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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Balak

The Eyes Have It

Bilam, the one-eyed man - whose vision proved to be myopic - sought in vain to cast an evil eye upon us. But he learned that we see things with 20-20 vision. We don't "cover the eye" of the land; we remove all the blinders from the world and reveal the truth of Hashem for all to see.
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The more things change, they say, the more they remain the same. In last week’s parsha, we saw Bnei Yisrael flex its muscles & successfully wage war against Amalek,
Sichon & Og. In our Sedra, we face yet another enemy, this time in the form of an unholy alliance between Bilam & Balak (the last 2 letters of their Hebrew names spell out the word "Amalek!"), representing the nations of Midian & Moav.

Rather than attack us frontally, Balak hires sorcerer/seer Bilam to curse Israel. But time after time, Hashem causes Bilam to utter blessings, not curses, & we end up even stronger than we were before their verbal assault.

In appealing to Bilam to curse & defame Am Yisrael, Balak says the following: "This nation has come out of Egypt; it now covers the eye of the land & sits opposite me. So go and curse them." The simple understanding of this is that Balak fears that Israel, being so huge a population, threatens to overrun Moav’s land & resources.

But the phrase, "v’chisa et ayn ha-aretz – they cover the eye of the land" intrigues me. It only appears in one other place in Tanach, when describing the massive plague of
locusts that comprised the 8th Plague. Could Balak not have simply said, "Israel is a huge, expansive People?" Why the locust-like reference?

So I suggest that the (not so) subtle language is employed here to infer that the Jews are compared to insects; loathsome, rapidly multiplying creatures that parasitically eat everything that the Moabites worked so hard to grow. This is the same slur used by Paro to incite the Egyptians, when he said; "Israel is great & mighty from us!" It is the same demonic imagery employed by the Nazis and other Jew-haters in history. In other words, they are saying their citizens are entitled – even praised – for crushing the Jews like bugs.

But something else is also implied by the phrase, "They cover the eye of the land." Balak is stating his case for cursing the Jews, intimating to his subjects,

"The Jews don’t SEE things the way we do, the way others do, & so they threaten our world order & our way of life. We say, ‘Might makes right;’ while they say, ‘Right
makes might.’ We say that the nobility rules all, but they say every human being, regardless of station, has rights and privileges. We say, ‘Arbeit macht frei; that work
sets you free (& generates parnasa); yet they say that G-d alone controls one’s livelihood & well-being. We say, ‘take as much as you can!’ but they say, ‘take only what
G-d allows you to take.’ We say ‘live for today!’ but they say ‘build for tomorrow, the Geula.’ Yes, the accursed Jews do indeed sit ‘opposite of us’ with their G-dly belief system, a system we Moabites cannot tolerate."

Bilam, the one-eyed man - whose vision proved to be myopic - sought in vain to cast an evil eye upon us. But he learned that we see things with 20-20 vision. We don't "cover the eye" of the land; we remove all the blinders from the world and reveal the truth of Hashem for all to see.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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