CHUKAS/BALAK (Numbers, 19:1-25:9) — “Of Television, Toilets, and Idolatry”

Balaam (see “Will the REAL Jackass Please Speak Up?”) was very frustrated.  Hired by the king of Moab, he tried everything in his power to curse the Israelites.  But G-d just wouldn’t let it happen.  “You may not curse the Nation, because it is blessed.” (Numbers, 22:12)

He had another idea.  “I can’t curse the Nation of Israel because G-d is protecting and blessing them.  I have to figure out a way to get G-d angry with them.”

Balaam came up with a suggestion.  “Their G-d is into morality,” he explained to the king.  “What He really despises are promiscuity and idol worship.  If you want to get their G-d angry with them, figure out a way to break down their morals.”

The plan was set into motion.  Midianite prostitutes were sent into the camp of Israel.  They offered the Israelite men kosher food and wine.  As things progressed the way immorality often does, the Israelites were soon prepared to compromise their holy calling.

There was, however, one condition demanded by the Midianites.  They insisted that their “clients” pay homage to their idol, “Baal Pe’or.”

Now most thinking people, even in the heat of lustful desire, won’t suddenly decide to start worshiping idols.  (Or so one might think.  In fact, the Talmud says that the biggest draw of idol worship is that it is usually accompanied by lax sexual standards.)  The Israelite men were not inclined to praying to a statue.

No problem!  “You don’t have to pray to our idol, or even to bow to it.  All you have to do is . . .   (Please forgive me if I am a bit indelicate.) . . . perform your regular bathroom functions in front of the idol.”

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Have you ever heard of anything so bizarre?

That’s how they worship Baal Pe’or?!  I can understand bowing to an idol, burning incense, or offering a sacrifice to an idol.  But THIS?!  (Again, please forgive the indelicacy)  Is a urinal or a toilet an altar upon which the god of the Midianites is worshiped?

If anything, it would seem that such an action would be an insult to the idol.  (L’havdil — in contrast, one is not permitted to pray or study Torah in a bathroom.  Children who are not toilet trained should not be brought to the synagogue.)  In fact, the Talmud says that some of the Israelites “humored” the prostitutes and relieved themselves as an act of ridicule of their god.

Yet, this vulgar act, even though it is demeaning, is considered an act of worshiping Baal Pe’or.  Why?

It seems that the religion of Baal Pe’or taught that there is no such thing as human dignity.  Human beings are members of the animal kingdom, and as such, have no shame or sense of privacy.  Just as a dog does not care where or when it answers nature’s call, we should be no different.  Just as an animal has no sense of marriage or commitment, human beings need be no different.

This is how we can have organizations like PETA.  These are the “humane” individuals who spray red paint on people wearing fur coats, and burn down labs where potentially life-saving experiments are carried out on animals.  If humans are no different than animals, we cannot eat them, wear them, or test medications on them.

Several years back there was a hue and cry over the use of a baboon’s heart that was transplanted into the chest of a little girl in an attempt to save her life.  Had it succeeded, I would call for baboon farms, raised for the HUMANE purpose of transplanting their hearts into sick humans.  (I get a kick out of those shampoos that say, “Not tested on animals” on the label.  Better MY hair should get burnt off?!!)

(Let me be perfectly clear.  The Torah forbids mistreating animals.  The kosher method of animal slaughter is instantaneous and humane.  One is required to feed his animals before he himself eats.  But the animals were put here to serve man.  Noah didn’t bring seven pairs of each kosher animal just because he liked to look at cows, sheep, and giraffes!)

Once we raise the status of animals to our level, we can be free to lower ourselves to theirs.  We can connect our homes to the sewer via television and Internet and be “entertained” by the celebration of promiscuity and the breakdown of all human dignity and morality.  We can ignore (or even praise!) the misdeeds of elected officials.

We can have “Supreme” courts that find Constitutional support for every manner of human degradation and perversion. As Justice Scalia asks in his dissent, can “marriage” be far off?  (The Talmud, in offering a bit of muted praise for the nations of the world, points out that as low as humanity can sink, we have never seen society write a Ketubbah, a marriage document for two men.  Stay tuned, Justice Scalia!)

[NOTE: This Torah Talk was originally written in 2003.  Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Justice Scalia’a fears to be realized.]

It is truly shocking what society is willing to accept without protest.  We have lost our conscience.  Balaam would be proud.

Man is created in the Image of G-d.  We are not animals; we are (potentially) holy creatures.

The Torah’s message is:

“Curb Yourself.”

Have a great Shabbos

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives

Some years the two Torah Portions of Chukas and Balak are read together, and some years they are read on two separate Sabbaths.  For your convenience, here are links to both Portions:

FIRST PORTION – CHUKAS 

“A Sad Shabbos in New York State” (2011)

…  While some societies have not condemned these activities the way the Torah does, it was always recognized that the institution of marriage was about a man and a woman.  A man doesn’t marry his car.  A man doesn’t marry his pet iguana.  And a man doesn’t marry a man…

Last Shabbos, we read the story of Korach.  Korach didn’t like the way the Commandments were working out…

Last Friday night … the State of  New York decided to emulate Korach…

How did this tragedy/travesty in New York happen?  It’s really rather simple… 

Read more. 

