How goodly are your tents, O Jacob; Your dwellings, O Israel! As winding brooks As gardens by the river’s side As aloes which G-d has planted As cedars beside the waters….
“He [the Jew] crouches and lies like a lion, like a lioness; who will dare rouse him? Blessed is he that blesses you, And cursed is he that curses you….”
What is more, the most explicit reference in the five books of Moses to Moshiach, the Jewish leader who will bring about the full and ultimate redemption, when heaven and earth will kiss and humanity will become truly one, is to be found in Balaam’s prose:
“I see it, but not now; I behold it, but it is not near. A star shall come forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise up from Israel…”
This is very strange. The identity, nature and calling of the Jewish people is naturally discussed abundantly throughout the Bible. Yet the fact remains that the most acute, potent and finely tuned appreciation of Jewish identity is communicated through the mouth of a non-Jewish prophet who loathes Israel and attempts to destroy it.
The message, I believe, is quite clear.
The Torah is teaching us that if you wish to understand who the Jew is, you must seek the perspective of the non-Jew. The non-Jewish individual, who is unbiased and unaffected by the ‘Jewish complex’ and its inclination toward self-depreciation, possesses a keener appreciation of the Jew than many Jew themselves do.
The non-Jewish world does not fall prey to the popular Jewish claim that we are merely a ‘normal secular people,’ a ‘cultural ethnic group’ which enjoys love, money, food and leisure as much as any good non-Jew in the world.
Consciously or subconsciously, the gentile senses that something very profound and authentic sets the Jew apart from the rest of the human race. Although he or she may not be able to put his or her finger on what exactly that otherness is, the non-Jew feels that Israel ‘is a people that dwells alone, and is not reckoned among the nations.’
A Peculiar People
Eric Hoffer, an American social philosopher, author of the classic ‘The True Believer’ and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, expressed Balaam’s sentiments in a Los Angeles Times article of May 1968. It is tragically clear that almost nothing has changed since Mr. Hoffer wrote these words:
“The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews.
“Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem. Russia did it, Poland and Czechoslovakia did it, Turkey threw out a million Greeks, and Algeria a million Frenchmen. Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese – and no one says a word about refugees.
“But in the case of Israel the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab. Arnold Toynbee called the displacement of the Arabs an atrocity greater than any committed by the Nazis.
“Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.