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Parshas Balak - Relentless     16 Tammuz 5782

07/14/2022 09:29:15 PM


Unwanted calls – including illegal and spoofed robocalls - are the FCC's top consumer complaint and top consumer protection priority. Spoofed calls mask the identity of the caller; illegal robocalls are calls inadvertently blocked or labeled as possible scam calls by a robocall blocking app or service.

For the life of me I cannot remember how far back I have been receiving spam calls. Typically, this has occurred on my landline, but within the last two years I have been receiving scam calls on my cell phone as well. Inexplicably, on some incoming calls my phone warns me with a “Potential Spam” notification. To add to the frequency of ‘potential spam’ calls I am also receiving calls from numbers close to mine! This is called "spoofing"; the caller is using a fake phone number. There are a couple of different kinds of spoofs such as "neighbor" and  "reflection" spoofing. Neighbor spoofing is a call from a number that appears to be close to your own, often the same area code and first three digits of your phone number. The intention here is to make you think the call is local, coming from a “neighbor,” so that you’ll be more likely to answer the call. Reflection spoofing is when the caller’s number appears to be the same as your own. In other words, it is a “reflection” of your phone number. The scammers hope that you will be curious enough to answer the call.

Most recently we received repeated calls (about twenty over a two-hour span) in another newer scam on our landline (I know I am dating myself now). In this scam, if you pick up the phone, you’ll find someone impersonating an Amazon customer support agent on the other end of the line. The impersonator might claim, for example, that an order for a $1200 iPhone 12 or another expensive product has been placed on your account. If you haven’t ordered an expensive product on Amazon recently, you’ll grow reasonably alarmed by this news. The bad guys rely on your sense of fear and urgency to extract sensitive information from you over the phone. The phone scammers may also ask you to visit a website or gain your trust by conversing casually with you. Do not answer any questions, do not go to any website you may be asked to visit, and do not, under any circumstances, provide the caller with remote access to your computer. To do this would allow the scammers to control your device and extract any information they please. I personally enjoy playing around with the callers, giving them a hard time until they eventually hang up. Nevertheless, the best advice is to hang up immediately and, if you feel compelled, to report the incident to the FCC.

The driving force of their approach is to be relentless. No matter how many times I say, “I’m not interested” they still call back again. Whether I answer the phone or not, they will call back either via robocalling or direct contact.

Another area of consumer annoyance is the constant repetition of unsolicited emails. On average, I typically delete about fifteen emails a day from each of my email addresses. In fairness, most of the emails I receive are the result of my purchasing or signing up for something that I only needed one time. Even after repeatedly unsubscribing to many of the unwanted emails, they continue to inundate my incoming mail. The investment from the sender is next to nothing on the hope that someone might click and re-engage. Again, we must be as relentless as the attacker. This approach and this kind of attack are both clearly seen in a segment of the Torah. The fact that these techniques mentioned are still actively being used must be since they are successful enough to make it worthwhile to continue using them.

In this week’s Parshas Balak, the Torah in Sefer Bamidbar from chapter 22 -24 describes the attempt of Balak, king of Moav, to defeat the Jewish people through the hiring and directing of the prophet Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. The theme throughout the entire parsha is a series of non-stop attempts to figure out a way to defeat the Jews. Attacking the Jewish people is not found in one or two incidences; it is a continuous focus. Here is a list of at least ten times where the intention is clear: Bamidbar 22:6 “This nation is too powerful for us [alone], so if you would, come and curse this nation for me”. 22:11 A nation that covers the earth’s surface has left Egypt. Come and curse them for me, so that hopefully, I will be able to fight against them and drive them away”.  22:15 “Balak sent another delegation, this time with a larger number of dignitaries, higher in rank than the first”. 22:22 “God displayed anger because [Bilaam was so anxious to] go, etc.” 22:27 “Bilaam loses his temper and beat the donkey with a stick”. In 22:37 “Balak said to Bilaam, ‘I had to make so much effort to get you’.  In chapter 23 Bilaam instructs Balak to build altars and offer sacrifices to appease God and allow him to curse the Jews. Three times Bilaam tries to curse the Jewish people but each time he is foiled, only allowed to speak the words of blessing that Hashem put in his mouth.

From the very beginning to the very end, Bilaam knew from the outset that Hashem would control his ability to fulfill Balak’s wish. Why didn’t the tenacity and determination of Bilaam not win over? The reason is simple: So long as we maintain a firm dedication to Hashem our enemies will not harm us. As soon as we buckle, as soon as we give in, even just a bit,  we are finished. As in the examples of the robocalls and unwanted emails,  we must have nerves of steel, refusing to give in, to answer the call, to give even the slightest indication that we are falling for the scam. Ultimately, the last-ditch effort of Bilaam in Bamidbar 25 to lure the Jews to sin through immorality was the crack, the breach of our defense. We gave in, leading to being caught in the scam with devastating results.

The lesson of Parshas Balak is a gift to us; it is the key to success. As often and as consistent our enemies are to destroy us physically and spiritually, we must be just as relentless in defending our Torah values and principles. Today, we are facing an unprecedented relentless attack upon our sacred Torah and Jewish values. We need to stand firm and not give in. With strength and clarity of belief we will inevitably win the battle.     

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Fri, December 8 2023 25 Kislev 5784