BALAK’S OWN GOAL
With England through to the next round of the Euros, due to play Germany, next Tuesday, I am reminded of an occasion, a few years ago, when an English team playing a German team placed football fans in a moral dilemma.
In 2012, Chelsea were in the finals of the Champions League, playing Bayern Munich. A win for Bayern Munich would have given Spurs a place in Champions League football the following season. A win for Chelsea would have enhanced the pride of English football but would have deprived Spurs of top-flight European football. What should the Spurs fans have done? Support an English team against a German team or look to their own team’s interests? Many Tottenham fans ungraciously chose to express their support for the German team.
Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the great pioneering teacher of Jewish Ethics (Musar) in the nineteenth century points out the temptations of wishing your rivals ill and wanting to see them fail if you would benefit thereby. The ideal Jewish way, he says, is to see your success by improving yourself, raising yourself up, rather than seeing others put down.
A similar point is made by the Chafetz Chayim on the beginning of this week’s parsha. Balak, son of Tzipor, king of Moab, was fearful of the Children of Israel. They had defeated his neighbours, Sichon, king of Emor, and Og, king of Bashan. He sends a message to Bilaam, the pagan prophet and wizard seeking to hire him to curse the Jewish people. It does not even occur to him that there was another option: He could have asked Bilaam to bless Moab. Instead, he sought to have Israel cursed.
Regrettably, Moab’s hatred of Israel has been replicated many times throughout history. All too often, our enemies have been more interested in our demise than their own success. They would rather invoke curses on us than seek blessings for themselves. We must realize that the Jewish way is to seek blessing for ourselves rather than the destruction of others.