“How lovely are your tents, Ya’akov; your encampments, Israel “ (BAMIDBAR 24:5)
These truly inspiring words, adopted to be part of daily morning prayers, appear in the Bible in this week’s Torah portion (Balak) as being a quote from the famous non-Jewish prophet, Balaam. Balak, the king of Moav, seeing how the Israelites have conquered the lands of Amon, calls on Balaam to curse the Israelites. Balaam agrees and goes from hilltop to hilltop with Balak in order to find the muse to bring forth a curse. The first two attempts Balaam, as if against his will, blesses the Israelites. The third time, overcome with wonder, Balaam , pours forth with one of the most poetic of blessings in the Torah.
Recently an announcement appear in my community’s mail group in Shilo. Evidently, with the generous aid from our regional council, we are going to refurbish a sculpture by the famous artist Yigal Tumarkin at the entrance to Tel Shiloh. Tumarkin? Yes, that is right. Tumarkin, better known for his artwork in Tel Aviv (in Rabin Square) and for his outspoken, even abrasive comments, on Middle-Eastern Jews, “settlers” and many others, “gifted” Shilo an original work, the fruit of his labor.
The story takes us back to the origins of Shiloh when the original founders of Shilo arrived to Tel Shiloh in the guise of being archeologists, in late January 1978. In August, that same year, on Friday, the day before Tisha B’Av (August 11, 1978), Peace Now held a giant rally protesting the Israeli government’s intention to approve Shilo and other renascent communities in Judea and Shomron. Yigal Tumarkin, as his part in the protest , donated one of his sculptures, called “Dove Cot” to symbolize, in Peace Now’s opinion, how the “settlements” were an obstacle to peace.
A more humorous part of the story was that the sculpture, being quite large (about 20 feet high), needed to be emplaced on a concrete surface, something quite lacking in Shilo at that time. So Peace Now gathered some volunteers who journeyed to Shilo several days before and prepared a concrete base at the then entrance to the young outpost. To curious “settlers”, they explained that they were from Bezek, the Israeli phone company, and that they would return to install a communications tower. And…… “would you all be so kind as to keep the concrete moist for the next three days so the concrete can cure properly?” Needless to say, the concrete base was dutifully watered by the unsuspecting residents.
Friday came and with it “thousands” of protesters from Peace Now, several hundred unhappy pigeons, and a large truck with a crane to transport and lift Tumarkin’s sculpture to its new home. The group from Peace Now, made speeches while the sculpture was welded to its base , afterwards the pigeons were released symbolically into the air to fend for themselves and the protesters re-embarked into their cars and buses and dispersed to their previous endeavors. The residents of Shiloh, by reports, remained home, evidently preparing for the coming Shabbat. Almost 40 years later we are still in Shiloh.
In 40 years Shilo has changed dramatically. If in 1978 Shiloh was all of eight families and 40 yeshiva boys, today there are almost 400 families living in Shiloh. The young couples of 1978 are now grandparents and soon to be great grandparents. Not only has Shiloh grown, but there are now several other Jewish villages in the area in what is called the “Shiloh Bloc” with some 2000 families. Tel Shilo is now an archeological park and the excavations continue to this day where one of my sons has been working this summer. Seemingly, at least to the residents of Shiloh in 1978, there is nothing surprising in this. Sunday, August 13, there appeared an advertisement on page 11 in the bottom corner of the daily newspaper Maariv.
Beit Shilo sends their thanks and appreciation to the sculptor Yigal Tumarkin and to Peace Now for erecting a monument at the gates of our community. May the Lord grant it that this be the first permanent cornerstone in our settlement. Thank you for your contribution to strengthening our hold on our land in Judea and Shomron. The Lord grants strength, the Lord blesses His people with Peace.
Nearly 40 years later Tumarkin’s sculpture is still standing and soon it will be restored to its former glory. Meant as a curse, it is now perceived as a blessing and proof of the permanence of Jewish communities in Judea and Shomron.
One last note. One of the highlights of Parshat Balak is the section where Bilaam sets out on his donkey to meet King Balak. Since Balaam is disobeying the Lord, Angels are sent to block Balaam’s way. At the first attempt the donkey sees the Angel and leaves the path only to cause Balaam to enter a thornbush, causing Balaam to curse the donkey. A second attempt causes the donkey to veer into a wall, bruising Balaam’s leg which causes Balaam to beat the poor animal. The third try the donkey has no way to turn so the donkey sits down in the path. At this point Balaam is furious and is ready to cause the donkey serious physical impairment until the donkey admonishes Balaam and the Angel appears visible to Balaam.
The question, is why could the donkey see the Angel when Balaam was not able? One answer is that Balaam could have seen the Angel if he had wanted to. Man , unlike animals, often see only what they want to see. Instead of observing, there is a tendency to filter what we see to fit a preconceived narrative. Our , so called, “intelligence” blinds us to the obvious. Balaam wanted to curse Israel so he tried to make himself see only the negative in the Israelites.By doing so, he became, cognitively, to be less than a donkey. Once the veil was lifted from his eyes, he was no longer able to curse the Israelites. Despite his efforts, Balaam ended up blessing Israel, until at last, the blessing came as a natural response. Peace Now has been cursing the settlements for 40 years, but despite their efforts there are cities, a university and hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Judea and Shomron. Perhaps it is time for Peace Now to open their eyes too?