What group, movement, or country is it that Jews really have to worry about and devote energy to combatting? Is it Iran? Palestinian anti-Semites? Terrorists generally? Neo-Nazis? If you go on the ADL website, you’ll see a big tribute to the 85 victims of the 1994 AMIA Jewish Center bombing in Argentina. July 18 will be the 15th anniversary. “The message must be sent to those who would carry out such unconscionable terrorist attacks that they will have no peace until justice is served,” writes ADL head Abraham Foxman.
I’m not disagreeing, yet the sense of proportion, from an authentically Jewish perspective, is far from what it should be. The organized Jewish community doesn’t know who our most potent enemies really are.
In the week’s Torah portion, Matot-Massei (Numbers 30:2-36:13), we read about the battle against Midian that God directed the Jews to conduct, inflicting “the Lord’s vengeance” on that nation (Number 31:3). Rav Hirsch asks why God was so wrathful against Midian but when it came to Moab, there was no such call to war. Yet it was Midian and Moab that just a few chapters earlier had conspired together to hire a powerful sorcerer, Balaam, to curse Israel, with a view to physically destroying or driving out the Jews.
The reason is that after the enterprise with Balaam failed, Midian emerged as a much more serious moral and spiritual threat. It was a Midianite princess, Cozbi, who brazenly and publicly cohabited with a prominent Israelite, Zimri, necessitating Phinehas’s zealous act described in Numbers 25. Writes Hirsch:
By this war being against Midian and not against Moab, whose purpose was to destroy the material strength of Israel rather than their spiritual and moral strength, the spiritual and moral motive of this war must have been brought to the minds of the people with double signifiance. Not who brings about Israel’s material ruin, but he who achieves its spiritual and moral death is the real enemy….By their policy of seduction, Midian had practiced the worst international crime [on Numbers 31:3].
Metaphorically, if you were to divide haters of Jews, Judaism, and the Jewish spirit into two groups — Moabites and Midianites — it’s the latter that should be the chief object of Jewish concern. Take care of Midian and you’ll have much less to fear from Moab. It’s true now as it was then.