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Salvation in Solitude
Adapted from Parasha U’Pishra by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
Translated and Adapted by Braha Bender
On the summit of one of the mountains of Moab stood Balaam, one of the greatest sorcerers of all time. He gazed over the desert where the Israelites were camped, their tents spreading into the distance. He stood silently in the throes of a vision. He saw the future of this nation, spreading to the four corners of the earth, amidst all the countries of the world, yet not lost among them. They would outlive all the nations Balaam knew. Certainly, they would exist longer than Moab, the nation that had sent Balaam on this dark mission.
It was hopeless. Balaam felt his strength dissipate on the breeze. The curses he had brought with him had no voice. In their place floated the inevitability of blessing. He was forced to open his mouth and submit to his vision; he would describe the Jews as the Almighty was showing the to be:
“For from its origins, I see it rock-like, and from hills do I see it. Behold! it is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9).
This is our unique historical map. Through suffering and fortitude, Jewish history is a singular phenomenon.
In the words of Dr. Yaacov Herzog, in the aftermath of the Six Day War:
Only a year ago I was host to fifteen non-Jewish heads of theological faculties from the United States. They wanted to discuss with me the spiritual nature of Israel reborn…. the status of the Jew throughout history. I asked them if they were familiar with the passage “the people shall dwell alone” (Numbers 23:9). They were, and I said that in traditional Jewish belief this was said 3,300 years ago. … Balaam was the greatest prophet of the nations of the world, of whom the sages said: “In Israel there arose none like Moses, but among the nations of the world there arose such a one and he was Balaam.” It would seem remarkable that the sages should say such a thing, and I explained to them my interpretation of it. All prophecy relates to events as they will unfold, but Balaam’s prophecy was even higher in that it related to the nature of a people until the end of time, which lies beyond any possible human concept….
As we analyzed further, I asked them whether they accept that this was said of the Jewish people thousands of years ago. All the theologians said, “That we accept.” … “Now,” I said to them, “has this prophecy remained true to the present day? Has it been fulfilled in the realities of history? Has the prophecy ‘a people set apart’ stood the test of time?”
Of the State of Israel, I told them, there is no question that this is so. Israel is alone – contrary to what the original theoreticians of Zionism assumed, that we could become like all nations and become a normal people. Now, 17/18 years later, we are still alone; we have friends across the world, and yet we are isolated. We belong neither to East nor West, neither to NATO nor the Warsaw Pact, neither to the neutralist bloc nor the Arab League, neither to the Afro-Asian bloc nor the underdeveloped countries. We belong to no framework except our own. We are totally isolated in the inner sense of family.
There is but one people in the world that has one religion, and one religion in the world that has but one people. Israel alone, of all the nations of the world could not survive without her Diaspora. If all the Irishmen in the world were to cease to exist tomorrow, there would be no question that Ireland would continue to exist. If, God forbid, the Jews of the Diaspora were to disappear, it is very, very doubtful if Israel would continue to exist; and as we need the Jews of the Diaspora, so they need us.
I then asked my guests, “…In your universities is the Jewish student ‘a people set apart’ or not? Is he totally part of American society or is he separate?” A Catholic nun who was present – a very brilliant woman, head of a university faculty – answered me with a very, very wise definition. “The Jew in our university who is proud of his Judaism is distinctive. The Jew who hides his heritage is even more different.” A very incisive definition indeed of the nature of the Jew in the Western world.
(A People That Dwells Alone: Speeches and Writings of Yaacov Herzog)