Thursday, July 14, 2016

Mahmoud Abbas and the Biblical Balak

If you’re perceptive, you might have already noticed that HaShem, the G-d of Israel, speaks to us all in at least two ways. First, through the words of the Tanach, the Jewish Bible (from which we read each Shabbat); and second, through news stories we see each day. This is the double channel through which HaShem talks to us. Perhaps this double channel is how He reminds us that His Tanach remains always fresh, forever relevant. 

This Shabbat, July 16, 2016, Jews in Israel will read the Torah portion called, Balak (Bamidbar, 22:2-25:9). It presents the story of Balak, King of Moav. Balak wanted to drive the Jewish people away from ‘the land’ (Israel) (Bamidbar, 22:6). This King knew he could not destroy the Jews on his own. Therefore, he looked to others for help. He wanted someone who could enable him and ‘his cohorts’ to defeat the Jews (commentary quoted in The Chumash, ArtScroll, Mesorah publications, The Stone Edition, 1996, Bamidbar, 22:6-7).

This story is Biblical. It’s ancient. But it’s also a modern story you might recognize.

It’s the story of Mahmoud Abbas, is it not? Like Balak, he’s a ruler who is an enemy of Israel. Like Balak, he wants to drive the Jews from ‘the land’. Like Balak, he fears what would happen if he tried a direct military attack against the Jewish people. Like Balak, he looks for the kind of help that would enable him and ‘his cohorts’ to defeat the Jews.

In the Biblical story, Balak seeks a gentile ‘power’ (the prophet Bilaam). This Bilaam was known for his ability to curse others. This powerful Bilaam agreed to work for the benefit of Balak to harm the Jewish nation.

Is this not the saga of Mahmoud Abbas? Like Balak in that ancient day, Abbas today turns to a ‘power’ known for its ability to ‘curse’ a nation.

Like Balak, Abbas wants someone who can so ‘curse’ the Jewish nation that he and ‘his cohorts’ can drive the Jews away. Abbas has found this someone: the United Nations. The UN, like the ancient Balak, has the power to hurl modern ‘curses’ at the Jewish nation. These ‘curses’ will come from the WHO, UNWRA, the UN Human Rights Council, the General Assembly and literally dozens of NGO’s who all work to benefit Abbas and harm the Jewish nation.

To paraphrase a Yogi Berra aphorism, Abbas’ drive against the Jewish nation is a déjà vu story of Balak and Bilaam ‘all over again’. 

This coming Shabbat, as we read this story of Balak, we will see that, in the end, Balak fails. His plan backfires. The ‘power’ to whom he had turned to help curse the Jews ends up blessing the Jews—because HaShem, the G-d of Israel, will not allow the Jews to be so cursed. 

Today, we don’t know how the modern Abbas story will end. We’re not at that point yet. The cursing of Israel hasn’t yet fully begun.

But then, we don’t need to wait for the end of this Abbas story to understand where this story is headed. We’ve already seen enough to understand how this story ends.

Since the 1917 Balfour Declaration 99 years ago, the history of modern Israel has come directly from our Tanach. Jews have ‘returned’ both physically (to Israel) and spiritually, through a religious Jewish revival. Our Jewish nation has grown strong. Our desert blossoms. Our enemies fail before us. Our land flows with milk and honey and fresh water.

When the UN gave Israel its ‘birth certificate’ (UN Resolution 181, in 1947), no one could have predicted that Israel would flower as it has. At that time, few dared believe that Israel could even survive the Arab attacks of 1947-49.

The Jews of Israel have always succeeded against Arab attack. These ‘successes’ prove the power of the Divine protection our G-d gives us. They represent miracles brought to us from our G-d, just as the Tanach promises.

For those who appreciate that Biblical Promises have become reality, the end of the Abbas-Balak story seems simple enough. HaShem, the G-d of Israel, has promised to protect us. For the last 68 years, we have seen how He has done that.

Through our Jewish Tanach, we understand the history of Israel. We learn of the fate of the enemies of Israel: as with Balak before him, Abbas’s plans will backfire. He will fail. We just don’t know yet how and when he will fail.

When you study Tanach, you learn about people like Balak and Abbas. You marvel at how so many want to destroy the Jewish nation. You marvel at how they all fail.

Study your Tanach. You’ll be surprised by what you learn. 

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