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Balak And The Battle Of Gettysburg


Statue of Brig. Gen. John Gibbon

Statue of Brig. Gen. John Gibbon

The Chofetz Chaim notes that Balak was an evil person. Such a personality can only imagine achieving success through cursing his opponent. Rather than imagining attaining victory by building himself up, Balak thought he could only win by having his opponents knocked down.

In politics this is referred to as “negative campaigning.” Rather than accentuate one’s attributes, accomplishments, and successes, candidates often attempt to win by slinging mud at their opponents. One can tell a lot about a person’s true character by the way he seeks to promote himself. Does he accentuate his positives, or does he try to tear down his opponent in the most negative manner? An evil personality like Balak thought strictly in negative terms, never imagining there was a higher road that could lead to success. As such, he let the opportunity of a potential blessing from Bilam slip through his fingers.

Aside from giving one the appearance of being nasty and small-minded, negative campaigning is also an ineffective way to promote one’s cause – or sell a product. It is common knowledge that companies spend billions of dollars on advertisements each year. It follows that before all those advertising dollars are invested, marketing gurus study the most effective ways to push a product. If we think about the most effective advertising campaigns we’ve seen, we realize they are examples of positive campaigning. Fortunes are spent trying to convince us that by purchasing a given product, we will achieve peace, happiness, and bliss.

Even if we are not working in the world of advertising, each of us is involved in trying to sell a product. The Torah is very clear that our ancestors stood at Sinai and entered into a covenant with God, agreeing to observe the Torah as a nation. Only by observing that Torah on the national level can we expect God to keep His part of that covenant, blessing us with unlimited peace and prosperity.

As observant Jews, we also believe that every Jew’s life would be enhanced on a personal level if it were lived in accordance with the Torah. We hope – and make significant efforts and sacrifices toward that end – that our children, families, friends and co-religionists will all choose to live a life of Torah and mitzvahs.

What is the most effective way for us to promote a lifestyle of Torah and mitzvah observance to our fellow Jews? We need to consistently emphasize that Torah is the greatest gift God has given us. Far from being a burden, mitzvahs are vehicles to enrich our lives in a way like nothing else can.

Let us emphasize that inside each one of us is a Jewish soul that is hungry and thirsty. This spiritual hunger and thirst can only be quenched by the Torah and mitzvahs God has given us. In essence, the many mitzvahs we have been given are opportunities to draw closer to God and achieve that sense of contentment we all seek in life.

Our sages, in fact, emphasized this point with the mishnaic teaching (Makos 3:16) that “As God desired to benefit Israel, He gave them much in the way of Torah and mitzvahs.” Marketing the Torah in this manner – and of course by our own personal example – will resonate with people much more strongly than any negative marketing campaigns.

Balak’s mistake was a missed opportunity that proved to be catastrophic for him and his people. Let us learn from Balak and be sure to promote Torah in the most positive way possible. If we take the high road, we will not come across as nasty people or pass up incredible opportunities.

About the Author: Rabbi Akiva Males is rabbi of Kesher Israel Congregation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.


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