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Letter from Israel No 39 (Balak)

One of the concerning aspects of October 7th is the increase in antisemitism. This may not be surprising, as antisemitism has existed throughout our history. Even today, when Jews do not face restrictions that we experienced in the past, incidents of antisemitism abound throughout the world and even in so-called liberal societies. Yet, this increase in antisemitism which masquerades as anti-Zionism is a cause for concern, especially when it mutates into violence against Jews and when it falsely condemns the victims rather than the perpetrators of violence which was unleashed on October 7th.

These violent and perverse forms of antisemitism are not new. Even though Balaam blessed the Children of Israel rather than curse them, according to Rashi, his animosity against them was worse than that of Balak. Balak hired Balaam to go and curse the Children of Israel and remove them from Moab, but Balaam wanted to wipe them out completely. Balaam ended up blessing the Children of Israel and was even moved to admire them. Nevertheless, Balaam retained his animosity against the Children of Israel and devised a scheme to make them falter.

Rabbi Leo Dee, whose wife and two of his daughters were murdered by terrorists, says that October 7th seems to have unleashed already long-held antisemitic attitudes, which is the longest and most despicable form of hatred. Yet, we must not respond with baseless hatred. Rather, we must uphold our Jewish heritage, and remember that we are a blessed people, for as Balaam was told: “You must not curse that people, for they are blessed.” (Bemidbar 22.12). Balaam concluded his blessings with the words: “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, and your tabernacles, O Israel” (24.5)

Our best antidote to antisemitism is to live our Judaism and continue our support for Israel. In this way we can neutralise curses we hear today and turn them into blessings.   

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