The Talking Animals are Telling Us Not to Hate

For several weeks now the Torah has been singularly focused on the story of the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness and the laws they received through Moses. This week, the Torah takes an interesting turn, changing its focus to one of the Israelites’ enemies, Balak, King of Moab and the prophet-for-hire Balaam. The Torah tells an amazing story of these two good-for-nothings, filled with strange occurrences. Balak, scared that the Israelites would destroy his kingdom while passing through, entices the prophet Balaam to come to him and curse the Israelites. Hilarity ensues, a donkey speaks, and instead of curses, Balaam finds himself forced to speak blessings rather than curses. The adventures of Balak and Balaam would make a perfect cartoon, think Pinky and the Brain mixed with a little Shrek.

Unfortunately for Balak and Balaam, and Pinky and the Brain, the villains never actually win. Despite several attempts to change fate and bring curses down upon the Israelites, Balaam fails to even say the words of a curse. Every time he tries, he instead is left saying something positive, giving them blessings. It is from Balaam that we even get the words of the prayer Mah Tovu. While Pinky and the Brain usually just end up hanging out in their cage once again, things get a little darker for these two bad guys. Spoiler alert: in a later Torah portion, both Balak and Balaam are slain by the Israelites.

The irony is that in trying to prevent the destruction of his nation, Balak brings about his own downfall. The parsha opens by telling us that Balak and Moab are terrified by the Israelites after witnessing them defeat some of the mighty Canaanite tribes. It is because of this that Balak moves against them. Yet, Balak fails to recognize that the only reason the Israelites had fought and defeated the Canaanites is because the Canaanites had been aggressors against them. The Israelites are single-minded, their eyes set on conquering the land promised to them by God, not the bordering lands. If Balak would only allow them to pass through his territory peacefully to get to their promised land, there would have been nothing to fear.

Alas, Balak allows his fear to get the better of him. In the words of the great sage Rabbi Yoda, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” This is exactly what happens to Balak, his fear eventually turns to hate, making him passionately pursue the destruction of the Israelites. Just like Darth Vader, though, the one who seems to suffer the most is the one that expresses this hatred, and Balak turns out to be the one who suffers the most from his fear.
The path to hatred may be more varied than Rabbi Yoda believes. Though it often comes from fear, it can also come from hurt, or sometimes just ignorance. No matter where it comes from, however, the result is almost always suffering. We should learn from Balak and Balaam’s examples. If we allow ourselves to feel hate, only bad can come from it. The Torah has already warned us against hating others, teaching us in Leviticus 19.17-18, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart… You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

When we hold a grudge, or hate someone, so much evil can come from it. If we hold enough grudges, it does indeed lead us to the dark side, possibly corrupting the way we think and turning us into vindictive, hateful people. It can lead to actions that hurt others and ourselves.

We can see just how horrifying hatred can be in recent news. We have all been sitting at the edge of our seats waiting and praying for news of three missing Israeli boys. Sadly, when the news did arrive, we found that all three of them had been murdered in cold blood. Hatred is what brought about such a tragedy, and the response among many is to hate everyone who lives in the Palestinian Territories. The reaction is understandable, almost natural, yet it can only further a circle of hatred that can and will only cause more sorrow for us all. The news is sad, and we can hope for justice, but we should not allow hatred to become a part of us.

In many cases, as with Balak,  the reasons we feel hatred toward one another are unfounded, brought about by a lack of understanding. When someone behaves in a manner that would lead us to anger, it is important for us to stay calm. Take a deep breath, and think about the situation that may be causing this person to behave in such a way. Often we will find that this person does not mean to harm or upset us. We also must remember that we can not know what is going on in the lives and minds of others, and we should be careful to not judge them too harshly.

Working to be more understanding of others, and to prioritize forgiveness can have a positive effect on our lives. Anger and hatred are destructive emotions, bringing about suffering for everyone involved. Forgiveness and love, on the other hand, can bring peace and contentment to our lives.

 

David Gutbezahl is a student at Gratz College.

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