I just went to the Rabbis for Human Rights Weekly Torah Portion page, expecting to write a critique of whatever they wrote for this week’s parasha.
Previously I wrote about how they called Abraham “cruel” for listening to Sarah and sending Hagar away, downplayed the rape of Dinah and compared Israel’s leadership to the Pharaoh who decreed to murder all first born Jews.
But somehow, this week’s d’var Torah actually says that Israel has the right to defend itself from Hamas-led gangs in Gaza!
By Rabbi Gideon Sylvester
The United States’ departure from the United Nations Human Rights Council has provoked great debate. But one thing is certain: in exiting the council, the USA focused the world’s attention on the absurd and abhorrent discrimination against Israel.
The USA correctly identified that too often “human rights” is a guise for savage attacks on Israel and a licence to trigger antisemitism. Tragically, Jews too have jumped on the bandwagon rushing to criticise Israel and distance themselves from the soldiers who protect our borders against enemies who show no sign of wishing to make peace.
This week’s parsha tells the story of Bilaam the man who prostituted his prophetic abilities for kings who wished to attack the Jewish people.
We watch with a mixture of horror and delight as he sets off to curse the Jewish people and finds himself outsmarted by his donkey; a dumb animal whose prophetic instincts surpass his own. As the nineteenth century Biblical commentator Rabbi S. R. Hirsch puts it, “He wants to bring about the ruin of a whole nation with his words, but finds himself forced to concede that his rage is impotent even when directed against a mere animal”(Rabbi Hirsh commentary to Bamidbar 23:22).
Clambering up rocks and hills to look down upon the camp of Israel, Balaam helps us to find perspective on our nation. He describes us as “a people who dwell apart, that cannot be counted among the nations” (Bamidbar 23:9). Rabbi Hirsch explains that the Jewish people will live in its circumscribed territory not looking to show off our power, but rather to focus on our own spiritual mission.
Rashi, sees in Balaam’s prophecies a foreshadowing of our fate, a people whose ancestral roots point to our moral fortitude, a people who must stand alone in defending its moral principles and a people who will outlast their critics (Rashi’s commentary to Bamidbar 23:9).
It takes courage to stand alone. Not every Jew manages it. Commenting on our verse, the nineteenth century head of the Volozhin Yeshiva, the Netziv cites a series of historical examples in which the Jews distanced themselves from their people, traditions and culture to curry favour with other nations. In each case, it rebounded and they ended up rejected by those to whom they sought to ingratiate themselves.
My friend Eli Ovits was an army spokesman before taking over as Chief Executive of Limmud. He told me that Israel’s military rabbinate has ruled that where necessary, military spokespeople should work on Shabbat because the battle of words is an essential element of Israel’s defence.
When Israel is under sustained and unprovoked attack from Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, Jewish Human Rights activists take on a dual role. As ever, we must protect and promote human rights throughout our country, but our human rights agenda must also prioritise defending the right of Israelis to live in safety.
Bilaam warns us that public criticism of Israel is so often uncalled for, undignified, and inappropriate. We must stand united as a people who dwells alone; striving to live peacefully in our historic homeland.
Who knows – maybe he’s even saying that the Jews who live in Judea and Samaria should be able to “live peacefully in our historic homeland.”
And when he says hwo counterproductive it is when “Jews distanced themselves from their people, traditions and culture to curry favour with other nations” it sure sounds like he’s talking about – Rabbis for Human Rights and similar groups.
The disclaimer at the end of the article notes that this is not necessarily the opinion of RHR. But it is still astonishing, for a group that has readily twisted the Torah to push leftist ideals, to see an article that accurately notes that human rights means human rights for Jews, too.
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