When Negative is a Positive

Friday, 3 July, 2020 - 1:16 pm

Covid-19 testing is all the rage right now. As one of the most important weapons in the arsenal of our battle against the virus, communities are stepping up their testing in a big way. (So much so that there is a (hopefully temporary) supply chain issue right now…)

So what happens? You go and they jab the long swab up your nose and then you wait for results. What is the desired result you want to hear? Negative! Imagine that “negative” is actually a positive. How could negative be a positive? Simple. The negation of a negative is a positive. But it is really a positive or just a neutral non-negative? I will leave the answer to that question to the theorists. I would like to focus on a parallel situation wherein the negative actually was a positive.

Forty years into their journey through the Sinai desert (wilderness), the people of Israel were finally approaching the borders of the Promised Land. They had defeated the two powerful kings, Sichon and Og, who were hired by the neighboring nations to serve as the last line of defense against the Israelites. Balak, the King of Moav, is freaking out. His nation is in panic. The Yiddish are coming! He goes and hires the most powerful sorcerer of all time, Bilaam, to pronounce curses against the people of Israel to ensure their defeat.

The Torah describes how time and time again, Bilaam’s attempts to curse the Jewish people are thwarted and what comes out of his mouth are some of the most profound blessings in the Torah. Couched in beautiful poetry, Bilaam, our hated enemy, eloquently depicts the greatness of our people, the depth of our relationship with Hashem, and our role in the destiny of the universe.

Here is a sampling of his words: “For from their beginning, I see them as mountain peaks, and I behold them as hills; it is a nation that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations.” “He does not look at evil in Jacob, and has seen no perversity in Israel; the L-rd, his G-d, is with him, and he has the King's friendship.” “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel… He crouches and lies like a lion and like a lioness; who will dare rouse him? Those who bless you shall be blessed, and those who curse you shall be cursed.” “I see it, but not now; I behold it, but not soon. A star has gone forth from Jacob, and a staff will arise from Israel which will crush the princes of Moab and uproot all the sons of Seth. Edom shall be possessed, and Seir shall become the possession of his enemies, and Israel shall triumph.”

In the end the greatest negative, our antagonist Bilaam, became a positive through Hashem’s intervention. As Deuteronomy 23:6 states, “But the L-rd, your G-d, did not want to listen to Bilaam. So the L-rd, your G-d, transformed the curse into a blessing for you, because the L-rd, your G-d, loves you.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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