Resistance is Futile: Balak 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Do we learn best when we make mistakes first? How forgiving are we of those who make mistakes? Are we confident that they will learn from them, or do we fear that they can’t be trusted?

In God’s encounter with the non-Israelite prophet Balaam, God warns him to not make the damaging mistake of cursing the Israelites – then allows Balaam to do so anyway:

The Pitch: “But God said to Balaam, ‘Do not go with them. You must not curse that people, for they are blessed.’” – Numbers 22:12

Swing #1: “There are two ways in which the nations of the world seek to bring about the destruction of the Jewish people. While some want to do it by humiliating and oppressing them, there are others who want to achieve the same end by showing them too much friendship, thereby leading them into assimilation and conversion. The evil Balaam first tried to curse the Children of Israel. When he saw that it was to no avail … he wanted to employ the other method, to lavish blessings and kind words on them so that they might want to cease being Jews. For this reason, the Lord, blessed be His name, said to him: ‘Keep your favors and your blessings; as I do not want your sting, so, too, I do not want your honey.’” – Divrei Shaarei Hayyim

Swing #2: “At first Balaam was told not to go, but when he insisted he was given permission by God. From this you learn that God lets a man go the way which his heart desires.” – Numbers Rabbah

Swing #3: “This steady insistence on God as the exclusive source of vision is complemented by reiterated phrase-motifs bearing on the disposition of blessings and curses. … God Himself is quick to set matters straight in a night-vision to Balaam in which He uses the same two verb-stems: You must not curse that people, for they are blessed.” – Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative

Late-Inning Questions: Why does God allow Balaam to go through the motions of cursing the Israelites, even though it is impossible? Does God think Balaam will learn from his mistakes? Or, perhaps, does God think that by using reverse psychology, Balaam will come to appreciate the Israelite nation? What does this episode teach us about how we supervise and motivate other people in our lives?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: The commandment to save lives cannot be underemphasized, and in two weeks, you’ll get the chance to do so. Please participate in our blood drive on Friday, July 21st, and then join us for our FNL services and dinner that evening.

The Big Inning at the End: I was fortunate to be in Cincinnati this past Sunday to attend a Cubs-Reds game. This was the first time I’ve seen a big-league stadium with a “social-media center”, an area of the stands where fans can charge their electronic devices while documenting their experiences at the ballpark on the Internet. Is this glimpse into the future  – where we mainly see life’s events through social media platforms – a good way to keep fans engaged?

Shabbat Shalom!