Sedra of the week: Balak
search

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Sedra of the week: Balak

By Rabbi Yoni Birnbaum

Sedra-of-the-week-300x208One of the most inspirational works authored by the late Sir Martin Gilbert, of blessed memory, is The Righteous. Published in 2002, it documents the work of those precious individuals, Christian, Muslim or of no faith at all who risked their own lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

These were people who made the most remarkable choices of all, in the most difficult of circumstances. People who truly exercised their power to choose life over death, courage over fear and hope over despair.

Subsequent to the exodus from Egypt, there are two Sidrot in the Torah named after people who were themselves not members of the Jewish people. They are Jethro (Yitro), the father-in-law of Moses, and Balak, King of Moav, the protagonist of this week’s Sedra. Yet their reactions to the miraculous story of the Jewish people’s deliverance from Egypt and journey towards the Promised Land could not have been more different.

Balak sees the people approach his border and panics. ‘We must destroy them lest they consume us all!’ he exclaims. As a result, he hires the prophet Balaam to curse the Jewish people. But Balaam fails spectacularly, leading to the disgrace and eventual downfall of them both.

Jethro, on the other hand, comes to greet the Jewish people. He values the contribution they can make in a diverse world, despite the fact that they are radically different to him and his own previously held worldview. He sees the ‘other’ – those different to him – not as a threat but as an opportunity and resolves to help them in any way he can.

Each of these individuals are outsiders to the Jewish story. Each has a completely free choice as to what their reaction will be to the events they have witnessed. But whereas Balak chooses to sow fear and hatred, Jethro sows love and friendship.

On the final page of The Righteous, Gilbert writes the following reflection: “The story of the Righteous is not only a story of the many successful individual acts of courage and rescue; it is also a pointer to what human beings are capable of doing – for the good – when the challenge is greatest and the dangers most pressing.”

Each of the nineteen thousand and more known stories must lead each of us to ask: “Could I have acted like this, in the circumstances; would
I have tried to, would I have wanted to?”

One can only hope that the answer would have been – and would still be, if the occasion arose – “Yes.’’

Yoni Birnbaum is rabbi of the Hadley Wood United Synagogue

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...

Engaging

Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.

Celebrating

There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.

Pioneering

In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.

Campaigning

Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more:
comments