Sharona Margolin Halickman

A curse from a friend or a blessing from an enemy?

In Melachim I 14:15, the Jewish prophet, Achiya the Shiloni prophesied against the king, Yeravam ben Navat for leading B’nai Yisrael to worship idolatry:

God will smite Israel as a reed lurches about in the water, and He will uproot Israel from upon this bountiful land that He gave to their forefathers, and He will scatter them beyond the river- because they have made their Ashera trees, angering God.

In the Talmud, Taanit 20a we read:

Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: The comparison of B’nai Yirael to a reed implies a blessing. For Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: What is the meaning of that which is written (Mishlei 27:6) “The wounds inflicted by a friend are trustworthy; while the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Better is the curse with which Achiya the Shiloni cursed Israel than the blessing with which the wicked Bilam blessed them. Achiya the Shiloni cursed them with the metaphor of the reed. Just as the reed stands in a watery place and its stalk grows back when it is cut, while its roots are numerous; and even if all the winds of the world come and blow upon it, they cannot budge it from its place, rather it merely sways to and fro with them. And as soon as the winds subside, the reed stands upright in its place.

Like the reed blowing in the wind, B’nai Yisrael will sway under the attacks of its enemies, but will not be destroyed and will once again revive and flourish as soon as the oppression passes.

In contrast, in Parshat Balak, as part of the blessing that Bilam, the non-Jewish prophet unwillingly blessed B’nai Yisrael, he said (Bamidbar 24:6):

…Stretching out like brooks, like gardens by a river, like aloes planted by God, like cedars by water.

The Gemara explains:

Just like the cedar tree does not stand in a watery place and its trunk does not grow back once it is cut off, and its roots are not numerous- and even if all of the ordinary winds of the world blow upon it, they can not budge it from its place; when the powerful south wind blows upon it, it uproots it and overturns it.

According to Bilam’s “blessing” B’nai Yisrael will not easily be brought down, but should the blow be sufficiently powerful, it will never recover.

We see from here that the “curse” inflicted by Achiya the Shiloni was better for Israel’s long term prospects than Bilam’s “blessing.”

The Talmud concludes that the reed merited to have quill-like pens drawn from its ranks to be used to write scrolls of the Tanach.

May we merit to only receive blessings.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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