grief in israel

Balak: What Do We Do When Israel Is Cursed?

Balak, the king of Moav, wanted to hire Bilaam to curse the Jewish people for a fortune of money. It is interesting that Balak believed in God and the power of invoking a curse from God, yet thought that God would change His mind about His Chosen People.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
from “Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Balak

In this week’s Torah portion, the King of Moab, very fearful of the armies of Israel camped practically at his doorstep and knowing he couldn’t defeat them in a military operation, chose to hire the greatest known Gentile prophet, Bilaam, to curse the Israelite nation. It is said that “I will bless those who bless you and he who curses you, I will curse” (Genesis 12:3) but that hasn’t stopped an endless stream of individuals and nations from trying, sometimes (seemingly) very successfully, to curse the Jewish people. Even a casual glance at Jewish history over the past several thousands of years reveals this.

I suppose then, I shouldn’t be surprised at the latest atrocity I’ve discovered aimed at the Jews and their nation Israel. No, in this case, I’m not taking about the tragic murders of the three teenage boys Gilad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrah, though certainly they are always on my mind. I’m talking about something my wife sent me via email a yesterday.

The debate over the New York Metropolitan Opera’s performance of “The Death of Klinghoffer” raises serious questions about the functioning of American Jewish leadership.

Leon Klinghoffer was a 69-year-old wheelchair- bound American Jew who, in 1985, with his wife and 11 friends, celebrated his 36th wedding anniversary on the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, that was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists. Klinghoffer was taken aside, shot and dumped overboard in his wheelchair.

The opera based on these events was composed by John Adams and the librettist was Alice Goodman, a convert from Judaism who is now a priest in the Anglican Church.

The opera was intentionally titled the “death” – not murder – of Klinghoffer, and purported to present “both sides of the equation.” The Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, said that Adams sought “to understand the hijackers and their motivations, and to look for humanity in the terrorists, as well as in the victims” and enable the “audience to wrestle with the almost unanswerable questions that arise from this seemingly endless conflict and pattern of abhorrent violent acts.” In other words: present the murderers and their victims as morally equivalent.

The opening scene honors terrorists. With a backdrop of graffiti on a wall proclaiming “Warsaw 1943, Bethlehem 2005,” Jews wearing kippot and headscarves enter the stage and plant trees on what is conveyed to the audience as plundered Arab territory.

The Palestinian chorus sings, “My father’s house was razed in 1948 when the Israelis passed over our street.” The Palestinians sing, “We are soldiers fighting a war. We are not criminals and we are not vandals but men of ideals.”

-Isi Leibler
“Candidly Speaking: The ‘Klinghoffer’ opera and the American Jewish establishment”
The Jerusalem Post, June 30, 2014

What is stunning is that the opera premiered in Brussels in 1991, as well as in various locations in the U.S., and is still going. It was cancelled in Boston after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but in 2014, the New York Metropolitan Opera scheduled a major global performance as well as a launch in over 70 U.S. theaters with a plan to simulcast the production to 2,000 theaters in 66 countries — an audience of millions of people.

terroristThis is crazy. You’re talking about a worldwide effort to glorify and praise terrorism and to somehow justify the murder, not just of Jewish people in general, but a 69-year-old wheelchair bound American Jew. You may remember the Achille Lauro incident. I certainly do. Time should never erase the stench of injustice and unavenged wrongs.

The fact that the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” praises murderers and terrorists whilst justifying the killings of innocent Jewish people, including the infirm and disabled, is nauseating. That this story should appear so closely to the recent deaths of Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal is the emotional and moral equivalent of soaking their parents in gasoline and then lighting them on fire. It’s like defiling the graves of these recently buried young Jewish men.

Not only should this opera never have seen the inside of a performing hall, but it should have been cancelled the instant Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal were discovered to be murdered. Why is it still going on? Worse, why is no one (besides me and various Jewish news reporters and commentators) complaining about it?

