Friday, July 3, 2015

Balak 5775, July 2015, The protective feminine

Balak, says the midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah and the Zohar, was himself one of the greatest magicians with power over forces of tumah of his time. Yet he contracted with Bilam to help him destroy the Jewish people. Why? Because he knew he had no power over them himself due to what had happened to his own creation. His special form of magic involved the animation of an artificial bird with magic powers through tumah. When Balak had resolved to destroy the Jews, his bird flew away just as he was offering incense to it, and after a long disappearance it reappeared with a singed tail--which told Balak that the Shechinah specifically would always thwart him in attacking the Jews (Zohar). Not G-d in general, not the Clouds of Glory which physically protected the Jews at the time, but specifically the Shechinah.

Why the Shechinah? There are two aspects to consider. First, along with Chochmah, the Shechinah represents the feminine aspect of G-d (as we understand it; obviously G-d transcends gender but we understand things in concrete ways). This is alluded to in the brachah Bilam inadvertently gives the Jews, "Mah tovu," "How good are your tents," which we are taught actually refers not to a metaphor (unless you go to the Kabbalah, but that's another discussion of course) but to the actual physical tents of the Jews in their camps in the deserts, for the women's inherent modesty made them always site their tents so that no entrance or opening faced directly to those of another tent; in this way they always had privacy and provided it to their neighbors. This true modesty is one of the greatest traits of the Jews, and das Yehudis has always been a closely guarded value.
Summertime! And being a Jewish girl is great!

In addition the Shechinah itself was found in the Mishkan itself, inhabiting the Kodesh Kodeshim. The karbanos, tefillos, and study of the Jews was their very protection as the Shechinah kept them from harm.

In the end, it was indeed mostly men who sinned following Balak and Bilam's campaign, but the women and their holiness were able to protect the people as a whole and it was their feminine nature, their holiness, their prayers, which kept G-d from destroying the people entirely.

We must continue today in this vein; remembering our natural modesty (without going overboard or being judgmental of others' standards of modesty) in our dress, behavior, demeanor, and thought. Yet that alone is not enough; we all must continue our tefillos and talmud Torah as well as the other mitzvahs we can perform to bring about protection for the Jewish people as a whole.

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