Archive | June, 2007

God: Director of the ADL

26 Jun

This past Sunday, Abraham Foxman, Director of the Anti-Defamation League, described to a journalist from the Jerusalem Post what makes the new anti-Semitism so insidious.

Here is how the new sophisticated Western brand of anti-semitism works:

1. Anti-Semites claim that the debate over American foreign policy is controlled by Jews.

2. Anti-Semitic rhetoric can be presented as the other, untold side of the story – the side the Jews are preventing from getting to the media.

3. Then, when Jewish leaders cry foul, they can be accused of trying to “stifle the debate.”

For instance, as an example, he referred to former US president Jimmy Carter’s new book, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, as a disturbing example of this trend. He said that “The issue with Jimmy Carter is not that he doesn’t like ‘the wall’ [Israel’s security barrier.] It’s not that he loves the Palestinians. It’s that a former president of the United States says that he was motivated to write this book because the Jews, the Israel lobby, AIPAC, so control the means of communication in America that you cannot debate [policy on Israel].”

Which leads me to wonder, what would Western anti-semites have to say about God?

In Parashat Balak, Chapters 22-25 of the Book of Numbers, we read a very curious story of frightened king of Moav, named Balak, who wants to lead a pre-emptive strike against the Jewish people, who have a reputation for being quite powerful. He is looking for a strategic advantage. So, he calls upon this fellow named Bilaam, who is reputed to have great powers – “whomever he blesses is blessed, whomever he curses is cursed.”(22:6) Upon receiving generous financial offers for his services, he is off to Moav, where his is to stand high above the Jewish encampments and lay curses upon the chosen people. God appeared to Bilaam and instructed him that he may only say what it is that God enables him to say, for this people is not cursed, it is a blessed nation. Sure enough, Bilaam tries three time to curse the people, and he fails each and every time.  As he explains to his new employer, ” Did I not say to your messengers who came to get me, that even if you were to give me a house full of silver and gold, I am not able to transgress the word of God, to do neither good nor evil on my own – only that which God says do I say.”  (24:13) Here is the part I have never been able to understand:  Why does God care so much about what this man Bilaam is going to say?  What difference does it make?  In other words, let’s say that Bilaam cast the most despicable curse you can imagine upon the Jewish nation – would that somehow force God to make it happen?  Or, if not, then worse – is God admitting to the existence of other magical or divine powers that function outside of His jurisdiction?

The Midrash teaches that this guy, Bilaam, was a prophet who arose among the nations and who had the stature of Moses(Bamidbar Rabbah 14:20), and the Talmud explains that he was able to outsmart God through a keen sense of knowing exactly when God was angry, thereby getting reliable results with his curses, casting them at those exact times(Berachot 7a).

However,  I tend to find these explanations a bit too theologically challenging…  

Rather, I side with the 19th century bible commentator, Malbim, who saw this whole story quite differently. Malbim(Numbers 22, 6) describes Bilaam as a fake, summoned by King Balak to the battlefield in order to raise the morale of his soldiers. Balak expected the superstitious Moabite soldiers, spurred by their belief in Bilaam’s magical powers, to fight Israel more fiercely after hearing Bilaam’s curses. Bilaam’s prophesies, says Malbim, are not the words of an authentic prophet, but rather words that God placed in his mouth for Israel’s benefit, just as God placed words in the his donkey’s mouth during his journey to Moav.

In other words, God understood the ramifications of allowing enemies of the Jewish people go around spouting venimous accusations and lies.  God was absolutley NOT concerned that the curses of Bilaam would materialize – that would be impossible without God’s approval; what troubled God was that He understood the impact those words would have upon public opinion, how they would become a call to arms, and motivate the Moabite soldiers to go to battle against the Jewish nation. Although without God’s authority, they would not succeed in their battle, they would nevertheless cause fear, great hardship and suffering along the way.

Therefore, God did not allow Balak to go through with his verbal campaign against the Jewish people.  He was well aware of the impact such rhetoric would have, and so, He would not allow it. Seems like a legitimate thing to do when you are looking to preserve the lives of millions, wouldn’t you agree?Maybe Jimmy Carter should write another book.  He could all it  In Defense of the Moabites:God’s Maniuplation of the Media.

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