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Balak

"God said to Moses, 'Take all the leaders of the people. Hang them before God against the sun'" Numbers 25:4

    Perhaps God is not the author of the Torah? For an Orthodox rabbi - unthinkable. Yet, wander down the halls of academia, and you will find the Torah dissected into P and E and Dtr, an alphabet soup of possible authors, dubious editors and conniving leaders, conning generations of the faithful. Yet, it is the portrayal of those leaders in which the Torah rings true. Jose Luis Borges noted that the absence of camels in the Quran vouched for its authentic desert origins: "A forger would have populated the pages with camels." So too, there is a glaring absence in the Torah, something that no power-hungry leader could do without: heroes.

    The Torah is conspicuously devoid of national heroes. There are other books of law from the ancient Near East. Books bloated with self-aggrandising kings and politicos. Here's how Hammurabi begins his code: "Hammurabi, the prince am I… who conquered the four quarters of the world, made great the name of Babylon."

    Nowhere is the authenticity of the Torah on higher display than in our sidrah. A non-Jew, the prophet Balaam, has praised the tribe of Israel in flowing verse: "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling-places, O Israel." An editor bent on propaganda would follow such external praise with a story to prove it. Instead the Torah reveals the sordid affair of its leadership mired in immoral acts and idol-worship. Because it is so unbecoming, the story rings true.

    The Torah always describes its leadership, warts and all. From a founder raised in idol-worship (Abraham); to the leading prophet, offspring of a forbidden union between aunt and nephew (Moses); to a king who traces his maternal line to a non-Jewish Moabite (David), the Torah tells it like it is, and this is its surest sign of truth.

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