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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Parshas Balak, Bilaam and the Pious Hypocrite

At first glance Parshas Balak appears to be confusing. It is named after Balak, King of Moav, yet Balak appears as a minor character in it. It focuses primarily on Bilaam whom G-d treats as a wicked person, yet it is not entirely clear why. After all at every turn Bilaam does nothing more than obey G-d's own commands with seeming humility. When G-d reproves him, Bilaam bows his head and accepts it. He should qualify as a righteous person but he is not. Indeed the people of Israel who repeatedly seem to be sinning, including in this very same Parsha appear to be spiritually inferior to Bilaam and yet it is them G-d chooses and not him and indeed forces Bilaam to proclaim their blessings.

Let us begin with the origin of Bilaam. Bilaam was the descendant of Lavan, the uncle of Yaakov, who took him in and repeatedly deceived him and yet at every turn, Lavan would proclaim his righteousness and declare that he is the wronged party. That kind of pious wickedness, that false hypocritical righteousness was what set him apart from his sister, who went on to give birth to Yaakov because of her very real kindness.

At every turn Bilaam displays that same false piousness, repeatedly agreeing to anything G-d says. When the angel reproves him, he says all the right things but there is no sincerity in any of it. Bilaam is in the end a hypocrite, his outer piousness masks his inner corruption. Even when he is reproved, he merely throws up another layer of hypocrisy as a defense. He defers to those stronger than him and abuses those weaker than him in the typical manner of pious hypocrites, falling before the angel, while beating his donkey.

And it is through Bilaam's own mouth that G-d presents a rebuttal to those of his kind. To those who parade themselves as righteous, G-d replies that he sees within to true righteousness and wickedness and while the Jews may sin, G-d has never rejected them. To those who believe that G-d has replaced the Jews, G-d replies that he is not a man who changes his mind. To those who contend that G-d may promise and not fulfill, G-d replies that his word is eternal. The revelation he gives to Bilaam and Balak is more than a prophecy but a revelation of his eternal hand upon history, so that where men see setbacks and reversals and a jagged line, G-d has foreseen, foretold and set into place a straight line.

The pious hypocrisy of Bilaam was meant to mask the genocidal plans of Balak. Balak praised Bilaam for his power to bless and curse, he might have chosen to have Bilaam bless his people with prosperity and strength to enable them to resist a feared invasion. Instead however he wanted to hire Bilaam for one thing alone, for destruction. Yet where he sought destruction through a curse, G-d determined there would be a blessing for G-d is the source of life where men like Balak serve as nothing more than the source of death. Having seen G-d's word only at night Bilaam believed that he could use it for evil, the revelation of G-d in the daytime overwhelmed him, causing him to prophecy while fallen with open eyes. Men like Bilaam use their phony spirituality to shield the true monsters in order to allow them to carry out their plots of destruction. They were the Bishops who went to Moscow to call for peace during the Cold War and who protect Iran today while demanding boycotts of Israel. Their righteousness is only a mask for their evil but while they can deceive men, they cannot deceive G-d or even the donkeys they ride upon.

There is no contest between the will of G-d and the will of Balak. Those who believe they can follow both and cling to the Ahmadenijads and Arafats of the world while proclaiming themselves to be righteous men of god, reveal themselves for the Bilaams of the present day and their false piety only renders their final judgment more complete. For Israel was flawed but perfect in its perfectibility but pious hypocrites cannot repent for they never recognize that they do evil. Instead above and through their plots and schemes, the voice of G-d speaks clearly in the appointed hour and crushes their false testimony, instead using them to testify to his true greatness and his true will.

3 comments:

Lemon said...

Thanks, this was perfect.
And yes, its exactly right.

Keli Ata said...

A truthful and honest post. There really isn't anything new under the sun.

Delta Vines said...

A pleasant and honest surprise! Good post, thanks!

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