Friday, July 13, 2018

Matos/Maasei—The Company You Keep

If the post biblical literature didn’t tell us, we might not know how evil Bilaam is until we get to 31:8 in this weeks parsha—and maybe not until 31:16.

Throughout parshas Balak, we get a rather translucent view of his character; he seems to be both slippery and conniving, but at least somewhat well meaning, enough that his ostensible blessings make it both into the text of the Torah and sep parts of the liturgy.

We don’t get a hint that he is in effect a spiritual companion to Amalek until the Jewish armies find Bilaam in the company of the five Midianite kings during the revenge campaign against the Midianites.  Rashi pace the midrashim notes that Bilaam seeks renumeration for the Israelite body count from mass idolatrous orgies that resulted from his sotto voce advice, which, in verse 16, precedes his renumeration as getting slain alongside them in verse 8.

Numerous reasons are proferred.  For one, he overreached in seeking material recompense for having his Judeomisic fantasies realized: “the camel asks for horns and had its ears cut off”.  For another, he used the Israelites’ power of speech/prayer, using their own weapon against them, so they used the Edomite weapon—the sword—against him.

Furthermore, Bilaam is grouped both with the four “commoners” who have no share in the world to come in TB Sanhedrin, and as one of the three implacable enemies of Judaism suffering the most nefarious eternal punishments in TB Gittin.  Yet of all the antagonists listed here, one could argue Bilaam comes off as the most deserving of opprobrium, to the point that one is Talmudically enjoined to draw any negative inference from a verse regarding Bilam that can be drawn.

Part of this is because the textual narrative actually indirectly conveys Bilaam’s outward projection of righteousness. Rav Avigdor Nebezhal points out, not least because of the “blessings” and his own ostensible prayer “May my soul die the death of the upright and may my end be like his” (23:10).

Further amplifying the aggravating factors, one can discern a pure hatred of all things Jewish both because of and in spite of Bilaam’s pretensions to righteousness by comparing his motivations to the other miscreants on the two lists; none of them reach his level of Judeomisic rage.  To wit: 

*Gehazi was driven by lust and wealth, and his own Rebbi [Elisha] regretted possibly making him go off the derech; 

*Doeg was motivated by jealousy borne of a distorted “kinas sofrim”;

*Achitofel was motivated by vengeance for his granddaughter Batsheva’s ostensible violation;

*Titus was drunk on power and bloodshed that drove his Judeocidal inclinations, as opposed to the other way around;

*and ”Jesus” was driven by a distorted theology (that is, if he isn’t a stand-in for Bilaam, or vice versa).

Bilaam, on the other hand, is driven first and foremost by hatred—one may even say, saddled with it (22:21)—to the point that he wants to turn Balak’s defensive initiative into an offensive one (22:11), using the inside knowledge he does about Judaism and G-d, while not having any of the possible grievances and/or motivations of the other listed antagonists.

he undoes one of the last vestiges of chastity that had ostensibly held since the mabul in furtherance of his Judeocidal goal, in both this world and the next.

Add together his penchant for “prayer” (“using Moses’ strength”) white weaponizing libertinism (having undone one of the the last vestiges of chastity that ostensibly remained since the time of the Mabul), all under the guise of a “lose data’s Elyon”, and you have the paradigm of one who preaches “freedom” with religious or moral veneer, even if one knows better and yet disingenuously pursues nefarious and destructive ends. 

The world is replete nowadays with “prophets” who morally lecture Jews about their Jewish [!] shortcomings (some Jewish , some not), all as a means to gaslight, at best.

Therefore, like the Gemara says about Bilaam:

Any negative inference that can be drawn—should be drawn.