Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

"Balak, the king of Moab, sent messengers to Bilam …asking him to curse the Jewish people.”[1]

You understand why Moab wanted to curse us.

We frightened them. We had just vanquished Moab’s neighbors and we now occupied the lands that bordered on Moab.

Moab was scared that we would now target them.

Moab, therefore, sought to protect itself from this threat. It sought that protection, as we saw before, by hiring Bilam to curse us.

Moab, because it engaged Bilam, is forever marginalized, as per the following: “A Moabite convert may not marry a (born) Jew … because Moab hired Bilam to curse you.”[2]

Moabite converts, therefore, - unlike most converts – were banned from marrying into the mainstream community.

Was this ban put in place because Moab attacked us by having us cursed?

If those attacks caused Moab’s marginalization, then the many other nations that attacked us, should have also been marginalized.

One such nation is Edom. Edom attacked us by threatening us with war, as we read: “Edom went out to war against the Jews.” [3]

Edomite converts, though, weren't banned from intra-communal marriage.

Even converts from Amalek– a nation about whom we say “a war with Amalek from generation to generation”[4] – weren’t banned from intra-communal marriage.[5]

Why didn’t those nations’ attacks ban them from intra-communal marriage? Likely because their attacks were simply defenses against Jews who - from those nations’ perspectives – were an invading force.

And self-defense isn’t evil.

Moab, though, is still marginalized for defending itself. Why?

Perhaps because Moab chose to defend itself by having Bilam curse us.

Moab could have accomplished just as much – just as easily - by engaging Bilam to bless Moab. Same Bilam. Same power of speech. But with a focus on a positive blessing of the self, rather than on a negative cursing of the other.

Moab, though, didn’t do that.

Why not?

Because Moab didn’t focus on the positive. They, rather, focused – as evidenced by this cursing incident - on the negative.[6]

And that negativism may have permeated Moabite culture.

Hashem certainly wants to shield us from such negativism. Which may explain why Moabite converts – tainted, as they may be, by a negative culture - were marginalized.

This isn’t, of course, just about Moab.

This about all competitive challenges.

We compete for promotions at work, for success at school and for so much else. We face so many challenges and so many opposing forces.

How do we contend with all that? Do we take the high road? Do we focus on the positive and put our best foot forward? Or do we disparage our competition?

And what do we do when our competitor disparages us? Do we sink to his level? Do we disparage him in turn?

Or do we stay on that high road, despite such disparagement.

Our parsha tells us what lies in store for those who leave that high road.

Yes, we must take that high road.

Not only because that road is high.

But because that road will take us where we want to go.

[1] Bamidbar 22:5-6

[2] Devarim 23:4

[3] Bamidbar 20:20

[4] Shemos 17:16

[5] Ramban, Melachim 6:1-4 as per Chazon Ish ad loc., see, though, Tzitz Eliezer 13:71

[6] See Beis Ramah, Bamidbar 22:6


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