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July 1, 2014 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Balak

This week’s Torah portion is about the paranoia of Balak, king of Moab.  The Torah says “he was terrified because of the great victory won by the Israelite soldiers” (Num. 22:2).  As a result, he asks the pagan prophet Balaam to curse the Jews.  As Scharfstein states, “they feared and distrusted the desert wanderers”.  Balak was trying to decide whether to leave the Jews alone in the hopes he would leave them alone, or to nip the Hebrew threat in the bud.  At first (as our portion shows) he tried the first strategy, without much success.  Since the historical record shows that Moab survived for seven or eight centuries after the Exodus, it appears that they eventually wised up and tried the second strategy.

It strikes me that the United States is in a somewhat similar situation to Balak.  We have heard about an army of desert wanderers (the Islamic State, or ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever you wanted to call them) having some surprising victories over the Iraqi and Syrian armies.  Because the Islamic State guys seem to be a spinoff of al-Qaeda, our leaders are naturally afraid that they might turn on the U.S and try to create another 9/11.  And because cursing doesn’t really work, a military response might be in order.  But it seems to me possible that this response might be as counterproductive as the Moabite/Midianite response.

There are two possible scenarios:

A.  ISIS wants to attack the U.S. as soon Iraq stabilizes.

B.  ISIS doesn’t like the U.S. much, but is really much more interested in ruling its own patch of land, and will not bother the U.S. unless the U.S. bothers ISIS.

If scenario A is correct, the U.S. should probably respond far more aggressively than it has, if it is actually possible to crush ISIS rather than merely causing its fighters to merely leave Iraq and scatter across the globe (thus massively increasing the risk of anti-American terrorism). 

If scenario B is correct, the U.S. might be well advised to mind its own business, because the more we fight ISIS, the more likely they are to become involved in anti-U.S. terrorism.  And since they have gotten quite a bit of wealth from plundering the Iraqi locals, they have the money to do a lot more damage than al-Qaeda.

I don’t have any idea which is correct, but I hope the President is devoting every waking second to the issue, rather than continuing to chase rainbows by trying to revitalize the Israeli/Palestinian peace process for the umpteenth time.  (In fact, I kind of wonder whether the U.S. would have been a little more focused on Iraq had they not spent the past few years chasing said rainbows).


*Scharfstein adds that the Moabaites “were aware that the Israelites would not attack their own kinsmen.”  But this is stupid.  The Israelites may have known that, but how would the Moabites know that?  Come to think of it, maybe they didn’t know the Israelites were their kinsmen.


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