We begin the Three Weeks.
Is it an accident that the world seems to be engulfed by one crisis after another? The oil bubbling up from the ocean floor is a perfect symbol of the continuously unfolding tide of disasters. The world teeters, increasingly out of control. And Israel stands alone. As Balaam says in this week’s parshah, “Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9).
In all honesty, I do not understand our nation. As the world lines up against us, people say, “How is it possible that this ‘friend of Israel’ has gone against us, and that ‘friend of Israel’ has gone against us? I am amazed! I am appalled! I am outraged. We must demonstrate! We must contact the media! We must correct the lies that are being against us!”
What are we “amazed” about?
Were we born yesterday?
Did Balaam not tell us thousands of years ago that we “dwell in solitude” and are “not reckoned among the nations”? Don’t we get it? Why are we surprised?
But the nations of the world are engaged in an impossible mission. There is absolutely no doubt they will fail. Balaam’s very curses came out backward. Every word uttered against us – in Balaam’s time and in our time – will come out backward. Every venomous arrow will become a shower of blessing upon God’s people Israel. There is nothing they can do to change it.
“How can I curse? God has not cursed. How can I anger? God is not angry” (Numbers 23:8).
But instead of understanding this and drawing closer to the God Who loves and protects us, we give weight to our enemies’ words. We react to them; we insist on arguing with them, trying in vain to “correct” the “misinformation.” By attributing reality to these curses, we are in danger of falling into the trap of the miraglim, who thought their fate lay in the hands of their enemies, for “we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes” (Numbers 13:33).
Is God not real? Is the Torah not real? What power do the curses of our enemies have? As we read in Tehillim (Psalm 118): “Hashem is with me. I have no fear. How can man affect me?”
It is much easier to blame someone else than to work on ourselves.
As Rav Yisrael Salanter put in a letter written in 1849: “[It is the norm for people] to conduct themselves by following after the dictates of desire . [But] the battle is raging. The yetzer ha’ra waits in ambush; desire is unrestrained and negative character traits overwhelm us. We have no weapon [with which to fight the yetzer ha'ra] . There is no hope to be saved from the snare of death unless we grasp the weapon, the ideals of yiras shamayim and mussar study.”
Reb Yitzchok Blazer, zt”l, cites a Gemara: “The yetzer ha’ra of a man grows in strength from day to day and seeks to kill him And were it not that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is his help, he would not be able to withstand it” (Sukkah 52b as quoted in Ohr Yisrael p. 578).
What our enemies say about us makes no difference. The only thing that makes a difference is what God says about us. And the only way to change what God says about us is to change ourselves.
This is our task for the Three Weeks.
We learn from Balaam that our Father in Heaven converts the curses of our enemies into blessings if we merit His mercies. Now is the time to work on ourselves. Obviously this labor is not confined to the Three Weeks, but the intense period of teshuvah culminating in Yom Kippur does in fact begin right now.
During our entire glorious journey through history, from Avraham Avinu to the present day, we have constantly been protected from Above, whether it is “directly and not through an angel” as in Egypt, or through the agency of angels, or pillars of glory, or pillars of fire, or manna, or in a hidden manner. If we mistakenly attribute power to our enemies, then we are denying this Truth.