By Rabbi Berel Wein
This article originally appeared on Rabbi Wein’s website
There is an old adage in both the Jewish and non-Jewish world which states something like this: “I can deal with my enemies but Lord please help me with my friends.” The problem figure in this week’s parsha is not so much Balak, who is easily identified as the enemy of the Jewish people, as it is Bilaam whose mouth utters soaring blessings and compliments to the Jews.
Hypocrisy has always abounded in the world and we should not be surprised at its presence in our personal and national lives. Bilaam’s blessings are seductive to our ears – he was a wordsmith of extraordinary ability – and everyone likes to hear compliments and praise even when we know deep down in our being that they are not really sincere or meant.
Bilaam’s praises led to disasters and death for thousands of Jews and eventually he was killed by the very people that he blessed with his false praise. All of us may have many acquaintances but good, reliable, truthful, loyal friends are certainly a rarer commodity. If this is true even regarding personal matters and friends how much truer is it regarding nations and allies.
The well-known and very accurate description of the situation is that there are no friendships between nations, only interests. Bilaam’s interest was to destroy us, even with kindness and blessings if necessary. Many Jews foolishly succumbed to his blandishments with fatal results.
We still treasure Bilaam’s words of how goodly are our tents and dwelling places. Yet deep down in our souls we are aware of his enmity and poisonous hatred of us. He is only the forerunner of many others of his type over the long centuries of our existence. And they are certainly still around today.
As a minority in the world and with a very small state we are understandably desirous of acceptance by the outside world. We constantly cast about for ways, policies, speeches, and actions that will somehow achieve this desired goal. Yet Bilaam himself informed us that we are pursuing an unattainable object. He characterized us as being a singular and lonely nation that will not be counted fairly and equally among the nations of the world.
Rashi points out that when Israel rejoices very few if any of the outside world rejoices with us. Jews have always been the ultimate outsider and now our state of Israel is treated as such by the other nations of the world. Bilaam’s characterization of us has been proven to be exactly correct. We certainly do not desire to be the pariah of the world but we have survived being in that situation for centuries on end.
Bilaam is not our friend because his financial and personal interests lie with Balak and Moab. And as mentioned above, interests always trump friendship. There is therefore much to be learned from Bilaam’s words and actions in this week’s parsha.
The rabbis portrayed Bilaam as the quintessential evil prophet – vain, arrogant, corrupt, unscrupulous but very accurate in his assessments and predictions. We should continue to be astute enough to recognize him in whatever form he now manifests himself.