THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
In this week's Parsha, Parshas Balak, we are provided a welcome respite from the usual rigmarole of the Toirah -- no Moishe Rabbeinu, no Aharoin the minuval, no vilda chaya Klal Yisroel -- until the very end of the Parsha. No regulations regarding sacrifices or other Priestly responsibilities. No critical laws that continue to enrich our lives until today, such as the prohibition against eating creeping insects while having relations with your father's wife on Yoim Kippur.
The RAMBAN asks the obvious question: why does the Toirah veer away from focusing on Klal Yisroel, the Chosen People, the Goy Kadoish, and focuses instead on Bilaam, Balak, and a talking she-ass? What’s Pshat?
The Tzitz Eliezer suggests that the Rebboinoisheloilum was suffering from writer's block, and was forced to plagiarize a script he found on the Internet in order to meet His tight deadline.
But the Schvantz Mordechai vehemently disagrees, saying that the Aimishteh was renowned for delivering his scripts on time, but that union issues with the Screen Actors Guild resulted in a walk out by Moishe and the rest of Klal Yisroel, requiring some quick rewrites and recasting with low cost fill ins ("scabs" in Yiddish). By Parsha's end, of course, the strike was settled, just in time to enjoy the usual hijinks of Klal Yisroel being smitten by a plague that killed twenty-four thousand. He cites as proof a medrish in Yechezkel Rabbah suggesting that the reason Moishe wasn't allowed into Eretz Yisroel was because his affinity for labor was expected to make Yehoshua's right-wing coalition unstable.
So what of Bilaam and Balak? The Gemarrah, in discussing this Parsha, notes how strange it is that Bilaam is portrayed by the Toirah as having a personal relationship with Hakkadoshboruchhu, referring to him by name, and mentioning several times that Bilaam had His personal cell phone number.
Says the Gemmarah, according to a Bas Kol (a voice emanating from heaven), Bilaam was in fact not associated with the Rebboinoisheloilum at all. Says the Bas Kol, "The Aimishteh denies that any alleged contacts with Mr. Bilaam took place at any time, and expresses that any alleged leaks were certainly unintentional and not a violation of Federal law. As well, Hakkadoshboruchhu has engaged a private counsel, and will have nothing else to say on this matter at this time."
Rav Huna rejects the Bas Kol, citing credibility issues arising from previous high level leaks that took place following the "Golden Calf" affair. Instead, he suggests that the Bilaam story is actually a legend created by the author of the E text in order to support Israelite claims of manifest destiny over Moabite territories by referring to Bilaam, a historical Near Eastern shaman. Unfortunately, Rav Huna disappeared without a trace before he could prove his theory.
Rav Ashi suggests, however, that Bilaam did indeed have a relationship with the Rebboinoisheloilum, but tried to exploit that relationship in order to develop his own following and offer an alternative religion, a substitute to Toiras Moishe. He points to a medrish that says that Bilaam was supported by a band of nerdy looking teenagers who were always doggedly handing out deceptive looking yellow fliers in the subway during rush hour advocating membership in “Bedouins for Bilaam.”
Indeed, this interpretation points to a paradox at the heart of Yiddishkeit. Judaism itself is an alternative, a substitute for the pagan beliefs and rituals pervasive in society until the time of Avraham Avinu. As such, we have from time immemorial lived side-by-side with others, yet remained committed to alternative philosophies and approaches based upon our conception of monotheism and the practices inspired by our core belief set.
Yes, Judaism is dedicated to the concept of being unique, both in our faith and in our material existence. Take food, for example. We separate ourselves from the animals and the anti-Semite nations of the world by our dietary practices. Others eat pig; we do not. Other mix milk and meat; we consecrate our lives by putting non-dairy creamer in our coffee.
Take aesthetic habits. The women of other nations expose their hair as they prostitute themselves; we, on the other hand, assert our holiness and superiority by wearing $3000 dollar wigs.
A maaseh shehoyo: The Pri Megadin was once at a bachelor party for his brother in law, the Eliyahu Rabbah. After going out for steaks, they eventually ended up at the best strip club in all of Lithuania. One of the exotic dancers, Ruchel, came over to the Pri Megadin and whispered in his ear, "Rebbe, I have always been inspired by your commentaries. Would you like a lap dance?" The Pri Megadin looked at her closely, leaned forward, and replied to her, "Meideleh, I don't fraternize with shiksas."
"But Rebbe," she said, "I am as Jewish as your wife!"
"You don't show it. My aishess chayil projects her Jewishness with her elaborate hair covering, separates herself through her elegant-though-modest mode of dress, builds upon the Divine's creation with her delicate rhinoplasty, and truly distinguishes herself with her double-D implants."
The Pri Megadin then puked and passed out at the bar, and spent the night sleeping on the floor until it was time for Shacharis.
Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval