Intense emotions can make us lose our minds.
People crack their knuckles punching walls in rage. A flaming faribel, ignited by an overreaction to a relatively minor offense, can destroy a friendship or a family. It makes no sense.
Love makes no sense either. We’ve all done nutty things for the people we love. Be they the silly things lovers do while courting or the logic-defying sacrifices that parents make for their kids. King Solomon famously calls it being “love-drunk”.
As far apart on the spectrum as love and hate are, they both blind logic equally.
Hatred drives our enemies to send their children to die as “martyrs”. It propels them to redirect humanitarian aid into building “terror tunnels”. It prompts them to revise history to create a fictional narrative in order to excuse violence.
We can be pretty nuts too. We believe that love can cure war.
Last Friday, in response to the flaming kites and explosive-laden balloons from Gaza, residents of Kibbutz Nir Am, on the Gaza border, launched hundreds of “peace” balloons, armed with candy towards the Hamas-led population. The rational mind doesn’t expect candy baskets in return.
Love as an antidote to hate is a theme we’ll read about in this week’s Torah portion. With one twist.
Balaam, the Bible’s most prominent pagan prophet and a world-champion anti-Semite is hired to curse the Jews. It doesn’t go to plan, and he heaps incredible blessings on us instead. What could be better than to have your enemy cross the floor, without a fight, to become your greatest supporter?
At the outset, Balaam is so thrilled at the invitation to harm the Jewish People that he gets up before his alarm and saddles his own donkey. Balaam is a nobleman who would ordinarily have a slave prepare his ride. But, he just cannot contain his excitement that day and does it himself.
Rashi- the foremost commentator on Torah- notes how this proves that hatred produces irrational behaviour. Balaam was so consumed by hostility that he forgot about his own prestige.
Rashi also notes that he wasn’t the first to do this.
Two centuries earlier, Avraham also awoke before dawn and saddled his own donkey, in spite of his prestige. Only, he did it out of rapturous love. Avraham was on a mission for G-d that day and was so consumed with eagerness for the Almighty that he behaved irrationally- and overlooked his own honour.
Avraham’s unbridled enthusiasm for G-d, we’re taught, neutralized Balaam’s delirious excitement to cause harm.
Love trumped hate.
Only, it wasn’t Avraham’s irrational love for Balaam that did it. He didn’t send peaceful overtures to his nemesis. Neither did Moses or the Jews, Balaam’s intended victims.
Avraham’s super-rational love was for G-d. And that’s what turned the tables on Balaam. Balaam’s hate couldn’t stand up against Avraham’s passion for G-d. Avraham lived centuries before Balaam, but his love echoed then, as today, in his descendants’ consciousness. Religious or not, we Jews have this crazy love for G-d. Sometimes we forget that we have it, but it never disappears.
We don’t need to send candy-laden peace-balloons to our Arab antagonists to try to convince them (or the world) of our goodwill. We only need to activate our innate, inexplicable Avrahamesque love for G-d. When we speak G-d’s love-language- one extra mitzvah- He replies with miraculous protection.
Before the Six Day Way, the Lubavitcher Rebbe called for Jews around the world to don Tefillin to help Israel overcome that overwhelming threat. Before the Yom Kippur War, he asked for Jewish children to join in prayer to still the war-cries of our enemies. Today, we should each consider adding a mitzvah to bring security and peace to our Holy Land.
Jews don’t hope for our enemies’ destruction. Our picture of ultimate victory is when our enemies suddenly about-turn and bless us, as Balaam did, without the need to fire a bullet. And we believe that when we translate love for G-d into action, we can achieve that result.