Yom Sheini, 18 Av 5779
Monday, 19 August 2019
Parashat Balak 2014

Parashat Balak
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein
4th July 2014

The fable of Balaam is truly a pantomime to match Mother Goose or Sleeping Beauty: There is good and bad; multiple confusions amongst the characters whilst there is generally clarity for the audience to enjoy the absurdities; a battle of powers – Heavenly versus earthly or conceptual love and friendship versus greed and selfishness; riddles and rhymes, similes and metaphors and even the first panto, talking beast in history!

The absurd confusions make for such hilarious fare – assuming one appreciates a very particular humour – but when confusion is the reality of a situation we are very often struck by inertia. Choosing one course of action or thought over another in a confused situation can lead to a multiplication of ills and a curative path being chanced upon quite unlikely.

This is how I feel when I read of the so many of the crises facing our world at this time, old assumptions are challenged and what we thought we knew and was sure is contradicted. I always – of course naively - assumed that Jews in countries such as Russia and Ukraine would have some sense of affinity with their nation but mainly live and think like me because they are Jewish. I mistook of course that they might be Jewish but were very much Russian or Ukrainian Jews not British Jews like me. How could it be that Jews in Crimea could be comfortable, even happy with the Russian annexation of the peninsula? The confusion is not merely mine, read more from Alex Kagan the Director of World Union for Progressive Judaism in the Regionhttp://www.wupj.org/Publications/Newsletter.asp?ContentID=834

I am sure much will be clearer by the time you read this but as I write on Tuesday morning, there is still incredible confusion relating to the murders of three Israeli teenagers: Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaer. There is confusion about the circumstances of their abductions, the perpetrators and the Israeli response. Confusion might not be a weakness in this instance with the divided meeting of the Israeli Cabinet reflecting the plurality of opinions as to an ‘appropriate’ response – in other words, democracy.

These are just the big examples of confusion affecting Jews around the world. To these we might add more affected others, not least in Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria. I am also confused, perhaps conflicted about the blessings of Balaam. On the one hand I do want to hear prophecies of the Israelites ability to survive, to be strong and insure their continuity but I not at in the binary biblical mind set that the Israelite survival must come with a cost to others.

Perhaps a closer look at the blessings Balaam proffers on the Israelites provides some wisdom for us this week as to how we might respond to these confusing times and situations. As Nehama Leibowitz notes, the first blessing (Num 23:7-10) relates to the here and now, the second (23:18-24) to the immediate future and the third (24:5-9) to a distant future when conflict is no longer needed: May that time not be too distant.