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Balak 5766

Chukat-Balak (Numbers 19:1-25:9 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING! This past week the movie "Superman Returns" hit the theaters. Perhaps you are not aware that also hitting the stands is the book Up, Up and Oy Vey! How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero by Rabbi Simcha Weinstein (available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242 ... or via

The early comic book creators were almost all Jewish, and as children of immigrants, they spent their lives trying to escape the second-class mentality which was forced on them by the outside world. Their fight for truth, justice, and the American Way is portrayed by the superheroes they created. The dual identity given to their creation mirrored their own desire to live two lives — privately as a Jew, and publicly as an American. Their creations are the descendants of a Jewish tradition littered with stories of super strength from Samson to the Golem of Prague.

With special permission from Reb Simcha, I present to you his insights into the Jewish values that shaped Superman:

"The 1930s and 1940s were arguably the most anti-Semitic period in American history. The German-American Bund marched legions of rabid followers through many cities, including the hometown of those two young men, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. In response to this anti-Semitism, the writer and illustrator invented the most famous comic book superhero of all time.

"From the very beginning, the Superman mythos reflected his creators' Jewish backgrounds. For example, the superhero's origin story (as fans refer to it) bears more than a passing resemblance to the great Exodus tale. Jochebed places Moses in a reed basket and sets him afloat on the Nile before he can be killed by the Pharaoh's henchmen. Likewise, Superman's father Jor-El launches a little rocket ship containing his son (Kal-el) into outer space when he realizes Krypton is about to disintegrate. That symbol comes full circle in the new film, when Superman journeys back to earth in the very same type of space pod.

"Superman and his nebbish alter ego Clark Kent are now recognized, in retrospect, as a complex symbol of immigrant identity and assimilation -the embodiment of the American Dream, as imagined by two second-generation Jewish kids. Howard Jacobson of the London Times has called Superman, "the boy with the Kabbalistic name, the boy from the shtetl. Superman might be Jewish, but it's only so long as no one knows he's Jewish that he is capable of performing wonders. And you can't get more Jewish than that."

"Superman's ethics are Jewish ethics. Like all of us, Superman is called to 'perform wonders,' to repair order and balance in the world. We may not do it while wearing a cape and a big 'S' on our chests, but universal messages of duty and justice still come across clearly, via the unlikely vehicle of a comic book for kids.

"According to the sages, we all have a double identity. Man is the fusion of matter and spirit, a body and soul. The body cleaves to this physical world, while the soul longs for the spiritual. Likewise, Superman often wants nothing more than to retreat to his aptly named mountain hideaway, the Fortress of Solitude. And who wouldn't want to meditate up in the Alps, far from mundane cares, at least once in a while? Especially after a long, hard day of leaping tall buildings in a single bound.

"But in reality, God created the world so He would 'have a dwelling in the lower realms.' Superman knows he's got a tough job to do in those 'lower realms,' fighting for what's right, without getting much credit. The 'real world' may not live up to your expectations: your long lost love ran off with someone else, your nemesis is out to get you, your boss doesn't give you much credit, and the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Yet, you are right where you need to be.

"That's Superman's dilemma, and ours, too – no wonder this unlikely comic book story has enchanted millions of readers for decades. This summer, "Superman Returns" will introduce the Man of Steel (and his very Jewish story) to a whole new generation."

For more on "Superman" go to!

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Torah Portion of the Week

Another week of action, adventure and mystery as the Jewish people wander the desert in their 38th year. First, the laws of the red heifer (parah adumah) which was burned with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet thread. The ashes were then used in a purification ceremony for those who had come in contact with the dead. Strangely enough, all who were involved in the making of the ashes became ritually impure, but all who were sprinkled with them became ritually pure.

Miriam, Moshe's sister and a prophetess, dies. The portable well which had accompanied the Israelites on her merit, ceases to flow. Once again the people rebel against Moshe and Aharon because of the lack of water. The Almighty tells Moshe to speak to the rock for water. Moshe gets angry and hits the rock and water rushes forth. (There are two incidences of Moshe hitting the rock; the first time he was told to hit it - this time he was told to speak to the rock.) However, the Almighty punishes Moshe and Aharon for not sanctifying Him by forbidding their entry into the land of Israel. (It pays to follow instructions and to withhold anger!)

Aharon dies. His son Elazar is appointed the new High Priest. The Canaanite king of Arad attacks the Israelites and later is soundly defeated. Then there is another rebellion over the food and water which is answered by a plague of poisonous snakes. Moshe prays for the people and is instructed by God to put the image of a snake on a high pole. All who saw it would think of God, then repent and therefore live.

The Israelites then annihilate the Amorites and Bashanites who not only would not let us pass peacefully through their lands, but attacked us. (There are many questions which need to be asked. Please consult the original work and a good commentary.)

The second portion this week, Balak, is one of the most fascinating psychologically-revealing portions in the whole Torah! Bilaam, a non-Jewish prophet, is granted a level of prophecy close to Moshe's level of prophecy. The Almighty gives Bilaam these powers so that the nations of the world could not say at some point in the future, "If we had a prophet like Moshe, we too would have accepted the Torah and would have lived according to it." Bilaam is an intriguing character - honor driven, arrogant and self-serving. (Unfortunately, not too unique amongst mankind.)

Balak, the king of Moav, desires to hire Bilaam for a fortune of money to curse the Jewish people. It is interesting that Balak believes in God and the power of invoking a curse from God, yet thinks that God would change His mind about His Chosen People. (God is not a man who changes his mind.) Bilaam is very desirous to accept the assignment to curse the Jews (more for the profit motive than the prophet motive).

The Almighty allows Bilaam to travel to Balak (cautioning him to only say what God told him). The Almighty gives every person free-will and allows us to go in the direction that we choose. Three times Bilaam tries to curse us and three times the Almighty places blessings in his mouth. Balak is furious! So, Bilaam gives him advice with hopes of collecting his fee -"If you want to destroy the Jewish people, entice the men with Moabite women and tell the women not to submit until the men bow down to an idol." Balak follows the advice and consequently the Almighty brings a plague against the Jewish people because the men fell for Bilaam's plot. We see from this that the Almighty hates licentiousness and idol worship.

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Jerusalem 7:13
Guatemala 6:18 - Hong Kong 6:53 - Honolulu 6:59
J'Burg 5:10 - London 8:59 - Los Angeles 7:50
Melbourne 4:56 - Mexico City 7:01 - Miami 7:59

New York 8:12 - Singapore 6:58 - Toronto 8:43


Better to do something great and fail
than to do nothing and succeed

In Honor of
Evita Simkovitz
on her acceptance to
University of Vienna Law School
with love, her family


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