Over the past 40 years one of the most positive features of American Jewish leadership has been its uninhibited self-confidence, assertiveness and willingness to raise its voice with courage and dignity on behalf of Israel and Jewish causes. American Jewish leaders prided themselves on having rejected shtadlanut – reliance on silent diplomacy in lieu of public action. Alas, there are now grounds for concern that this is changing, maybe as a consequence of the adverse pressures emanating from the Obama administration.

How else can one ascribe the pitifully subdued response to the Met’s decision to perform an opera that not merely incorporates vicious anti-Israeli diatribes but which is blatantly anti-Semitic and seeks to romanticize and provide rationalization for the cold-blooded murder of a disabled person solely because he was Jewish. And this is an institution that is disproportionately funded by Jews, in the city with the greatest concentration of Jews in the Diaspora.

This opera is an abomination and an offense not only to Jews but to all Americans and all decent people who oppose terrorism and racism. It has no bearing on the rights or wrongs of the Arab-Israeli conflict or alleged grievances of Palestinians, which can be debated in other venues.

I don’t know how else to say it. What the **** is wrong with people?

They were already dead before we even knew they were abducted? Before prayers throughout the world stormed heaven for their safe return? Before Jews of every religious and political stripe united in a way we have not seen in years? Before the three mothers appeared at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva pleading for support? Before 15,000 Israeli soldiers, not much older than the boys themselves, spent two weeks without sleep or showers combing every basement and tunnel beneath the terrorist stronghold of Hebron? They were already butchered, their young bodies lying in a shallow grave miles north of the search area.

And in the ocean of our mourning, a question rises up like a sea monster: Were our prayers and our good deeds and our unity in vain?

-Sara Yoheved Rigler
“Were Our Prayers in Vain?”

Tisha b'Av at the Kotel 2007Rigler started her article with the words, “Tisha B’Av came early this year.” Sadly, I have to agree. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if year by year, Tisha B’Av ever really ends.

It’s not the fact that terrible things continue to happen to the Jewish people. Unfortunately, the world has been trying to exterminate Jews ever since Jewish people have existed. What makes me so angry is that the effort to destroy Israel and the Jewish people is escalating and yet no one is crying out for justice. Quite the opposite in fact. Every time Israel attempts to defend herself through arms, the rest of the world accuses Israel of brutality, while every time a Jew is slain by a terrorist, the murder is celebrated in Gaza and Ramallah and I suspect in most of the rest of the world.

I would love to see churches all over the world this Sunday offer up prayers for the families of Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal. I would love for Pastors to lead their congregations in prayers for Israel and for the protection of the Jewish people. I call on Christians everywhere to stand up and cry out to God for justice. But we must also make our voices heard among the people of the world, that Israel will not go quietly into the night, she will not vanish without a fight, she is going to live on! She is going to survive!

And not only that, but God will fight for His people and His nation. He will not let them be extinguished. In fact, not only will Israel survive, but she will thrive. She will be the head of all the nations while we will be the tail. She will lead the world into an era of unprecedented peace and tranquility. And Israel’s King, who will rule the Holy Land and the rest of the world, will punish all the countries who went up against Israel.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Yeshua (Jesus).

Revelation 22:20

But here’s the problem:

While Israel was staying at Shittim, the people profaned themselves by whoring with the Moabite women, who invited the people to the sacrifices for their god. The people partook of them and worshiped that god. Thus Israel attached itself to Baal-peor, and the Lord was incensed with Israel. The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the ringleaders and have them publicly impaled before the Lord, so that the Lord’s wrath may turn away from Israel.” So Moses said to Israel’s officials, “Each of you slay those of his men who attached themselves to Baal-peor.”

Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman over to his companions, in the sight of Moses and of the whole Israelite community who were weeping at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. When Phinehas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, saw this, he left the assembly and, taking a spear in his hand, he followed the Israelite into the chamber and stabbed both of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly. Then the plague against the Israelites was checked. Those who died of the plague numbered twenty-four thousand.

