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26 Old Mill Road, Great Neck, NY 11023 (516) 487-6100                                                                 Shabbat Announcements Balak 5781
         to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the   happened thereafter and yet was deemed to be so important
         Lord’s people” (Num. 31:16). In other words, having gone   that it occupied a central place in the telling of Israel’s story
         through what should surely have been a transformative   by Moses, Joshua, Micah and Nehemiah? The answer is
         experience of finding curses turned to blessings in his mouth,  fundamental. We search in vain for an explanation of why
         Bilam remained implacably opposed to the people he had   God should have made a covenant with a people who
         blessed, and seemingly to the God who put the words into   repeatedly proved to be ungrateful, disobedient and
         his mouth, and was still capable of devising a plot to injure   faithless. God Himself threatened twice to destroy the
         the Israelites. It did not change the Israelites, who remained  people, after the Golden Calf and the episode of the spies.
         vulnerable to the Moabites, Midianites, and the enticements   Toward the end of our parsha, He sent a plague against
         of sex, food and foreign gods. It did not change Moses, who   them.
         left it to Pinchas to take the decisive act that stopped the
         plague and was soon thereafter told that Joshua would   There were other religious peoples in the ancient world. The
         succeed him as leader.                               Torah calls Malkizedek, Abraham’s contemporary, “a priest
                                                              of God most high.” (Gen. 14:18). Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law,
         So, if it did not change the Moabites, Midianites, Israelites,   was a Midianite priest who gave his son-in-law sound advice
         Bilam or Moses, what was the point of the episode? What role  as to how to lead. In the book of Jonah, during the storm,
         did it play in the story of our people? For it does play a   while Jonah the Hebrew Prophet was sleeping, the Gentile
         significant role. In Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the people   sailors were praying. When the Prophet arrived at Nineveh
         that the Moabites “did not come to meet you with bread and   and delivered his warning, immediately the people repented,
         water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they   something that happened rarely in Judah/Israel. Malachi,
         hired Bilam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to   last of the Prophets, says: From where the sun rises to
         pronounce a curse on you. However, the Lord your God   where it sets, My name is honored among the nations, and
         would not listen to Bilam but turned the curse into a blessing  everywhere incense and pure oblation are offered to My
         for you, because the Lord your God loves you” (Deut. 23:4-  name; for My name is honored among the nations – said the
         5). Joshua, when he came to renew the covenant after the   Lord of Hosts – but you profane it…” (Mal. 1:11-12)
         conquest of the land, gave an abridged summary of Jewish
         history, singling out this event for attention: “When Balak   Why then choose Israel? The answer is love. Virtually all the
         son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against   Prophets said so. God loves Israel. He loved Abraham. He
         Israel, he sent for Bilam son of Beor to put a curse on you.   loves Abraham’s children. He is often exasperated by their
         But I would not listen to Bilam, so he blessed you again and   conduct, but He cannot relinquish that love. He explains this
         again, and I delivered you out of his hand.” (Josh. 24:9-10).    to the prophet Hosea. Go and marry a woman who is
                                                              unfaithful, He says. She will break your heart, but you will
         The prophet Micah, younger contemporary of Isaiah, said in   still love her, and take her back (Hos. 1-3). Where, though,
         the name of God, “My people, remember what Balak king of   in the Torah does God express this love? In the blessings of
         Moab plotted and what Bilam son of Beor answered,” just   Bilam. That is where He gives voice to His feelings for this
         before he delivers his famous summary of the religious life:   people. “I see them from the mountain tops, gaze on them
         “He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord   from the heights: This is a people that dwells apart, not
         requires of you: to act justly and to love mercy and to walk   reckoned among the nations.” “Lo, a people that rises like a
         humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:5, 8). At the culmination of   lion, leaps up like the king of beasts.” “How good are your
         the reforms instituted by Ezra and Nehemiah after the   tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!” These famous
         Babylonian exile, Nehemiah had the Torah read to the   words are not Bilam’s. They are God’s – the most eloquent
         people, reminding them that an Ammonite or Moabite may   expression of His love for this small, otherwise
         not enter “the assembly of the Lord” because “they did not   undistinguished people.
         meet the Israelites with food and water but had hired Bilam
         to call a curse down on them. Our God, however, turned the   Bilam, the pagan prophet, is the most unlikely vehicle for
         curse into a blessing” (Neh. 13:2).                  God’s blessings. But that is God’s way. He chose an aged,
                                                              infertile couple to be the grandparents of the Jewish people.
         Why the resonance of an event that seemingly had no impact  He chose a man who couldn’t speak to be the mouthpiece of
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         on any of the parties involved, made no difference to what                ord. He chose Bilam, who hated Israel, to be the
                                                              messenger of His love. Moses says explicitly: “The Lord your
                              Great Neck Synagogue            God would not listen to Bilam but turned the curse into a
                     26 Old Mill Road, Great Neck , NY 11023   blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you.”
                                  516-487-6100                That is what the story is about: not Balak, or Bilam, or
                                                              Moab, or Midian, or what happened next. It is about God’s
                         Rabbi Dale Polakoff, Rabbi           love for a people, their strength, resilience, their willingness
                      Rabbi Ian Lichter, Assistant Rabbi      to be different, their family life (tents, dwelling places), and
                   Rabbi Yehoshua Lefkowitz, Intern Rabbi     their ability to outlive empires. The Rambam explains that all
                    Dr. Ephraim Wolf, z”l, Rabbi Emeritus     God’s acts have a moral message for us. I believe that God
                           Yitzy Spinner, Cantor
                    Eleazer Schulman, z”l, Cantor Emeritus    is teaching us that love can turn curses into blessings. It is
                     Rabbi Sholom Jensen, Youth Director      the only force capable of defeating hate. Love heals the
                  Zehava & Dr. Michael Atlas, Youth Directors   wounds of the world.
                      Mark Twersky, Executive Director                    Fast of 17th of Tammuz
                     Dr. James Frisch, Assistant Director                    Sunday, June 26th
                          Jordan Wolf, President
                     Dov Sassoon, Chairman of the Board         Fast Begins: 3:36 am; Fast Ends: 9:12 pm
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