Monday, July 17, 2017

How to Teach the Story of Balak and Bilam to Kalman

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In addition to anything involving kitty, my three-year old son, Kalman, has become fascinated with the story of Balak and Bilam and regularly asks either my wife or me to tell it. This story presents a number of challenges to someone of my particular political theology. That being said, challenges also offer opportunities to make it clear to Kalman that his Abba is a libertarian monotheist. Government is a form of idolatry that believes it is a moral/legal authority that can demand absolute loyalty and obedience. A monotheist knows that Hashem is the only true power and the only one you should listen to no matter how hard the government tries to trick or threaten you to believe otherwise. (Mommy gets hung up on fewer political theological issues and is, therefore, a more interesting story teller.)

Balak was the king of Moab. As their government, he was an evil mass murderer and also very foolish. He wanted to destroy Bnai Yisroel but, because he did not believe in Hashem, he was very superstitious and believed in magic. He believed that a sorcerer named Bilam actually had the power to "curse" people and cause bad things to happen to them just with words. So Balak sent messengers to Bilam with money, hoping that he would curse Bnai Yisroel for him.

Bilam was a wicked man who liked to convince people not to trust in Hashem so he could trick them into paying him money to do his fake magic. Hashem told Bilam not to go but, when Bilam insisted on going, Hashem gave him permission but warned him that he would only be allowed to do as Hashem commanded. Bilam was so excited to do an avairah that he got up first thing in the morning to saddle his donkey. Bilam's mind was so caught up in the money he was going to swindle out of Balak that he did not see a messenger of Hashem standing on the road with a sword. (As an alternative to the word angel, messenger is a legitimate translation of malach and, for now, I see no reason to confuse my child with talk of supernatural beings that are not God. Unfortunately, my wife disagrees and now Kalman is quite taken with the "A word.") The donkey tried to get off the road but Bilam got angry and began to hit the donkey. To demonstrate to Bilam what a fool he was to pursue gold and silver instead of listening to Hashem, Hashem did a miracle and caused the donkey to speak and ask Bilam why he was hitting him. Bilam refused to learn his lesson and continued with his scheme.

When Bilam arrived in Moab, he got on top of a mountain and tried to curse Bnai Yisroel. If Bilam had been able to say a curse, even though curses are useless people might think that curses have power. They would simply fall for the post hoc fallacy and assume that anything bad that happens afterward was due to the power of Bilam's curse. So Hashem only allowed Bilam to bless Bnai Yisroel. So now everyone could see that Bilam was a lying crook with no magic powers. Without Hashem, Bilam could not even say a curse, let alone cause it to come true.

King Balak was so angry that he wasted his money. Scared that Balak would kill him (as killing people is what governments do), Bilam told Balak a secret how to harm Bnai Yisroel. If they could convince the Bnai Yisroel to stop listening to Hashem, then they could be harmed. So Balak sent beautiful women carrying idols of puppy and making peepee on them. There was an Israelite government politician named Zimri. He took a poll and realized that women peeing on puppies were now more popular than serving Hashem so he decided to jump on the bandwagon. Pinchus saved Bnai Yisroel from puppy, pee and politicians. Rather than listen to any government law, Pinchus listened to Hashem and grabbed a spear and killed Zimri along with the woman who was helping him pee on puppy.

We learn from this story that you should only believe in Hashem and not in government nor in magic. Following Hashem means being kind to all creatures including animals, but it is ok to kill people who are trying to hurt you or otherwise in government.

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