Numbers 25:1-9 (JPS Tanakh)

If cursing fails, people can be victimized in any number of other ways, sometimes by being their (our) own worst enemies.

grievingAs Isi Leibler commented, the Jewish leadership in the U.S. needs to be the first to speak up about “The Death of Klinghoffer” and its ghastly implications, but American churches and indeed, all American people who love justice and hate cruelty need to speak out as well. You are not going to save lives through “stealth protesting”. Simply “waiting on the Lord” to do something may be waiting in vain, for who is to say that God isn’t waiting on us to do something. Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal are waiting on us. What are we waiting for?

God has always used people to accomplish justice in our world and I have no reason to believe He’s stopped now. Heavens armies will come one day to wage war against Israel’s enemies but in the meantime, we need to become Heavens armies, if not with guns and cannons, with words, letters, petitions, demonstrations, protests.

Even if you just send the link to this blog post via email to one other person, post it on your Facebook page, tweet it on twitter, that’s something. But do something. Don’t just sit there staring at the screen of your computer or smartphone.

The blood of the murdered cries out from the ground where it was spilled, and the killers are laughing.

Leibler ends his opinion piece thus:

If Jewish leaders feel inhibited about raising their voices on such issues, they are betraying their mandate and moving backward to the “trembling Israelite” role that American Jews assumed in the 1930s.

Rigler’s last words in her commentary are:

And we, the families of the boys, their friends, their neighbors, and all of us, are left to suffer their loss, to mourn the tragedy of their young lives cut short. Our Bible tells us that there is, “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

Tisha B’Av came early this year. It is a time to weep and a time to mourn. But if we can only hold onto the unity we achieved in these 18 days, then in its merit the Redemption will come, and it will finally, finally, be a time to dance.

I know Rigler’s trying to be comforting, for after all, sometimes that’s all you can do, but I agree with Leibler, and not just in terms of Jewish leaders. We cannot allow ourselves to feel inhibited in raising our voices. If we do not stand up for justice now, how many more Jewish victims will go to their graves before Israel is redeemed by her King, and the God of Justice stands up against us?

A good person will resist an evil system with his whole soul. Disobedience of laws of an evil state is therefore a duty.


20 thoughts on “Balak: What Do We Do When Israel Is Cursed?”

  1. I will post it on Facebook, James. The only Christians that I know who have even heard about the kidnapping and murder of Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal are the ones who know me. I will email the pastor of the church where I teach and make this request for prayer. As for these antisemitic plays, It seems that as the veil was pulled over the eyes of Israel according to Paul, so has a very course, thick veil been pulled over the the hearts, the conscience’s of collective Christianity. It must be a supernatural blockage or blinding. It is beyond reason. The veil dims the spiritual light and the heart cannot see the hand in front of the space. Thank you for expressing your emotions… my friends have seen my outrage. I see it as a mitzvah.

  2. Thanks, Dan.

    Actually, I’m disappointed this blog post hasn’t gotten more traction. It seems like when I post something theologically controversial, folks are all over it. When I appeal to compassion, mercy, and justice, not so much. What does that say about human nature, even in the community of faith?

  3. In a case like this, maybe it says: “When you’re right, you’re right! Who could disagree?” Maybe it’s felt that you’ve said what needs to be said and there is little more to add that could be productive. The outstanding question is whether anything can be done to improve the situation, and if so, what precisely should be done? It’s not a matter that can be addressed so simply as chucking a spear through a couple of blatant malefactors.

  4. Perhaps that much of our society is addicted to drama, to include the community of faith. Big screens in churches, uber-sound-production worship music, Bible study via radio and mp3, etc. Perhaps the “veil” that seems pulled over the consciences of all to include the community of faith has to do with materialism, much of it in the form of technology, which produces digitized sound and visuals, etc…. that are silently addictive. That aspect of the veil plus erroneous Christian theology as an older aspect of veiling, over the past 2,000 years is enough to effectively isolate and insulate Christians from reality to the extent that only “drama” penetrates… Just thinking out loud, working out this observation that you articulate into something I observe as well… a kind of impenetrable shell wrapped around the Christian community that seems to become denser with time, filtering reality while enclosing wishful and willful thinking within it like a hermetically sealed container.

