By Rabbi Naftali Schiff
Last week we met face to face with some of most infamous anti-Semites of Biblical times – King Balak and the charismatic yet mercenary prophet Bilaam. As is well known, Balak hired Bilaam to curse the Jewish people; however, in a dramatic twist of Divine providence, these curses were turned to insightful blessings of the Jewish people, perhaps the most famous of which is the beautiful verse: “Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov”.
It is a remarkable reference to the beauty of the Jewish home and family structure that became almost a mantra adorning the walls of so many of our wonderful educational institutions worldwide across the millennium.
Seeing the failure of his intended curses as a mere setback, Bilaam embarks on Plan B, which proves to be significantly more successful. These men realised that the Jewish home, the robust family unit and accompanying values are the bedrock of Jewish survival. They therefore sought to strike in a more subtle yet equally devastating manner, at the moral fibre and finely tuned sanctity of the Jewish nation.
The Moabites and Midianites exploited their daughters who enticed and seduced the Jewish men to sin in full view of shocked onlookers, who are stunned into inaction.
Interestingly, in a similar way to the events surrounding the worship of the Golden Calf, this act of adultery is accompanied by idol worship. Idolatry and adultery, two of the Torah’s cardinal sins, are really two sides of the same coin. Both seek instant gratification without a sense of responsibility to a true relationship. Both may be enticing in the heat of the moment but are ersatz imitations of the real thing and do not bring true happiness or satisfaction.
This week’s Sedra begins with Pinchas taking action and putting a dramatic end to this outrageous behaviour. By doing so he is rewarded with the blessing of the ‘covenant of peace’. Pinchas teaches us the need for boundaries within relationships, because it is boundaries that make relationships special. Marriage in Hebrew is referred to as kiddushin, coming from the root word kadosh, holy.
The Talmud explains that holiness is created when someone or something is set aside, designated and made special for a specific purpose.
A relationship in which the couple are totally dedicated to each other is one where holiness can be found. Kedusha is the bedrock of the Jewish home and in turn of Jewish society.
A society without boundaries and a strong moral code loses the potential for harnessing the power of relationships. It is only with these confines that we find holiness and peace.
• Rabbi Naftali Schiff is CEO of Aish UK