Message From Rabbi Gold
THE HATE THAT’S HERE TO STAY
“Behold, these caused the people of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.” (Numbers 31:16)
Greetings from Los Angeles. My wife and I are visiting my home town. A few days ago we were privileged to go to the Hollywood Bowl, the perfect venue for a show. We saw the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and then Tony Bennett. In his 90’s, the singer is still going strong. But the highlight of the evening is when he invited his friend Lady Gaga out to sing several duets.
Tony sang several classics from my father’s time. One of them is the old Frank Sinatra standard Our Love is Here to Stay. “In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they’re only made of clay. But our love is here to stay.” I love that song, maybe because it reminds me of my father.
Joyously for many of us, our love is here to stay. But sadly for the world, too often hate is also here to stay. There is a perfect example in this week’s portion. Two weeks ago we read the story of Balaam, the heathen prophet who tried to curse the Israelites. God turned his curses into blessings. Balak the King of Moab hired him to curse, and it is clear from his beautiful blessings that he never collected a paycheck. Balaam then disappears from the story. We do not know what happens to him. One would have hoped that when the curses failed, when the blessings came out instead, Balaam would change his mind about the Israelites. But in this week’s portion we learn that Balaam’s hatred was here to stay.
Following the story of Balaam, we learned about the Midianite women who seduced the Israelite men into an orgy. Only the action of Pinchas puts a stop to it, but not before a plague decimates the people. But who was behind this action by the Midianite women? This week we learn that it was Balaam, the same heathen prophet. When he could not destroy Israel through curses, he decides to destroy Israel through seduction. Moses begins a vicious war against Midian, and Balaam is killed in the war. His hatred has finally died.
Too often I see hate that never dies. Antisemitism was a plague in the world through much of history, reaching its horrendous climax with the Holocaust. After the Holocaust, the hatred died down for a while, particularly in the West. Hatred of Jews continued among Arabs and the Moslem world. Today it is coming back full force in the Western world. Often it is manifested with actions against Israel or Zionism. Speakers from Israel are heckled or shouted down by students. Professors from Israel are barred from academic conferences. But the anti-Judaism on many colleges is apparent. Jews are frightened to show their identity publicly. The hatred is here to stay.
Sadly, hatred is often shown not just by others but by Jews themselves. The Haredim or ultra-Orthodox have contempt for more liberal or progressive Jews. And liberal or progressive Jews have contempt for the Haredim. In nearly four decades as a rabbi, I do not remember our people being so divided. The political issues dividing Jews are real. But too often we do not see the humanity of the other.
Is it inevitable that hatred will last forever? The Talmud tells a wonderful story of Rabbi Meir, who was constantly harassed by a neighbor. Rabbi Meir used to pray that his neighbor would die. One day his wife Beruriah saw him praying and asked why. When Rabbi Meir told the truth, Beruriah told her husband what he was doing was wrong. Do not pray that he die. Pray that he change his ways. (Berakhot 10a) We pray not that our enemies die but that our enemies change their ways. There are stories of anti-Semites who became fans of the Jews, and even stories of Jew haters who converted to Judaism. There are stories of hatred that turned into love. It all begins when we see the humanity of the other.
Our love is here to stay. But our hatred need not be here to stay.
May you and your family have a restful, joyous Shabbat.