The Power of Anti-Semitism and The Response To It

Balaam, the Gentile prophet we read about in the book of Numbers, has been enticed to come curse the children of Israel on behalf of the king of Moab. The reputation of his powerful curses and blessings is worldwide. Thus, the king of Moab, who was terrified about the approach of Israel, hired Balaam to curse them, and remove them as a threat. Balaam has informed his employer that, despite whatever his personal wishes may be, he can not utter anything that God does not approve. He may not be able to curse as the king wishes.

Nonetheless, he goes. On the way, an angel holding a sword blocks his path. Balaam does not see the angel, however, his donkey does and stops in his tracks. No amount of beatings will get the animal to budge forward. Finally, God lets the donkey speak: "Why do you hit me? Behold, I am your donkey that you have ridden upon from your youth. Have I ever behaved like this with you before?"

At this point, God opens Balaam's eyes and he sees the angel with the sword. He says to him, "I did not know that you were there. If it is evil in your eyes, I shall return home." The angel answers, "You may go, but you must only speak that with God puts in your mouth." Balaam continues to the king of Moab, and is unable to curse Israel. Instead, he utters their blessings and praises.

The donkey speaking was truly a great miracle, but why was it necessary? All the donkey did was to complain about his treatment and nothing more What great goal was accomplished by this miracle? If it was kindness to the donkey, so he should be able to "vent", well I'm sure he was not the first animal to be beaten in history, so why don't all animals get the right to complain?

Secondly, how was it possible that such a tremendously gifted prophet as Balaam was unable to see the angel with the sword?

Thirdly, the sages teach that Balaam was receiving a lesson in humility. Here he was purporting to be able to uproot an entire people with his speech, while to destroy his donkey he would require a sword, as he says, "If I had a sword I would kill you!" The commentary Oznaim Latorah asks the powerful question, why indeed could he not destroy his donkey with his speech if it was so powerful?

Finally, Balaam is referred to as "the wicked one." Now, upon reading this chapter, he really didn't do anything wrong. He said what God told him to say, he blessed the children of Israel! Perhaps it was the desire to curse them that makes him evil, I'm not sure.

Perhaps this episode with the donkey is underrated by us. We focus on the wonderful blessings that Balaam gave to the Jewish people, but I don't believe they are the main aspect of this story. Indeed, the Oznaim Latorah explains, Balaam's blessing or curse would not have the effect on Israel that it might have on other nations. God specifically tells Israel that it is their own behavior that determines their fate.

I think that this section may actually be an insight into the soul of the anti-Semite, and a possible response to him. The blessings that Balaam gives all lack one crucial element: praise for what Israel contributes to the world. Instead, Balaam repeatedly stresses how successful, prosperous, and powerful the children of Israel will become. He does praise their attributes, but nowhere does he express any recognition of how humanity is richer for the existence of the Jewish people. No gratitude and appreciation for all the diseases we've helped cure, all the life-improving things we've invented, all the heroic rescue efforts after natural tragedies.

That is because he does not wish to see all that. This is at the core of the speaking donkey miracle. For starters, Balaam certainly should have seen the angel with the sword. He didn't see him because he didn't want to see him. And once he did, his conscience made him offer to return home. The angel responded in accordance with God's way of dealing with the world, namely, granting people free choice. "One who wishes to become impure, has the way opened before him," say the Jewish sages.

As for the content of the donkey's speech, in truth it is sublime. The donkey is putting into words what the Jewish people is all about. "I am your faithful donkey, upon whom you have ridden since your childhood. Have I ever caused you such trouble before?" In other words, have you ever stopped to think just how much good of the Jewish people does for you and the whole world? Have you ever stopped to think what the world would be like if the Jewish Messiah came?

