In the early 1800’s Britain and France were vying for control of Europe. Both countries were abusing the neutrality of the United States, by seizing their cargo as ‘contraband of war’ and impressing U.S. seamen into their navies. Incensed citizens were asking that their country declare war against Europe and in due course the United States responded.
Passive resistance was the method suggested by Thomas Jefferson, and he recommended to Congress that they fight an Economic War. Congress wasted no time in passing The Embargo Act of 1807, which was designed to force the cessation of plundering the American ships, cargo and personnel by banning all international trade to and from American ports.
The Embargo Act was a failure for various reasons:
- Captains and ship owners were deprived of business and their ships began to rot at the wharves
- The Act had the side-effect of prohibiting nearly all U.S. exports and most imports.
- British merchants appropriated the lucrative trade routes relinquished by U.S. shippers and demand for English goods rose in South America.
- The embargo undermined national unity in the U.S., provoking bitter protests, especially in New England commercial centers.
- The law was not respected nor well enforced, smuggling and legal loopholes limited its effectiveness.
At the end of 15 months, it was clear that the law was hurting the Americans more than the Europeans and the embargo was revoked on March 1, 1809, two days before the culmination of Jefferson’s presidency. Were Congress to have realized how devastating the Act was to the American economy it would never have passed in the first place.
Not so was the attitude of two other Nations. The Jewish people were passing by two countries with strict instructions not to do battle with them. Permission was given to traverse adjacent to their lands but not to engage them in war. Three million people were passing by without a loaf of bread or a drink of water. This presented a huge economic prospect; it does not take a shrewd investor to realize that there is an opportunity to make a fortune by setting up a lemonade stand. Yet, no Ammonite or Moabite capitalized on this amazing opening; not one single person came forward, not even the bakers and water carriers. Why?
Out of spite, pure unadulterated spite. They hated the Jews with venom and could not tolerate their existence. True, not selling them food was going to impact Ammon and Moab, but it would harm the Jews even more. They were prepared to suffer the loss and swallow their hurt because it gave them the opportunity to deprive their enemies.
It is for this reason that they are barred from entering into our nation. For eternity no convert from Ammon or Moab will be accepted into the fold, a distance never to be repaired. These were two nations revolted by Jews, and motivated by their feelings of abhorrence were ready to upset themselves to damage the Jews.
The Torah provides two reasons why we do not accept their converts, “Because they did not greet you with bread and water on the way, when you left Egypt, and because they hired Balaam the son of Beor, to curse you”. One could question what is the link between these two rationales, how do we connect their failure to act kindly to the Jews and their hire of Balaam?
In light of the above, the question is moot; the failure to provide food dovetails with the second reason ‘the hiring of Balaam’. Both acts were motivated by a deep hatred of the Jewish people.