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All over the world, Jews are reading two Sidrot/Portions this coming Shabbat, the double portion of Hukkat/Balak, chapters 19-25 in B’midbar/Numbers. The Israelites are approaching the end of their 40 year march in the desert on the way to the Promised Land. Moses is nearing 120 years old, and his siblings, Aaron the High Priest and Miriam, are only a few years younger. 

The children of Israel arrive at the wilderness of Zin, and Miriam dies!

The people thirst for water! The nation of Israel has become increasingly irritable after 40 years of wandering, and Moses must deal with their “kvetching.” G-d Almighty instructs Moshe to “speak” to a particular rock in order to procure enough water for Am Yisrael. Moses, in a fit of frustration and impatience, strikes the rock with his rod, and water issues forth in abundance. But G-d Almighty is angry! Moshe, however, is in mourning for his sister! Instead of following G-d’s directive, Moses strikes the rock instead of using his speech, thereby demeaning G-d’s active role in the lives of the Israelite nation. G-d’s punishment is severe! Neither he nor his brother, Aaron, will be allowed to complete their journey to the Promised Land!  His short temper is understandable because of the loss of Miriam, his sister, and the constant bickering of the people. After the Ten Plagues, the Exodus, Receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai, and leading the Israelites for 40 years, G-d is denying him the ultimate reward for his 40 years of devoted service, both to G-d and to Am Yisrael. 

At the next stop, Hor Hahar, Moses is instructed to remove from his brother Aaron the sacred vestments of the High Priest.  Aaron now dies, and is replaced as High Priest by his son Elazar. Moshe has now lost his closest family members, his siblings, his primary advisers and his emotional support. 

The next portion, Balak, tells us about the king of Moab, Balak. Balak summons the false prophet Balaam to offer curses upon Am Yisrael. Balaam is riding a talking donkey! From three different vantage points, Balaam implores the donkey to curse the Israelites, but instead the donkey speaks words of praise for Israel. In the third section of praises, the donkey recites the opening words of our services, “Ma Tovu Ohalecha Yaacov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael/How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!(24:5).” This prophecy of the pagan false prophet has been preserved and sanctified in our prayerbook by the Rabbis to this day! 

Ellen and I are spending the summer season in our vacation home, located in northeastern Poconos.  Our beautiful community is blessed with two synagogues, a multi-denominational congregation offering Reform Shabbat evening services and Conservative Shabbat morning services. Both of us volunteer at this congregation; Ellen is presenting her annual session on “New Reads,” and I lead services when invited by the Rabbi.  There is now a Chabad Orthodox Shabbat service in addition.

When the weather allows, we enjoy swimming, exercise class, pickleball, and biking. Ellen volunteers in the community library. We spend leisure time reading. Ellen reads constantly, but I am much slower in completing new books. 

I want to share with you the work I am progressing through: “Bibi, My Story,” by Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister of Israel. I want to emphasize that this large volume was written BEFORE Netanyahu had been re-elected Prime Minister; the current crisis resulting from his attempt to change the structure of the Israeli judiciary and the subsequent unrest of large numbers of the population had not yet happened.

I have found the volume to be enlightening and meaningful.  It is an excellent summary of contemporary Israeli history and modern Zionist thinking.  Bibi, as he is called by everyone, has a local connection.  When his father was a professor of Bible at Dropsie University, the Netananyahu family resided in Elkins Park for five years! Bibi, or Ben, as he was called by his high school friends, attended Cheltenham High School and played on the school soccer team. He was in the CHS class of 1967, along with Dr. Arnold and Norma Meshkov, and my beloved wife, Ellen. Bibi describes his time in Elkins Park with great nostalgia.  Ellen remembers him as very self-confident, intelligent, and enrolled in several honors classes.  He returned to Israel in anticipation of the Six Day War that erupted in June 1967, just before his graduation.

Bibi expresses great love for his father and loyalty to his world view! His political orientation was taught to him by Professor Netanyahu.  He was very close to his brothers Yoni, killed during the Entebbe raid in 1976, and Iddo. Bibi writes extensively about international terrorism. He and his father convened the Jonathan Conference to study terrorism and to devise ways to counteract wanton acts of murder and mayhem.

He discusses his role as UN ambassador.  He describes in great detail his relationships with several US presidents and Secretaries of State.  He describes with intense veneration his meetings with Rabbi Menahem Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.  Bibi is totally motivated by his love for the Jewish people, his loyalty to the State of Israel, and his desire to keep Israel both strong and at peace!

The volume is well written and encyclopedic in detail. It is an excellent introduction to contemporary Israeli history. Whatever the outcome of Bibi’s plans for judicial reform, he has been an extraordinary leader of the Jewish people for decades.

If you are searching for a non-fiction summer read, I recommend “Bibi, My Story” to you without reservation!

Ellen and I extend our wishes to you for an enriching and relaxing summer season. Shabbat Shalom U’m’vorach.