Of course not. The anti-Semite needs to believe the worst about the Jewish people. Balaam was incapable of seeing the angel, was incapable of seeing the angelic potential of having the Jewish people in the world. However for a moment, when the donkey spoke of his care and concern for Balaam since his youth, he saw that angel and had a pang of regret. That was the critical moment of choice for him, when he should've turned heel and gone back to his land. But by choosing to proceed to Moab, he chose to live as an anti-Semite. For this he is called wicked.

The anti-semite needs to feel hatred. Perhaps that is why he wanted to kill the donkey with a sword, instead of a curse. It's more violent, and more satisfying for raw hatred to do it that way.

Sadly, anti-Semitism is back in fashion in many parts of the world. And I believe that the Jewish people must fight back against it, much in the fashion of Balaam's donkey. We need to remind the world just how much we love it, and how much we wish to give to it.

Will they listen? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Perhaps long enough to avoid a tragedy, and perhaps some people may indeed be changed by that message. People have free choice, we don't control anyone else. What we do control is our own efforts, and that is what we should use as best we can. The rest will be left up to God. It might just happen that, at the end of the day, the anti-Semite will bless us just as Balaam did.

The Korach Test

In the Bible, Korach mounts a rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. "All of the congregation are holy," says Korach, "so why should you be elevated above God's congregation?" Korach is joined by Datan, Aviram, and 250 other people. Moses is very upset by this, and summons Korach, Dathan and Avirum to a negotiation. They refuse, and instead Korach mounts a massive rally. He spends the entire night campaigning to bring out the people.

When all is done, God creates a miracle and the earth swallows up Korach, Dathan, and Aviram.

The sages of the Mishna see this conflict as an example of an "argument that is not for the sake of heaven, which will not endure." An argument which is for the sake of heaven, such as those between the sages Hillel and Shammai, will endure forever. I would think, however, that it should be the opposite. An argument which is for the sake of heaven would be one which lends itself to peaceful resolution. An insincere argument should be the one to endure, because the parties are not arguing about the issue. If so, no resolution could be gained by discussing the complaint, because it is not the real issue.

What is an argument that is "not for the sake of heaven?" It is when one side argues from hatred of the other side, not because of a specific issue. The ostensible cause is not the root cause. An argument that is "for the sake of heaven," is when the two sides even like and trust each other, but disagree on the issue under discussion. It is this type of argument that will endure, because each side sincerely understands the issue differently, and, at the same time, respects the other party.

There are three elements in the Korach Test: 1. The person doing the arguing. 2. The topic under discussion. 3. The way in which the negotiation, or lack thereof, is carried out.

A person who is humble and kind is someone who can be trusted. The Talmudic sages Hillel and Shammai were both of exemplary character. They liked each other very much, and, despite their numerous disagreements in the Talmud, their children married into each other's families. When someone is humble, they will become wise. They never refuse a message because they don't like the messenger. Such a person will pass the Korach Test. An arrogant, egotistical or vindictive person will not. Do not deal with them.

Hillel and Shammai argued about practical Jewish law. They were seeking the best way to fulfill the mitzvot, the commandments. Korach, on the other hand, was arguing about positions of power and influence. There was no deeper principle motivating his rebellion beyond a desire to replace the current leadership with his own. Of course, that doesn't sound good to the general public, so Korach couched it in highly idealistic language: "The entire congregation is holy, and the Lord is in their midst. Why should you (Moses and Aaron) therefore be elevated above the congregation of the Lord?"

When someone's core argument involves an "us versus them" situation, beware. This person has failed the Korach Test. Even if they find the most elevated justification for their argument, if its core is divisive, it is a dangerous argument. In the business world, there is a strong rule for negotiations. The best kind of approach is, "Win-win or no deal." Korach's argument was a win-lose one. This is a sure sign of an insincere argument and an untrustworthy negotiating partner.

The third test is the way in which negotiations are held. To pass the Korach Test, one must prefer quiet and substantive negotiations. That is what Moses offered Korach, but he refused to come. Instead, he organized a demonstration against Moses and Aaron. He waged his campaign in the media, as it were. He was not interested in solving the problem, he was interested in scoring points against his adversary. When someone publicly attacks the other party, they are failing the Korach Test. They are not interested in a solution, they are interested in victory.

