Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
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Why Parashat Balak or Korach, but not Pharaoh, Adam, Abraham, Joseph, or Moses?

Everyone asks how a villain like Balak merited having a weekly Torah portion named after him. And Korach also doesn’t seem very deserving of the honor.

A related enigma is that no Portion is named for Adam, Abraham, Joseph, or Moses. Or, if wicked people qualify, why not Pharaoh?

Now, I’m sure there are many answers. This is my first idea about it.

The six portions that mention a person could actually come in couples. And the first lesson this tells us is that we each can improve our moral level.

Balak, the evil Gentile prophet, is contrasted with the saintly Gentile priest Jethro. Balak saw; Jethro heard. Seeing is easy but superficial and can be completely mistaken. Like Eve saw that the tree was good food. But hearing is close to understanding the essence. Shema’ Yisrael, listen/understand Jews.

We read that Korach took. He took much but ended up with nothing, as the Mishnah warns: Grab a lot, you’ll end empty-handed. Phinehas took a spear to end evil. Korach jealously wanted to be a priest too, which killed him. Phinehas killed from jealousy for G^d, Who then made him a priest. What a difference.

It says that Noach was 600 years old and still had to father kids to have his life amount to something. But it says that Sarah was 127 years and her life was still as perfect as it had ever been. Noah left leading humanity to Abraham, but Sarah actually teamed up with him. The question is not who’s holier, Noach or Abraham? Rather, ask who was more righteous, Noach or Sarah?

And then, we could also understand why there is no Portion titled Pharaoh. He was at a lonely height of evilness. There is no contrast with him.

How different are Adam, Abraham, Joseph, or Moses at their lonely heights! There is no human contrast with Adam. (Animals lack wickedness that would contrast his holiness. Abraham was on one side, and the whole of humankind on the other. And who could match the saintly Joseph in evil? Or the unparalleled Moses? They didn’t adopt a Portion because they were incomparable.


My second attempt.

When the names of our weekly portions were decided, there wasn’t yet such hype about heroes. These names don’t come to glorify these people.

Especially Noach. The Sages tell us that calling the murderous water ‘the water of Noach’ is actually a reproach of him. He could have prevented this disaster if he had helped people to repent.

Rather, these names tell us that powerful people, just like you and me, can use control to do good or bad. Don’t try to be big. Try to be good.

Noach failed compared to Abraham. Because Sarah was a greater prophet than Abraham, their family goes under her name. Actually, that portion is on her demise, not on her life. When the great die, we realize how great they were.

Yithro abandoned everything to join the Jews. He was so appreciative he gave advice to Moses. Korach, on the other hand, could not stand Moses’ specialness.

Balak’s portion should have been Bil’am’s. The Sages want to make the point that Bil’am was less than his donkey and less than his employer.

The contrasting Bil’am and Pienechas had a couple of things in common. They both showed they had no choice. But how differently. Bil’am couldn’t stop blessing the Jews against his will. And Pienechas couldn’t stop himself from killing the perpetrators that unleashed a plague, to protect the Jews. Bil’am was so steeped in evil, G^d had to overpower him to do good. Pienechas was holy, G^d had to overpower him to save many Jewish lives in a way he didn’t seek.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, previously a daily blog contributor to the TOI. 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. None of his content is generated by the new bore on the block, AI. * As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. Or not at all because he doesn't claim G^d talks to him. He gives him good ideas—that's all. MM doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and educations contribute to his visions. * This year, he will prioritize getting his unpublished books published rather than just blog posts. Next year, he hopes to focus on activism against human extinction. To find less-recent posts on a subject XXX among his over 2000 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 too, here: or by clicking on the globe icon next to his picture on top. * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. However, 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 when don't deserve that. (Yet, we all make honest mistakes, which is just fine and does not justify losing support.) 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 - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight reality), 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. * Chronologically, his most influential teachers 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. This short list doesn't mean to disrespect others who taught him a lot or a little. One of his rabbis calls him Mr. Innovation [Ish haChidushim]. Yet, his originalities seem to root deeply in traditional Judaism, though they may grow in unexpected directions. In fact, he claims he's modernizing nothing. Rather, mainly basing himself on the basic Hebrew Torah text, he tries to rediscover classical Jewish thought almost lost in thousands of years of stifling Gentile domination and Jewish assimilation. (He pleads for a close reading of the Torah instead of going by rough assumptions of what it would probably mean and before fleeing to Commentaries.) This, in all aspects of life, but prominently in the areas of Free Will, Activism, Homosexuality for men, and Redemption. * 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. When he can, 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, for Zionism, Intersectionality, 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. Read his blog on how he attempts to bridge any tensions between those ideas or fields. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to his 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, and decades more to admit to being a genius. But his humility was his to keep. And so was his honesty. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. He hopes to bring new things and not just preach to the choir. * 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, powerful therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. 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 a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors 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. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me. * His newest books you may find here:
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