David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, used to say, “What matters is not what the Gentiles will say, but what the Jews will do.” This is one lesson from this week’s parsha, Balak.
As the Israelites approached Moab, King Balak heard all that God had done for the Children of Israel and how the Jews had grown in numbers and strength. Balak was afraid. He sent for Balaam, a non-Jew to whom God had given the gift of prophesy, to have Balaam curse the Jews as they approached his land.
Balaam explained he could only say the words God put in his mouth. At Balak’s orders, Balaam tried three times to curse the Jews, but each time God had Balaam bless the Jews instead of cursing them. Balak became angry with the prophet.
The Israelites camped near Moab. Moabite and Midianite women invited Jewish men to feasts and tried to get them to worship their idols. The Talmud says this was Balaam’s idea, since he could not curse the Jews as Balak had wanted. Many men were fooled into worshiping the idols, including Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Simeon. The punishment for idol worship was death, and God sent a plague which killed 24,000.
Moses and Aaron were paralyzed with grief. Pinchas, a grandson of Aaron, saw this and understood it was up to him to carry out the law in order to stop the idol worship. He did this by executing Zimri and the Midianite princess who had enticed him to worship idols. This ended the plague.
Ben Gurion was right. Our ancestors’ enemies could not harm us. Only when we gave up our principles were we in danger.