This past Monday, I accidentally helped start a riot on Har Habayit (the Temple Mount). I was up on the holiest site in Judaism with a small group of religious Jews peacefully minding our own business, when, suddenly we were besieged by shouts of Allahu Akbar from surrounding Muslims. Keeping our cool, we continued our walk around the Mount, as a small group began to gather behind us, taking up the chant. Finally, as we reached a popular photo spot opposite the Northern gate to the Dome of the Rock, the crowd, already over fifty Muslims, mostly women, began to get louder and more rowdy. They began to give us the three-fingered salute, a Hamas greeting symbolic of the (now discovered to be deceased) kidnapped teenage boys (Hy”d), and began to take pictures of us, our Israeli police staying silent the entire time, and our Muslim WAKF (the Palestinian officials who control the Temple Mount) escort actually joining in their festivities. As we continued to take in the scene, silently reflecting on how terrible the situation on Har Habayit had begun, one member of our group decided to react in the most minimal way- by beginning to film the show on his phone. This did not please our WAKF escort, who threatened; “you’re lucky the police are here- if they weren’t, you would be dead,” which prompted our Israeli police escort to intervene, and resulted in a large shouting match between the IDF Police and the WAKF authorities, the Allahu Akbar chant continuing the entire time as the rioting crowd continued to build steam. Eventually, we were escorted off of the Temple Mount by about twenty heavily armed Israeli policemen barricading us from the loud, yet not violent, mob of over two hundred Muslims, all shouting Allahu Akbar and pointing and screaming at us.
As we exited the holy site, and began to sing Hatikva from a safe distance, I couldn’t help but think about the rioting Muslim’s choice of words to scream at us. As visiting “infidels,” intruding on their holy site, couldn’t they have said something more offensive or relevant than Allahu Akbar, which is Arabic for “G-d is great?” It is no coincidence that these words of praise were screamed at me mere days before Jews worldwide read Parshat Balak.
In our sedrah, Balak, king of Moab, hires the prophet Bil’am to curse the Jewish People in a vain attempt to stop their progress. However, every time that he tries to utter a divine curse, only words of praise emerge. In his third try, Bil’am gives the following famous blessing:
מַה-טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל … אֵל מוֹצִיאוֹ מִמִּצְרַיִם, כְּתוֹעֲפֹת רְאֵם לוֹ יֹאכַל גּוֹיִם צָרָיו, וְעַצְמֹתֵיהֶם יְגָרֵם וְחִצָּיו יִמְחָץ. כָּרַע שָׁכַב כַּאֲרִי וּכְלָבִיא, מִי יְקִימֶנּוּ; מְבָרְכֶיךָ בָרוּךְ, וְאֹרְרֶיךָ אָרוּר.
How goodly are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling places, Israel… It is G-d who took him (Israel) out of Egypt according to the power of his greatness; he will consume the nations that oppress him, and crush their bones, and his arrows shall pierce them. He crouched down like a lion, and like a lion cub, who can force him up? Those who bless you are blessed, and those who curse you are accursed. (במדבר כד: ה, ח-ט)
Even within Bil’am’s unwanted blessing lies the key to our issue: Anyone who blesses the Jewish People is blessed, and anyone who curses them is cursed. But what exactly does this mean? Chizkuni interprets this passuk as a warning:
מברכיך ברוך וארריך ארור: שוטה הוא הבא לקללך שהרי הוא מקלל עצמו שנאמר ואברכה מברכך ומקללך אאור, וכתיב אורריך ארור ומברכך ברוך…
Those who bless you are blessed and those who curse you are accursed: one who comes to curse you would be stupid because he would, in effect, be cursing himself… (חזקוני שם)
This last sentence of Bil’am’s third inadvertent blessing is a warning to future gentile leaders attempting to follow Balak’s example by having the Jewish People cursed. Even in those times, it was known that we are G-d’s chosen and blessed nation, but now, G-d is putting Himself forward to protect us; anyone who tries to curse us, aside from not being able to succeed, will also end up cursing himself. As long as the Jewish People are united, we are unstoppable, and G-d’s own might can never be used against us- this will only lead to blight for the nation that tries.
Chizkuni’s interpretation of Bil’am’s blessing gives a new light to the rioting Muslims I encountered earlier this week. On the site where Avraham almost sacrificed our forefather Yitzchak, where our nation was given the blessing: “והתברכו בזרעך כל גויי הארץ עקב אשר שמעת בקולי– And your descendants will be blessed by all of the nations of the world since you listened to My voice,” even the biggest Jew-haters cannot help but bless us. But we cannot forget that Yishma’el, the forefather of Islam, is also a descendant of Avraham and G-d promised Hagar that his descendants would be blessed as well, a “גוי גדול.” However, the distinction between our blessings lies in Bil’am’s prophecy- all of those who bless us are blessed and all those who curse us are cursed.
While I won’t pretend that any of these ideas were going through the heads of the hundreds of angry Muslims who shouted Allahu Akbar at me on Monday, we can now understand why “Allah is great” could be the best expression to scream at intruding Jews. Cursing us in the name of G-d would be pointless- the last man who tried to do that ended up blessing us greatly and almost got killed by his compatriots in the process- plus, it would only return the curse on themselves. So, what better way to insult visitors than to scream “Allah is Great”- Allah, the Muslim people’s personal name for G-d, is great [and, not Hashem, the name of G-d you identify with]. Thanks to Bil’am’s prophecy, this is the closest an enemy nation can come to cursing us without harming itself terribly in the process. With Hashem’s help, we will see a גאולה שלמה with the fulfillment of the rest of the promise given to Avraham on Har Hamoriah “והרבה ארבה את זרעך ככוכבי השמים… וירש זרעך את שער אויביו” with our permanent reconquering of the Temple Mount, and building of the Third Temple, very very soon. Shabbat Shalom.