Balak, king of Moav, is in morbid fear of Bnei Yisrael. He summons a renowned sorcerer named Bilaam to curse them. First, G-d speaks to Bilaam and forbids him to go. But, because Bilaam is so insistent, G-d appears to him a second time and permits him to go. While en route, a malach (emissary from G-d) blocks Bilaam's donkey's path. Unable to contain his frustration, Bilaam strikes the donkey each time it stops or tries to detour. Miraculously, the donkey speaks, asking Bilaam why he is hitting her. The malach instructs Bilaam regarding what he is permitted to say and what he is forbidden to say regarding the Jewish People. When Bilaam arrives, King Balak makes elaborate preparations, hoping that Bilaam will succeed in the curse. Three times Bilaam attempts to curse and three times blessings issue instead. Balak, seeing that Bilaam has failed, sends him home in disgrace.
Bnei Yisrael begin sinning with the Moabite women and worshipping the Moabite idols, and they are punished with a plague. One of the Jewish leaders brazenly brings a Midianite princess into his tent, in full view of Moshe and the people. Pinchas, a grandson of Aharon, grabs a spear and kills both evildoers. This halts the plague, but not before 24,000 have died.
“Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.” (23:9)
A man jumps off the top of the Empire State building. As he is plunging downward, accelerating at 32 feet per second squared, someone sticks his head out of the window on the 29th floor and yells to him “Are you okay?” Smiling, he shouts back “So far, so good!”
America has proved a home of unparalleled acceptance for the Jewish People. The United States has the merit of supporting enormous amounts of Torah scholarship. However, the rampant assimilation that is also a facet of American life should give us pause. We cannot afford to sit back and say “So far, so good.”
The Jewish People are, in essence, an entity that exists in solitude. They are removed from the rest of society because they are essentially different from the other nations. Like oil and water, they cannot mix. And when they seem to mix, the eventual separation is violent and tragic in direct proportion to the desire to blend into the melting-pot. The Jews of Germany proclaimed their undying loyalty to a Germany that killed and tortured them. It took the horror of the gas chambers to serve as a reminder that Berlin was not Jerusalem.
In this week’s weekly Torah portion we find a hint to the solitary nature of the Jewish People: “Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.” The Hebrew word in this sentence for ‘It is’ is hen. Hen consists of two letters, heh and nun. The gematria (numerical equivalent) of heh is five. Five is a unique number. It dwells alone. It has no partner other than itself. In the series of numbers from one to nine, all other numbers will combine with a different number to make ten. One and nine. Two and eight. And so on. However, five combines only with itself. It dwells alone and can only combine with itself to reach ten.
Similarly, the letter nun is exactly halfway through the extended Hebrew alphabet of twenty-seven letters. Nun is letter 13. If you pair the first letter with the last, the second with the penultimate letter, and so on, each letter will have a partner. Until you come to the 13th letter. The heh and the nun are like the Jewish People. A nation that dwells alone.
- Source: Rabbi Menachem Nissel