Friday, July 07, 2006


Opposite Ends

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

Parashat Balak portion is one in which the hidden is in conflict with the visible. It deals with blessings and curses, magic, guessing and even a talking donkey. Nowadays, a film producer could take all of these elements and create a wonderful movie like "Shrek". But our portion is no less fascinating, where two out-and-out villains receive so much screen time.

Parashat Balak portion is the first since the beginning of Exodus in which the Prophet is not Moses, but a non-Jewish stranger by the name of Bilam ben Be'or. Balak , King of Moab, knew that our forefather Moses' and Israel's uniqueness lay in his power of speech, and hired a foreign magician by the name of Bilam to fight Israel using his voice, with a series of curses.

But...was Bilam really a prophet?

One of the main principles of the Jewish faith, which is included in the Hymn Yigdal, is "There hath never arisen in Israel a prophet like unto Moses". Based on this same principle the Midrash tells us: "None has arisen in Israel but one has arisen among the gentile nations. And who is it? It is Bilam Ben Be'or" (Sifrei Devarim 357).

This saying is rather can one compare our forefather Moses to the evil Bilam? Is there a stronger antithesis in the world than that of these two characters?

The late Professor Y. Leibowitz Z"L offers in his book "Seven Years of Discussions on the Portion of the Week" the explanation of Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, also known as the "SHLA". He says: "Moses and Bilam are the right side (Sitra Di-Yeminah) and the left side (Sitra Di-Smolah) which arise from one supreme root".

What is the difference between left and right?

It is widely accepted in traditional commentary that the right side represents benevolence, and the left side judgement and brutality. The mystic saying of the SHLA becomes feasible and relevant when we apply it to our own reality.

The world is full of people who act in the name of heaven. But there are those who act on the right side of G-d and those on the left. There is a Moses and there is a Bilam.

The Lord "makes light and creates darkness". He is the source of inspiration for both the good and the bad in the world. The righteous believer can become an angel...and the evil believer can become the devil. In this world, more than a few people commit murder in the name of G-d, but more than a few also endanger their lives in the name of G-d. However, and this is the important thing, G-d is not neutral in this particular argument between good and evil, light and dark. He is not a passive spectator.

And, you may rightfully ask, how can He not be neutral if He himself created both light and darkness, good and bad?

An interesting answer appears in the Midrash in connection with the Creation of the world, and in particular, the creation of light and darkness: On the first day of Creation it was said "And G-d called the light Day, and called the darkness Night" (Genesis 1, 5).

Our sages analyzed the text and discovered that there is no full parallel between its beginning and its end. The text should have said: "and the darkness G-d called Night". Why isn't it written this way? Rabbi Eliezer said: "G-d never connects His Name with the evil, but rather with the good". What appears in the text is not "And G-d called the light Day, and G-d called the darkness Night", but rather "and called the darkness Night".

It is precisely during these times, when various fanatics want to bring us darkness and chaos in the name of G-d, we need to know exactly where they stand in the order of things: next to Bilam, hater of mankind and lover of strife, and to understand that even if they say so, G-d will never be on their side because " G-d never connects His Name with the evil"...nor with the darkness.