When Balaam attempted to curse the nation of Israel his focus was on attacking the foundations and institutions that enabled the nation to function as a moral and successful society.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 105b) cites Rabbi Yochanan teaching that “From the blessings of that wicked [Balaam] – ‘how goodly are your tents O’ Jacob’ – we can deduce his intentions of undermining the communal gathering places (shuls) and study halls of Israel.”
Balaam was forced to bless instead, lauding the goodly tents and fine sanctuaries of Israel. He perceived the value of these buildings and the critical role they play in enabling the cohesion and moral success of a nation. The Ministry of Religion in the Jewish state provides funding and buildings for such services all around the country. While the ministry has been under attack since its inception – and it certainly could improve its customer service and public relations – the national and social benefits from this department far exceed its shortcomings.
Not just on a national scale, however, are these institutions crucial. Especially in the Diaspora, where these institutions are privately conceived and funded, they function as an indispensable center of unity and identity for the local community. This is what Balaam strove to attack, to cause the implosion of the nation and the communal unity that held their sense of togetherness and identity with one another. If nothing else, this clues us to the importance of these functions in our local communities.
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