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Parshat Balak reminds us of the age-old disgust towards us, that we cannot allow to shape our identity

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Much of world history is a timeline of nations hating each other. Billions have been slaughtered in the name of hatred. But amidst the cold hatred, there is a hot sweltering disgust, its stench wreaking havoc on the rational explanations of historians. Sprinkled throughout the timeline of the world, there is a small nation called the Jews, who have been the object of not hatred, but rather disgust.

Our theological beliefs hurt no one; we never imposed our rules on others. If anything, we kept to ourselves, wanting only to keep close to G-d. And yet, our presence, our very existence, has made many people sick.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Moabite King, Balak, is described as becoming disgusted with the Jewish people. Birthing a trend that would lead to the death of millions of Jews from antiquity to modernity, Balak, King of Moav, is “disgusted because of them.” What is wrong with us, that even four thousand years ago, we seemed to carry a stench that nauseated the world?

I am only twenty two years old, and I have seen nations recoil in disgust as the sight of my people. I will never forget walking through Auschwitz, reading quotes from Nazi Germany literature, which said the Jews are a “race-tuberculosis of the people,” and “when the vermin are dead, the German Oak will again flourish!” The word “vermin” is in the recesses of my mind. I remember stretching my hands before me, wondering what the world saw different in me.

As a former college student living in New York City, I have seen the past and present merge together grossly. I have witnessed the consequences of being treated as vermin for millennia. I have seen how desperate we young Jews can be to fit in.

We can still hear the voice of Balak speaking to his advisors, discussing that dirty slave nation, who takes up too much space. We fear that what he says is true. We look in the mirror, and our reflections begin to shapeshift in front of us; we slowly morph into rodents. Oh, if only they hated us! Disgust is too much to bear! 

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Our own Jewishness begins to sicken us, and so we scramble to conform, in seeking validation and confirmation of our worth as citizens of the world. After thousands of years of revulsion, of nausea at the sight of our beards, and our head coverings, the world has sold us the message of our own repulsiveness. We lower our heads and take off our yarmulkes. We change our Hebrew names, fix our noses, and destroy all evidence of our Jewishness.

What a shame to forget the mighty nation that we are, whose presence in the great Judean desert made nations around us tremble. What a tragedy to forget the fearsome men and women from whom we come, whose every move was ordained and instructed by G-d.

Thirsty Souls: how do we keep our heads held high? We must close our eyes, and visualize that which we read in this weeks Torah portion. In it, is something you will never come across again. We are given a glimpse, in the form of perfect poetry, of the Jewish people from G-d’s perspective. We are given permission to see ourselves from the mind of G-d.

In an attempt to rid the world of the loathsome Jews, King Balak seeks out Bilaam, the non-Jewish prophet, who had direct access to G-d, His curses and His blessings. Balak cries out, “Please come and curse this people for me… for I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed.”

G-d hovers above Bilaam, and causes not curses, but blessings to flow from the mouth of the prophet. Bilaam takes up his poem, thundering, “How can I curse whom God has not cursed? For from their beginning, I see them as mountain peaks, 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 Lord, his God, is with him, and he has the King’s love.”

We are likened to the towering Andes mountains, whose existence seems to precede the world, whose lonely peaks scrape the heavens above. Like that fearsome mountain range, we Jews seem to be tethered to the core of the earth. Like those lonely mountain tops, we have been, and always will be different, alone in the way we eat and sleep, live and teach.

Like those soaring mountain peaks who seek no validation, or permission to stand tall and strong amidst the high elevation winds, we Jews need no permission or validation to live the way we do.

How can anyone curse those who are so loved? All the disgust in the world cannot faze us; we have the King’s love. 

Rochel Leah Boteach is the force behind The Thirsty Souls. A fierce advocate for female Torah scholarship and leadership, she created her page determined to teach Torah to all people in all places. She is on a mission to nourish and nurture a living, breathing Judaism for all.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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