    Just an “out-there” kind of thought in my attempt to understand the warp and woof of collective Christianity’s, for lack of a better word, “autistic” perspective of the world.

  5. PL said: It’s not a matter that can be addressed so simply as chucking a spear through a couple of blatant malefactors.

    I have to admit, there are times when “spear throwing” is my immediate emotional response, but you’re right. I think the first thing I want people to do is admit that hatred of the Jewish people and of Israel exists in abundance, in America as well as any place else, that it’s wrong, and that we must vocally oppose it. Silence is a killer.

    Dan said: Perhaps that much of our society is addicted to drama, to include the community of faith…

    There’s plenty of “drama” in the murder of those three teenage boys and certainly in the heinous opera I mention above. Chances are no one in America except the Jewish community and Gentiles like us are even paying attention. When I’m in Sunday school class and the teacher asks for prayer requests, I’m going to ask for prayer for the families of Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal. I wonder if anyone there will even know who they are?

  6. You’re right. I should have specified “choice of drama”: a “drama-centric” p.o.v. that chooses to put so much focused attention on church activities that the rest of the world is a kind of secondary nether-reality, muffled, blurred, out-of-focus. “The world” vs. “the-not-of-this-world” syndrome. Things become compartmentalized and visiting the sick, helping the poor, etc. is “comfortable” but alot is left out of that comfort zone. For some, it’s politics, for many, many others, it’s the state of Israel/the Jewish people.

    My guess is if you mention the names of the boys – Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal – of those who actually know the names, some will simply agree in prayer, others may feel that your mention of the situation is somehow out-of-place or perhaps even inappropriate (God forbid).There is a form of passive anti-Jewishness that infects much of Christianity that many carry around within them without knowing it. It has the effect of “silencing” the “noise” of catastrophes like this that happen in Israel, as you mentioned somewhere prior, like the Fogels. The Fogel family massacre raised not even a peep from the evangelicals that surround me at work and at worship. None knew of it until I mentioned it and none seemed interested in it when mentioned. This is why I mention “autism” as a comparable condition as I strain to understand this entire state of affairs… perhaps a state of “catatonia” (?) is more appropriate. Either way, I believe it to be a spiritual state that infects the Christian collective soul.

    I have emailed the senior pastor at the church where I teach school in order to not be silent. And perhaps, to strike a chord of sensitivity buried down deep within the souls of a few folks, if, in fact, the request is acknowledged at the Sunday service.

    1. Dan said: I have emailed the senior pastor at the church where I teach school in order to not be silent. And perhaps, to strike a chord of sensitivity buried down deep within the souls of a few folks, if, in fact, the request is acknowledged at the Sunday service.

      The head Pastor at the church I attend lived in Israel for fifteen years and became very close to many Jewish people (which makes some of his theology rather difficult to understand). I should hope he won’t need the reminder. I suspect many others will, though.

  7. “Open Doors International, a charity that supports Christians under pressure for their faith, said 2,123 Christians were reported to have been killed during the 12 months ending Oct. 31, 2013. That compares to 1,201 during the previous 12 months. During the most recent period, more Christians were killed in Syria alone than were killed globally in the previous year.”

  8. Steven, I assume you’re posting this as some sort of counterpoint to the subject of my blog post, that is, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiments. Nothing I’ve said denies persecution of Christians in many areas of the world. I’ve even recently mentioned persecution of Christians on my blog. The fact that I highlight the continuation of the world’s hostility against the Jewish people in no way negates how much of the world, and particularly Islamic countries, hates Christians.

    Please also keep in mind that my wife and children are Jewish so my response to violence against Jews is personal.

  9. Thanks for reminding me of your mention of persecuted Christians.

    “Christian persecution always has external sources, people, other religious groups, nations, who are against the disciples of Christ. But Christianity is also its own worst enemy (and for the sake of this one blog post, I’ll toss the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements and their many variants into the mix). We’re always worse off when the world doesn’t attack us because then we attack each other. So much for “blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9).”

