Mutual Admiration Society

Friday, 9 July, 2021 - 10:13 am

In this week’s Parsha we find something puzzling. Hashem commands Moshe to instruct the people of Israel to avenge the people of Israel by waging war against the Midianite nation.

(This is in response to the insidious plot suggested by Bilaam at the end of Parshat Balak, that the Midianites send their women to seduce the men of Israel, inducing the Jewish men to be immoral with them and worship their deity. The implementation of this plan brought a plague upon the people of Israel, resulting in 24,000 Israelite casualties. When Bilaam heard about the plague, he came running back to Midian to collect his payment for the plan that killed so many Jews. To his misfortune, his ill-timed return to Midian coincided with the war against the Midianites. The Torah relates about the slaying of Bilaam and the five chieftains of Midian.)

When Moshe transmits Hashem’s command to do battle against Midian to the people of Israel, he frames is at “avenging the L-rd against Midian.” So which is it; avenging the honor of Israel or avenging the honor of the L-rd?”

The explanation offered by the Rebbe in the name of his father, R’ Levi Yitzchok, is as follows. There were two aspects to the insidious plot suggested by Bilaam and carried out by the Midianites. One was an attempted assault against the people of Israel – to get rid of as many Jews as possible. The second was the method; inciting the Jews to immorality and idolatry, which is an affront to their G-d. As Bilaam characterized it “The G-d of these people despises promiscuity.” This is the most effective way to destroy them from within.

The war against Midian was a response to both of these aspects, the assault against Israel and the affront to G-d. Because of Hashem’s love and admiration for the people of Israel, He frames the battle as avenging the honor of Israel. Moshe, on the other hand, expresses his love and admiration for Hashem, by framing the battle as avenging the honor of the L-rd.  

In a relationship of love, one is always looking out for the benefit and honor of the other. May we emulate this approach to life in our personal relationships, our interactions with our fellow Jews, and our relationship with Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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