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Parshat Balak - Protecting Ourselves and Our Children - Rabbi Joey Haber

Parashat Balak tells the story of two men – Balak and Bilam – who worked together to try to destroy Beneh Yisrael. Balak was the king of Moav, and he was afraid that Beneh Yisrael might wage war against his country. He hired Bilam to place a curse on them so they would be destroyed. But Hashem intervened and forced Bilam to bless Beneh Yisrael, instead.

The Gaon of Vilna makes a comment about the names of these two men – בלק and בלעם. The letters of these two names – ב,ל,ק,ב,ל,ע,מ – can be rearranged to spell the names of two nations that waged war against Beneh Yisrael: בבל and עמלק. Balak and Bilam brought together the evil forces of these two nations – Bavel (Babylonia) and Amalek – thus posing an especially dangerous threat to our people.

Let us examine what these two nations represent, in order to understand why this combination is so dangerous.

The area of Bavel was so named because it was there where the people tried to rebel against Hashem by building a tower to the heavens, resulting in בלל ה' את שפת האדם – Hashem “mixed together” people’s languages. The word בבל means “mixture,” of many different things coming together, and Bavel was the place where different languages and cultures became mixed.

Interestingly, the Gemara in Masechet Sanhedrin gives another explanation for the name בבל, stating that it alludes to the Talmud, which was written there in Babylonia (and is thus called the תלמוד בבלי), and which is a “mixture” of all the different parts of Torah.

“Mixing” many different things together can be both very good and very bad. When we are open to mixing together different things, we can come up with something beautiful and powerful like the תלמוד בבלי, the Gemara. But on the other hand, being open to “mixtures” of all kinds allows for the acceptance of ideas and behaviors that should never be accepted.

The United States of America was founded on two principles – freedom, and equality. These two foundational concepts are what allow American Jews to live and flourish in this country, practicing our religion and building wonderful Torah institutions. Never throughout our two thousand years of exile have we had it any better, and we must be extremely grateful to the United States for granting us this opportunity.

However, this country’s quality of בבל, of allowing everything into a “mixture,” has resulted in everything being accepted. It has become taboo to call something “wrong” and sinful. Behaviors that should never be considered acceptable have now been normalized, even in our community.

What makes this problem especially difficult to deal with is that it is combined with “Amalek.”

Amalek is the nation that waged war against Beneh Yisrael soon after they left Egypt. When all other nations recognized Hashem and stood in awe of Beneh Yisrael, Amalek went to fight them. Amalek, then, represents the effort to forcefully oppose our values.

Today, unfortunately, society is trying to force anti-Torah values down our throats. In the name of progressivism and equality, we are being told that we must accept things which the Torah rejects. This is particularly so in universities, where students are expected to conform to the prevailing values and attitudes, many of which run in direct contrast to the Torah.

In response to Amalek’s attack, Moshe appointed his disciple, Yehoshua, to lead the battle against Amalek. Yehoshua embodies the concept of מסורה, of receiving the tradition from the previous generation. The first Mishna in Pirkeh Avot teaches, משה קיבל תורה מסיני ומסרה ליהושע – “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai, and transmitted it to Yehoshua.” In order to defend ourselves against Amalek, we need to recommit ourselves to the process of מסורה, of conveying our tradition. Parents need to speak to their children about what the Torah teaches us, about what we believe, about what Hashem expects of us. This must be done in a way the children can understand and relate to, so they are equipped with the knowledge and commitment to ward off the dangerous influences that are all around us.

In Parashat Balak, Hashem protected us from Balak and Bilam. He is helping us today, too, in our struggle against the modern-day combination of Bavel and Amalek. But we must do our part, fortifying ourselves and our children with Torah values so we can stand strong and resilient in our struggle against the powerful cultural forces that we are up against.

Protecting Ourselves and Our Children, lectured by Rabbi Joey Haber _ iTorah
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