According to some of the Midrashim Balaam saw the exemplary behavior of the people of Israel he changed his mind • Throughout the years we have suffered curses and turned them into blessings
Illustrative image // Photo: Tomer Reichman
The main theme of the Black case is Balaam's attempts to curse the people of Israel. Balaam tried three times to curse the Israelites and failed three times. Each time his curse became a blessing. The obvious question is: why? Did this radical change stem from Balaam or God? One explanation is found in the Book of Deuteronomy (KG 4: 4): "Ammoni and Moabi will not come in the audience of God ... for anything that did not precede you in bread and water on your way out of Egypt, and who hired you Balaam son of the skin ... for your sake. The Lord your God hears to Balaam and the Lord your God will make you a blessing to curse because your love is the Lord your God. " That is, according to these verses, Balaam really wanted to curse the people of Israel, but the Lord intervened and made his curse a blessing. Indeed, this approach also appears in the Midrash: "When Balaam came to curse Israel, the Lord twisted his tongue and began to bless" (Numbers 22:24).
However, in some other midrashim we have found a different approach. According to those midrashim, Balaam did indeed want to curse the people of Israel, but when he saw the exemplary behavior of the people of Israel, he changed his mind and heart. And we learned in the tractate of Baba Batra (6: 1): "And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and saw Israel dwelling in his tribes" (Numbers 24: 2) - what did he see? See that there are no door openings for each other. He said: "See those who dwell on them and say, 'What good is yours and you' (Numbers 22: 5) that there are no tents in their tents ...". A similar approach is expressed in another Midrash that appears in the great wilderness:
That is, according to these Midrashim, Balaam did not turn his curses into blessings following Gd's intervention, but because he was deeply impressed by the behavior of the Israelites. According to the first Midrash, he was impressed with their modesty which was expressed in the way they set their tents, while according to the Second Midrash, he was impressed. The message of these Midrashim is that the people of Israel in particular, and human beings in general, are able to turn curses into blessings, through their actions, to defeat defeat and bitter sweetness, and here are three classic examples of this phenomenon in the history of the Jewish people:
Is there a greater curse than slavery with Israel in Egypt? Others would resent and take revenge, but we made the same experience a blessing. The Torah commands us time and time again: "And you live not in tune and we do not press because you live in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 22:22); "And you loved Hagar because you were living in the land of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 19:19). And so the curses of slavery led to blessings of social justice and concern for the weak who persisted in Judaism for three thousand years.
Is there a bigger curse than the shit of a second house? In 70 AD, the Temple was destroyed, hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed, and hundreds of thousands were exiled. But the conditions turned the same curse into a series of blessings: they installed prayer instead of sacrifice; They replaced hereditary priesthood with a talent-based rabbinate; They formed the Mishna that became the basis of the Talmud and all subsequent halakha. They thus turned the military defeat into a spiritual victory; They have become a terrible curse to great blessings that have persisted for two thousand years.
The last example occurred in the twentieth century. Is there a greater curse than the Holocaust? A third of the Jewish people were brutally murdered, thousands of Jewish communities were completely wiped out, and the survivors had nowhere to go and who to return to. Nevertheless, from 1948 to 1945, the Jewish people was resurrected. Many of the survivors came to Israel, fought for and settled in Israel, built cities and planted vineyards and established the State of Israel. They have turned a terrible curse into the wonderful blessing of the State of Israel.
Rabbi Emil Hirsch once wrote: "The Jew who acts on the assumption that he is chosen to be a blessing will indeed be a blessing." This is the message of the Black case. By their exemplary behavior, the Israelites made Balaam's curses a blessing. The people of Israel have become a failure for success and defeat and victory.
In recent months we have all been dealing with the curse of the Corona epidemic. We shut down homes, many lost their livelihoods, many fell ill and more than three hundred died. But we also turned the curses into blessings. Many people volunteered and donated money and food. Young people helped the elderly and soldiers helped the ultra-Orthodox. That is, we have become curses for blessings. May the Lord give us the power and wisdom to continue to curse blessings in the coming months until we are also told to "stop the plague" (Numbers 22:10).
Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin is president of the Schechter Association's Talks and Lecturer for Talmud and attended the Schechter Institute and the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary.