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Tuesday, February 27, 2024 - 18 Adar I 5784
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Taking the Bait

After years of suffering and travail, the Jewish people finally were liberated from under the crushing thumb of the most oppressive and cruel nation of the time. Despite numerous obstacles in their path, they miraculously crossed a sea and traveled through a barren desert. Despite being a huge population of nearly two million men, women and children, all their needs were provided for: They drank water from the well of Miriam, and ate from the manna which fell generously each morning. They were led and protected by the clouds of glory that hovered over their camp, which absorbed rocks and arrows, smoothed out the hills and valleys, and moderated the heat and dryness of the desert.

Along their journey, a number of nations attempted to attack the Jews, but they emerged victorious from every fracas. Their success in battle roused the fear of the surrounding nations. Hearing of their advance, Balak the king of Moav approached the famous sorcerer, Bilaam, and asked him to curse the Jewish nation. Balak was motivated by his fear of a powerful nation; Bilaam, however, was motivated by nothing less than hatred. His talent lay in divining the moment that G-d’s ire was aroused; then G-d would be receptive to his pronounced curses.  Bilaam was more than agreeable to Balak’s plan to curse the Jews. However, he knew that he would be successful only with G-d’s consent.

G-d gave Bilaam permission to go with Balak, but warned him that he would be able to speak only the words that G-d put into his mouth. Bilaam advised Balak to build altars and offer sacrifices to G-d. He hoped to earn G-d’s favor and then draw down curses on the Jewish people. However, G-d had other plans. When Bilaam opened his mouth to curse, the most beautiful blessings flowed forth instead.

After three more tries, Bilaam realized that this tactic was doomed to failure: G-d would not allow him to curse the Jews. He therefore tried a different approach. He advised Balak to entice the Jewish people to sin, by sending in the daughters of Midian to seduce them. This plot of Bilaam’s succeeded. The Jewish people succumbed to sin, and G-d sent a plague to punish them. What Balak and Bilaam could not accomplish through warfare or through sorcery, they accomplished through deceit, and the Jews were complicit in their own downfall.

The parallels to the story of Balak and Bilaam are eerily present today. The Jewish people, so recently ravaged by the Holocaust, were miraculously spared by G-d and reestablished in their own homeland. The surrounding nations attempted to destroy them militarily, but G-d intervened and the Jews were victorious.

Seeing that they would never win on the battlefield, the enemies of the Jewish people tried a different tactic: to seduce the Jews by dangling the promise of “peace” in front of them. The promise of acceptance by the nations of the world proved to be enticing. Time and again, Israel fell for the bait and signed on to ruinous treaties that empowered its enemies while leaving the Jews weak and defenseless.

When will we learn? The protector of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. Let us not fall prey to the seductions of the nations. They are uninterested in peace, and have no love for the Jewish people. We must look out for our own interests and trust in G-d, who has protected us until now, to continue to preserve us. Above all, we must preserve our modesty and purity, which the Torah teaches is a boon for protection. Then, “Our camp will be holy,” and we will “dwell securely in our land, with no fear.”


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