Parshat Balak - Beware of the dangers of Assimilation (and the 3 Weeks)
One of the most profound and influential comments ever made about Jewish destiny was made by the pagan prophet Bilaam in this week’s sedra:
As I see them from the mountain tops,
Gaze on them from the heights,
Behold it is a people that dwells alone,
Not reckoned among the nations. (Num. 23:9)
To many – Jews and non-Jews, admirers and critics alike – that has seemed to epitomise the Jewish situation: a people that stands outside history and the normal laws governing the fate of nations.
Reb Shlomo zt"l when introducing his song - "Gam Ki Eileich- though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear any evil, for You are with me," (Psalm 23), with a lamentation and a cry, that Israel has no friends in the world. He said that this makes him sad but also happy because only good people befriend Israel.
Reb Shlomo continued singing and inspiring us with confidence, teaching that really we are not alone- "For You are with me." Hashem is always our friend.
Hashem too is alone, so to speak. But really He is not alone, because He has us, the Children of The Covenant- we are and always will be with Him. And one day, let it be soon, the whole world will be with Him.
The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz
This Sunday,21 July it will be the 17th of Tammuz, the second of the four annual fast days commemorating and mourning
The destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. With this fast we begin the 'three weeks' of mourning; also known as בין המצרים - 'between the narrows'. The Talmud tells us that the 2nd Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of 'sinat Chinam' -- baseless hatred. We also learn that anyone who does not get to see the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash in his days, it is as if it was destroyed in his days. What do we need to do to help rebuild the Beit Hamikdash? Many holy Rabbis teach that since the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of 'sinat chinam', it will be rebuilt out of 'ahavat chinam' -- baseless love.
May we all be blessed to truly renew and deepen our 'achdut', oneness and unification with each other and with Hashem, and may we merit to see the reestablishment and return of the Beit Hamikdash, [which is already complete, it only needs to be brought down from heaven to earth] quickly in our days, together with the speedy arrival of Mashiach Tzidkeinu. Amen, kein yehi ratzon.
Reb Shlomo Teaching 3 weeks
This is a gleaning from a teaching of the holy Kotzker Rebbe on the verse:
יד וְעַתָּה, הִנְנִי הוֹלֵךְ לְעַמִּי; לְכָה, אִיעָצְךָ, אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה הָעָם הַזֶּה לְעַמְּךָ, בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים.
24:14 And now, behold, I go unto my people; come, and I will announce to thee what this people shall do to thy people in the end of days.'
Here is how the Kotzker Rebbe reads the verse: Now behold I am going back to my people, let me advise you, how to transform this people [the Jews] to be 'your nation' in the end of days.
Consider. What can we learn from our body about assimilation? Just like each organ has its unique identity and place in the body, and thereby contributes to the well-being of the entire body, so too, we the Children of Israel have to maintain our unique identity and be in our ‘place’, in their community, in the Holy Land, to live authentic Jewish lives; authentic to ourselves and authentic to the whole world.
Before receiving the Holy Torah, Hashem initiated us into being His Kingdom of Kohanim, His holy nation. Though Balaam knew this very well, but because he was so self-centered, wicked and evil, he continued to devise strategies to bring about the downfall of the Jewish People.
Prophesying about the end of days, Bilam tells Balak that in the end all the civilizations will crumble and only the Jews will remain. But then, the wicked Bilam goes on to advise Balak about how he could bring about our downfall. He advised Balak that they send out their girls to seduce us, at first sexually and then into idolatry - open your gates to these people and seduce them into assimilation, that is how you will succeed in detaching them from Hashem, 'rachmana litzlan', in the end of days.
The test of Assimilation is one of the greatest tests we face in these very ends of days that we are living in NOW. Not so long ago, in America and in Europe it was very difficult to observe Shabbos and kosher; Sunday was the only day off, you were expected to work on. It was difficult to keep kosher. Many mitzvot fell by the wayside, but rates of assimilation were low. Today, it’s much easier to keep Shabbos and Kosher- these are no longer big challenges. Our biggest challenges are assimilation, loss of identity and self-hate.
Often in our history there have been voices stating that we want to be like all the nations. Jews love the world; and aside from all other reasons, behind this desire to give up on our unique identity, lies an instinctual very Jewish drive to bring about unity. But without knowing or understanding who we are and our role in the world we erroneously think, ‘if I/we are different how will there be unity? Is it not better to blend and assimilate?’
Unfortunately, many of our brothers and sisters, very sadly, have even swallowed the lies of the world against the Jewish People and even believe that being in our own land is an obstacle to peace. This is Cognitive dissonance!
Cognitive Dissonance (Leon Festinger) According to cognitive dissonance theory, there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency among their cognitions (i.e., beliefs, opinions). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance.
If the anti-semite hates me and I don't know why, if it doesn’t make sense, I experience cognitive dissonance. To eliminate this dissonance some will rationalize the enemy's evil and hatred and think- it must somehow be my fault, and some go so far as to hate themselves as Jews.
