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Who Is "The Greatest Generation?"

06/27/2018 03:13:53 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

Most people have heard of and many have read the book entitled The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw.  I have read this book and consider it a fitting tribute to those who lived through and/or fought in the time frame of World War II and The Holocaust.  We who came after owe that generation more than we can possibly repay.  In this week's Torah reading, Parashat Balak, we find a clash between two generations of B'nei Yisrael who had been and are being led to The Promised Land.  And it is this clash that teaches us an important lesson.

The story in this week's Torah reading occurs at the end of the journey in the desert.  Last week we learned that after the death of Miryam, Moshe's and Aharon's sister, B'nei Yisrael no longer had access to the plentiful water supply known as "Miryam's Well" which miraculously accompanied them in their travels.  Nu?  So what do the people do?  They come to Moshe and k'vetch; they complain.  So what is so different from before?  B'nei Yisrael had been complaining throughout their travels in the desert.  They even complained about having no water as soon as they had crossed the Red Sea.  But the difference here is that the Miryam's death takes place 38 years after the revolt of Korach.  After the revolt of Korach, the people had stopped complaining; after the death of Miryam, the people resume complaining.  But there is a major difference here.  Rashi teaches us that the people who were complaining at this time belonged to an entirely new generation of B'nei Yisrael.  They were not of the generation of the Exodus from Egypt.  Only Kalev and Yehoshua survive that generation and eventually lead this new generation in the conquest of the Promised Land.  This new generation had not been enslaved by Pharaoh, had not escaped from Egypt, and had not fought the Amalekites.  In fact, they had not fought for anything!  They had received their food and water every morning through the mannah and Miryam's Well by the hand of HaShem without having expended any effort.  And now they had the chutzpah to complain to Moshe!  And how did Moshe react: instead of speaking to the rock as commanded by HaShem, he struck it twice.  Ibn Ezra states that Moshe was so upset with their complaining that he lost his ability to properly concentrate on and fulfill the command of HaShem.  Because Moshe hit the rock twice, he was not permitted to enter The Promised Land.  Moshe had used the approach of teaching about HaShem to the Generation fo the Exodus through physical acts of strength to try to teach this new generation, the Generation of the Wandering.  But in using this old way of teaching, Moshe failed.

The story of Bilam as found in this week's Torah reading follows the story of Moshe hitting the rock.  Some of our Sages say that Bilam's prophetic abilities were even greater than those of Moshe.  But he failed as did Moshe, for he also used force to try to fulfill his duty as a prophet: he struck his she-donkey upon whom he was riding no fewer than three times.  And the result of his cruelty is that the she-donkey never obeys his commands.  Both Moshe and Bilam made the same mistake: although they were the greatest communicators in the world because they were prophets, they failed to properly communicate what needed to be communicated at the right moment.  the difference between them is that Bilam recognized his error and turned from hitting his she-donkey to blessing B'nei Yisrael.  In fact, it is his final blessing which is used to open our daily prayers: "How goodly are your tents, O Yaakov, and your dwelling places, O Yisrael!"

The message of the anger of both Moshe and Bilam is a lesson to us all: no matter how great the older generations were, no matter how much they endured, no matter how much they accomplished, each new generation needs to be handled differently, to be educated differently, to be engaged differently in order cause it to want to join with HaShem in bringing "Tikkun HaOlam," in bringing the Repair of the World, so as to recreate the moment of Creation, the moment of true and eternal Peace! 


Tue, July 27 2021 18 Av 5781