Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
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A warning to wicked leaders: G-d always wins

The Torah Portion of this week is named after a wicked person, Balak, while we normally see such naming as a homage. How can this be?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet” (Romeo and Juliet II, ii, 1-2) cannot be a Jewish quote. In the Holy Tongue, every name, word and letter has deep significance.

When the election of the Person of the Twentieth Century drew to a close, it became clear that Hitler was going to win. His wicked leadership had marked the previous century as no one else’s had. With a lot of last-minute campaigning, the embarrassment was prevented with Einstein coming out the winner.

(Isn’t it amazing how Jewish that epoch was, with eternal Jewish world-leaders like Einstein, Freud, Marx, Herzl, Frank, Ben-Gurion, and one anti-Jewish one: Hitler and hardly anyone else?)

The valid question could be asked how wicked Balak merited to have a Weekly Torah Portion named after him. He’s not even the main character or hero of the story as the great Prophet Balaam is.

The Sages suggest that his merit was that he was an “honest” Jew-hater. The merit of honesty is so great that even abuse of it cannot totally eclipse its value. Yet, I want a simple explanation to start with.

These are the six people who have a Weekly Torah Portion named after them: Noach, Sarah, Jethro, Korach, Balak and Phinehas.

  • Noach – He on his own walked with G-d – no small feat.
  • Sarah – She was a greater prophet even than Abraham.
  • Jethro – As Gentile, he adopted Judaism and even advised Moses!
  • Korach – He showed his wickedness but still repented – a bit late.
  • Balak – First of all, this was to slight the real “hero” of the story, dishonest Balaam. The latter wanted to use G-d but he was used by Balak and G-d. Balak is prominent because also his (failed) wicked leadership hallowed G-d’s Name. (See below.)
  • Phinehas – He showed that if one is humble and in-tune with what’s True, one can go even beyond than what has been clear until today and come out being contracted by G-d retroactively.

No portion is named after Moses, but his glory fills every letter of the Torah. However, he is called the most humble on earth (Numbers 12:3) because Korach was even more humble(d) – after the earth swallowed him up. And Moses is called the all-time greatest among the Jews (Deuteronomy 34:10) because, among all people, Balaam was actually greater. But greatness doesn’t equal holiness automatically.

If Balaam would have walked with G-d, he would have been greater than Moses, but since he only wanted to use G-d, G-d used him – the fate of all totally wicked people.

Many times, we all have a choice to team up with the Creator and put in some effort, or to feel free to do anything in the book, go with the flow, take it easy, be comfortable, justify ourselves, only chase short-term pleasures and feel completely unrestrained, in which case G-d will use us with our predictable “natural” behavior as pawns to further His goals.

(Actually, we do not have a choice like that. Rather, Free Will is that we are commanded to put in the effort and free (elevate) ourselves.)

We can’t go against G-d. We either diligently and meritoriously cooperate with Him or He’ll use our undeserving shameful indifference to holiness to further His Plot. G-d always wins.

All the name-givers to the Weekly Portions hallowed G-d’s Name. Most of them by being holy and some of them by being wicked.

Prominent people will be remembered. But it is their choice how they want their lives eternally to stand out: as friends to people, to the Jews and to G-d or as their enemies.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, an almost daily blog contributor to the Times of Israel, and previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. He's proud that his analytical short comments are removed both from left-wing and right-wing news sites. * As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. He doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit about what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and education contribute to his visions. * To find less-recent posts on subject XXX among his over 1550 archived ones, go to the right-top corner of a Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". One can find a second, wilder blog, to which one may subscribe, here: * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. Yet, if you think those are his absolute top priorities, you might end up disappointed. His first loyalty is to the truth. He will try to stay within the limits of democratic and Jewish law, but he won't lie to support opinions or people who don't deserve that. He admits that he sometimes exaggerates to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * Sometimes he's misunderstood because his wide and diverse field of vision seldomly fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what some love about him. He has written a lot about Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (including basic statistics), Politics (Israel, the US, and the Netherlands, Activism), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA+, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust, and Jewish Liberation), the Climate Crisis, Ecology and Veganism, Affairs from the news, or the Torah Portion of the Week, or new insights that suddenly befell him. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim, Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, and disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He aims to bring a fresh perspective rather than harp on the obvious and familiar. He loves to write encyclopedic overviews. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds should be disputed. In short, his main political positions are among others: anti-Trumpism, anti-elitism, anti-bigotry and supremacy, for Zionism, Intersectionality, and non-violence, anti those who abuse democratic liberties, anti the fake ME peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, pro-Science, pro-Free Will, anti-blaming-the-victim, and for down-to-earth, classical optimism, and happiness. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to parents who were Dutch-Jewish Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. * He holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam) – is half a doctor. He practices Re-evaluation Co-counseling since 1977, is not an official teacher anymore, and became a friendly, empowering therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids non-violently. For a couple of years, he was active in hasbara to the Dutch-speaking public. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's being a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. He lives with his library in Jerusalem. Feel free to contact him. * His writing has been made possible by a (second-generation) Holocaust survivors' allowance from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having an original peek outside of your cultural bubble.
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