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“Who’s ‘The MAN’? … YOU’RE ‘The MAN’!” (2010)

… Ezekiel cites the special relationship between G-d and  Israel…

The Talmud interprets “…you are Man…”, to mean “You (i.e., Israel) are called ‘MAN; the nations of the world are not called ‘MAN.’

What does the Talmud mean by, “You are called ‘MAN; the nations of the world are not called ’MAN”?   Certainly it can’t mean to humiliate Gentiles and to consider them less than human!  The Talmud is replete with references to the fact that all of humanity was created in G-d’s Image.  We share the planet with our fellow Children of G-d.

So what does it mean?…

Read more .

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“Tattle-Snakes & Copperheads” (2005)

… G-d said to Moses, “Make for yourself a fiery serpent and place it on a pole.  Anyone who has been bitten will look at it and live.”  Moses made a snake out of copper and placed it on a pole; so it was that anyone who had been bitten would stare at the copper snake and live

The symbolism is beautiful.  Like the snake in the Garden of Eden, they sinned with their tongues.  Since they acted like snakes, they were punished with snakes.  After sinning with their mouths they repented with their mouths.  They corrected the wrong by using their mouths properly.  Moses undid the poison of the miraculous punishing-snakes with a miraculous healing-snake.

Great!  Just one question.  What’s the deal with the copper?…

Read more.

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“The Kiss of LIFE” (2004)

The “Brothers ben-Amram” both died shortly before the Israelites entered the Land of Canaan (Israel) …  Our Sages point out a contrast between the nation’s reaction to these deaths. The Children of Israel wept for Moses, while the entire House of Israel wept for Aaron.

The Children (literally, sons) of Israel wept for Moses.  The men wept over the loss of their respected judge.  The entire House of Israel, men and women, wept over the loss of their beloved peacemaker…

Moses and Aaron had different jobs… the mourning for Aaron was more widespread than for Moses.

Whose approach was better?  Who was a better advocate of proper behavior?…

Read more.

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“Stone Drunk” (2002)

… The People were thirsty.  … Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff. A great deal of water gushed out, and provided water for the community and their animals.”

G-d was furious:  “Since you (and Aaron) didn’t have enough faith in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly to the land that I have given them.”

… the people witnessed a great miracle.  A rock was struck, and water flowed from it.  The Israelites hadn’t seen a miracle like that in 40 years!  How is this a lack of faith on Moses’ part? …

Read more.

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“The Bigger They Are…” (2001)

Og … organized an army againstIsrael, and once again, we were forced to fight off an aggressor.  … Moses needed some encouragement:

G-d said to Moses, ‘Don’t be afraid of him…”

G-d doesn’t waste words.  He told Moses not to be afraid to fight Og.  … Moses was afraid that Og would be rewarded for a Mitzvah he had done many years before…

What a Mitzvah!!  Og tells Abraham to go saveLotso he can be killed and Og can marry his widow!  With friends like Og, who needs enemies?!  How could Moses actually suspect that G-d would reward Og for such a deceitful, treacherous act?…

Read more.

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SECOND PORTION – BALAK

“Rocky Road” (2010)

…What’s with this guy?!  He’s a sorcerer, the great Midianite prophet!  He is “one who knows the mind of the Supreme One.” (Verse 16)  How is it so hard for him to see that G-d doesn’t want him to do this?

… it all started with a question.  G-d had asked Balaam, “Who are these people?”

“Aha!” thought Balaam.  “G-d doesn’t know everything!  He needs to ask me who these people are!  If I play my cards right, I’ll be able to pull the wool over His eyes and curse His beloved Nation.”…

Read more.

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“How Good is YOUR Tent?” (2007)

…Balak, the Moabite king, hired Balaam to curseIsrael.  Now why, you may ask, would an anti-Semite like Balak need to hire someone to curse Jews?  Plenty of people would be happy to do it for free!

Cursing, you see, is a great talent.  Some people do it better than others.  Balaam was a pro…

Read more.

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“Of Television, Toilets, and Idolatry” (2003)

… There was, however, one condition demanded by the Midianites.  They insisted that their “clients” pay homage to their idol, “Baal Pe’or.”

…  “You don’t have to pray to our idol, or even to bow to it.  All you have to do is…

Have you ever heard of anything so bizarre? …

Read more.

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“Will the REAL Jackass Please Speak Up?” (2000)

… Balaam still didn’t get it.  Three times, Balaam tried to curse the Nation of Israel; three times, they came out as blessings… Fired from his job by Balak, Balaam went home in disgrace.

What was going on in Balaam’s head?  How could a great oracle who was “One who knows the mind of the Supreme One,” make such a mistake?  How could he be so blind to the fact that G-d didn’t want him to go on this mission?  How did this brilliant prophet allow his donkey to make a jackass out of him?!

The answer can be seen from one of Balaam’s communications with Balak…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain inMonsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on June 9, 2003 at 4:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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