

There are two podcasts I listened to in order to get a teaching on the parsha, KMTT and Rav Dovid's. As usual the teachings are very different, but what was interesting is that I took from them an almost similar bottom-line, though this line was arrived at in a totally different manner. Rabbi Yonatan Snowbell, in KMTT, points out that throughout Sefer Bamidbar (Numbers, Numeri) the Jews are miserably failing by whatever prescript they are met and nevertheless, Bileam is stopped from cursing them. The lesson is, according to Snowbell, that a Jew can always mend his ways and is encouraged to do so. He may be punished, severely at times, but will never be cursed. In other words, one assumes some innate moral quality in the Jew.

Also according to Rabbi Dovid Bendory, drives to this moral quality, but in a much more mystical fashion. In his view Bileam represents the immorality of the non-Jews. Bileam, being this mighty man who can bless or curse and allows his corruption by Balak of the Moabites, once he is sufficiently lured to do so. The Jews on the other hand, also have a mighty prophet on their side, Moshe, but do not lure him into corruption, hence show their innate moral quality. In spite of, adding the words of Snowbell, miserably failing most of the time in acting according to that morality.

So what I see, is that in very different ways, the Jews are encouraged by these interpretations to lead their life morally, that is according to Torah. I feel always a bit uneasy with this exclusion towards Jews and Torah. I am the eavesdropper who is not properly Jewish and therefore is not addressed, maybe even the haughty one who is on the part of Balak and Bileam. But then again the encouragement to lead a moral life is laudable in any case, applicable to everybody. For a non-Jew to hear this, only means that he has an ultimate excuse to stray as he is not Jewish and the appeal is not directed toward him. But at the same time, since he understand and sees the quality, is invited to follow nonetheless and may choose to do so. Hence, in the end, the morality is for everybody. I would add: if it is not for everybody, it is for none.
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