    My response to violence against Christians is also personal, but we are taught to bless those who curse us.

    “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) 🙂

  10. I just read this post now, catching up after being away for celebrations over this past weekend. I agree the opera is a disgusting concept that boggles the mind as to what people are thinking. I think, too, though, that the line before this one is a blotch on the conversation: “How else can one ascribe the pitifully subdued response to the Met’s decision to perform an opera that not merely incorporates vicious anti-Israeli diatribes but which is blatantly anti-Semitic and seeks to romanticize and provide rationalization for the cold-blooded murder of a disabled person solely because he was Jewish.”

  11. The commentator in question is Jewish and seems to be trying to spur the American Jewish community to more vocally opposed the “Klinghoffer” opera.

  12. I agree with that goal (and saw that as the main point of your post, etc.), but, the “line before” [as I said] what I quoted is worse than unproductive toward any positive motive… unless you’re going for the evil for good/intended as evil but good nexus.

  13. What I was referring to before was from the Jerusalem Post article you cited (as I discovered from going to the link). Here is more (from the other cited article) of what Sara said (which I found as I went to the link for Aish):

    So out of our ocean of mourning, the sea monster of doubt rears its head and mocks: Your prayers and good deeds and unity were in vain.

    “Jews Don’t Pray”

    Rabbi David Aaron, teaching a series about prayer, exclaimed: “Jews don’t pray.” The word “prayer” comes from a Latin word meaning “to beg.” The problems inherent is that concept of prayer are that we don’t have to tell God what we need, because God is omniscient, and it is futile to try to change God’s mind because God always gives us what He knows is best for us.

    On the other hand, the Hebrew word for appealing to God is “l’hitpallel.” It is a reflexive verb, indicating that one is acting on oneself. Through our prayers, we don’t change God; rather, we change ourselves. Since God always gives us as much good as we can contain, through tefilla, prayer, we make ourselves into bigger vessels to contain God’s blessing.

    No one can doubt that after 18 days of prayer, good deeds, and a radiant unity not seen in years, the Jewish people is bigger than it was before that frightful night. We are changed. We have transformed from a bickering tribe to a united family. For 18 days, our hearts beat in unison. Our prayers were not an appeal rejected, but a force of love so hot that it melted the iron walls between us, a wind of yearning so strong that it blew off the masks that camouflage our truest selves.

    But what of Eyal, Naftali, and Gilad? According to Judaism, the soul of one killed for being a Jew rises to high levels in the “World of Truth,” the spiritual realms where souls go when they exit the physical body….

  14. Isi’s Jerusalem Post article shows Sara’s hope of hot unity isn’t so realized (even among people speaking publicly about the loss of Jewish or Israeli lives). But that’s not new.

    I’m somewhat frustrated with Isi Leibler’s article because it doesn’t give dates (not even months) or links for his descriptions of what Jewish organisations have done. I’m also wondering when the scheduling of the Met’s fall dates happened. All we know is there’s controversy. I don’t know when this started or came to light, and it doesn’t look like the plan to host the opera actually coincided with the recent events in Israel; the Jerusalem Post article talking about it did.

    I did some outside reading, and the Met has hosted this writer before. As for THIS work, “…the opera premiered in Brussels in 1991, as well as in various locations in the U.S., and is still going. It was cancelled in Boston after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but in 2014, the New York Metropolitan Opera scheduled a major global performance as well as a launch in over 70 U.S. theaters with a plan to simulcast the production to 2,000 theaters in 66 countries — an audience of millions of people.”
    [This world-wide aspect has been cancelled; what is happening about the theatres throughout the U.S. wasn’t clarified in the article.]

  15. Yes, I saw that. But, as the Jerusalem Post article says, the global aspect isn’t happening, and I don’t know if that also means the theatres across the U.S. won’t be carrying anything either. The Met itself is in New York. Anyway, it would be nice to know when they scheduled all this; I don’t think it was within this recent time.

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