Assimilation does not contribute positively – neither to ourselves, nor to the other nations. Like the organs in our body, an “assimilated” organ does not and cannot fulfil its function. The Jewish People are a vital organ of the world. In order to fulfill our purpose in the world, in order to contribute to the well-being of the nations and all of creation we must be true to our identity. Assimilation leads to disconnection from our roots, from our mitzvot and from the study of Torah.
Assimilation comes in many shades and grades. Within my ‘self’ am I true to my ‘self’? On a deeper level lies the question what is in my consciousness? Is it me, my ‘self’ or is Hashem at the core of my thoughts and consciousness? Am I a disciple of Avraham Avinu or the wicked Bilam?
The story is told of a young scholar who had joined the Chassidim of the holy Chozeh of Lublin [Rebbe Jacob Isaac Horowitz (Hebrew: יעקב יצחק הורוביץרבינו ), known as The Seer of Lublin" (החוזה מלובלין), ha-Chozeh MiLublin; c. 1745 - August 15, 1815) was a leading Hasidic Rebbe from Poland.]
His chavrusa- study partner was not pleased about this. Eventually the young man started spending more and more time by the Chozeh, coming back to his home town for shorter and shorter periods. His chavruta kept on challenging him, “why do you need to go to your Rebbe, what can you possibly gain there? Better we should learn more Talmud.” The chassid tried his best to explain what it’s all about, but his friend continued to dismiss it all. Finally, he invited his friend to come to the Rebbe and see for himself, that he could learn much about how to lead a holy life.
“What is so special about your Rebbe anyway? Why should I visit him?”
“My Rebbe, the holy Seer, has exceptional deep and wide vision. Even with his eyes closed he sees into your mind and heart. He knows what each one of us is thinking.”
“And what have you gained from him and his abilities? Has any of it rubbed off onto you?”
“Not so much, maybe a little?”
“Let’s see. Can you tell me what I am thinking about?”
The chassid stood himself in front of his friend and focused his thoughts. “You are thinking about Hashem,” he said.
“No I’m not!” his friend declared.
“That is exactly why you should come with me to my Rebbe!”
May we all know our real place and be true to our real selves, with sincere and humble pride. That is how we will best serve ourselves and the world. All the anti-semitic events in Israel and across the world, all the anti-Semitism at the UN, are only to remind us of who we really are and to push us into being authentic Jews in our homeland and wherever we are. Let’s be our true selves with pride, humility and joy, with love and awe of Hashem.
Parshat Balak: Teachings From Previous Years
▪ Ahavat Yisrael
▪ Exploring the relationship between:כבוד – kavod – honor, and אהבה – ahavah – love
▪ On Being Alone
“The fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch once said, “What good is Chassidus and piety if the main quality -Ahavat Yisrael- is lacking!?”” (Preface in: The Mitzvah to Love Your Fellow As Yourself; The Chassidic Heritage Series.)
This week we continue to look deeper into Ahavat Yisrael, and how to achieve the mitzvah to love your fellow Jew and mankind. But we want more than to just learn all the awesome and beautiful teachings on this mitzvah. King David prayed וְתוֹרָתְךָ, בְּתוֹךְ מֵעָי – Hashem, it is my deepest desire to absorb Your Torah in my innermost parts. (Psalms 40:9)
We want to live this mitzvah, we want it in our guts. I don’t want any part of me to interfere or prevent me from living this mitzvah. We want to live this mitzvah in mind, body and spirit. I want to know how to achieve the lessons.
My friend Reb Cliff suggests that we try to answer a couple of meaningful questions as we learn:
-do i understand what it means to nullify myself? what it is, to love? Myself? Another?
-do i know how to do it?
-further, to help integrate our learning - people should be responsible to share with … what they got from their prayers and learning and how they are incorporating what they got into their lives. then they can support each other in doing it.
"Love your neighbor as yourself" is the essence mitzvah of the whole Torah- and it is so much more than all that we ‘understand’. Reb Cliff explains:
“Why is this phrase the essence? - Because it means you have met your soul.
From this place teshuvah becomes pleasurable.
Only from here can you experience what G-d wants for you;
all the illusions of this world are stripped away.”
There is a well-known story in Lubavitch, about davening. Before the Maggid of Mezritz became a disciple of the holy Baal Shem Tov, he was already a renowned scholar and Kabbalist. He and a close friend would pray with the kavvanot of the holy Ari zt”l. Eventually they each went on their own paths and the Maggid became a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. A number of years later the two friends got together again and prayed together, but it took the Maggid much longer to finish. Afterwards his friend asked him why it took him so long- much longer than in the past?
Instead of answering the question, the Maggid inquired about how his friend’s learning and parnassah. The Maggid’s friend said they have a shop which his wife runs, and he spends most of the year daavening and learning; except for once a year when he travels to Leipzig for a few weeks to purchase and bring back the merchandise for the next season.