Let us apply this test to current events. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs lends itself to this important evaluation. Specifically, let us look at the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

  1. The test of character: Abbas is as corrupt as the day is long. He is in the 11th year of a four-year term. The large sums of money the international community gives to his Palestinian Authority has made him and his cronies very wealthy. He publicly praises terrorists, and names streets and squares in their honor. Just a couple of days ago, a 17 year old terrorist murdered a 13 year old girl in her bed. Abbas' Palestinian authority web site published a picture of the killer, not to condemn him, but to honor him as a "martyr." This is par for the course. He oversees giving thousands of dollars to terrorists and their families. Some of the most brutal and disgusting killers have met with him and been honored by him. FAIL.

  2. The test of topic: Abbas constantly poses an "us versus them" argument. He misses no opportunity to accuse Israel of the most disgusting crimes. A couple of weeks ago, he accused a group of rabbis (that does not exist) of demanding that the Israeli government poison the Palestinian water supply in order to perpetrate a genocide. This was simply a blood libel, and even Abbas was forced to retract a week later. But he had made this claim at a meeting of the European Parliament, and received a warm applause for it. If he would be a sincere negotiating partner, he would be interested in improving the lives of his constituents. Instead, he seeks to delegitimize Israel in every possible forum. FAIL.

  3. The test of negotiating style: While Israel repeats its willingness to negotiate directly ad nauseum, Abbas' Palestinian Authority refuses to show up. Instead, they do exactly what Korach did. They organize demonstrations, BDS movements, lawsuits at the international Court of Justice and endless anti-Israel UN resolutions. If someone is unwilling to negotiate real issues in a direct and quiet manner, they are an insincere negotiating partner, and must be avoided. The poisonous incitement that Abbas continues to spew has caused much loss of life and misery. The educational system in his Palestinian Authority refuses to tone down the anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli messages of hate. FAIL.

When someone fails the Korach test so spectacularly, why would anyone in their right mind want to negotiate with him? Instead, we should follow the approach of Moses himself. Moses did reach out to Korach, Dathan and Aviram. When they refused to come negotiate, Moses knew that they had failed the test and were not interested in reconciliation. What did he do in that situation?

He called on God to unmask the truth of the argument. What was important was that people know that Moses's choices of leadership came straight from On High. Therefore, God obliged by opening the earth to swallow up Korach and his followers. We don't have the ability to have God perform an open miracle like this in our day and age, so what can we do?

Expose. Expose their hypocrisy, make their corruption well known. Most importantly, expose them for being the Jew haters that they are. Expose them for being the terrorist huggers that they are. Let the world know how the most vile murders are praised and financially rewarded by the Palestinian Authority. Shine the light brightly on the dangerous hatred that Palestinian Arab children are taught on a daily basis. That is the first step in fighting back.

At the same time, we must become more and more like Hillel and Shammai. Israel must be humble, must be kind, and must be devoted to God. A humble and kind people, loyal to God's morality, can not enable evil. We must treat the stranger with love, but not be confused by evil people spouting elevated nonsense. We must take responsibility for all the residents of the land, and do that which is right in God's eyes. And we must know that you can't negotiate with people who fail the Korach Test.

I believe we must wage a relentless war against hatred and racism. This is a communications war, and it is crucial. The Palestinian Arabs must be attacked by messaging that contradicts their violent perceptions. The real moderate Palestinian Arabs, those who pass the Korach Test, should be found and engaged. If we do not wage this spiritual war quickly, we may find ourselves fighting another type of war. Let us pray that this doesn't happen, and that hearts will change. It actually happened in the Korach story to a man named On Ben Pelet, whose wife talked him out of continuing to rebel with Korach, thus saving his life. May many lives be saved, may none be lost, and may peace finally come.