The greatest insights into Jewish existence and continuity often come by way of history’s most notorious anti-Semites.
Take Balak, a Moabite king who tried to eliminate the Jewish people and failed. While at face value Balak seems like a typical anti-Semite, in fact, he is anything but.
He understood then what many philosophers would come to realise in subsequent millennia, that the Jewish people are governed by a unique destiny and are not subject to the normal rules of history.
Author Mark Twain called the Jews “immortal”, philosopher Nikolai Berdysev “metaphysical” and writer Leo Tolstoy “the symbol of eternity”.
Balak was a discerning and open-minded student of history. He recognised that divine intervention alone could wrest a group of downtrodden slaves from the ironclad grip of a mighty superpower, and recognised the thread of divine providence woven into the events that led up to, and followed, this people’s liberation.
Their invincibility, proven time and again, derived from a spiritual origin, and their source of strength and survival was unlike any other nation.
By attempting to manipulate and weaken the spiritual dynamic of this people’s destiny, he hoped to leave them vulnerable.
He would learn the hard way that God’s covenant with and commitment to this people was immutable and eternal.
Hence, the story of Balak serves as an annual reminder of that wonderful sentiment attributed to Ben-Gurion: “A Jew who does not believe in miracles is not a realist.”
Mendel Kalmenson is rabbi of Beit Baruch and executive director of Chabad of Belgravia, London