The recent terror attack in London was unique—it was carried out by British-born fundamentalists, not foreigners. After suffering years of IRA-sponsored terrorism, the question people here in Britain are asking is why people would want to blow their fellow citizens and themselves to smithereens in a crowded rush-hour underground train. Most people just cannot fathom this new evil, perpetrated by seemingly normal people who could have been their neighbors or classmates.

There is no doubt that this new phenomenon forces a new understanding of the enemy. Whereas in bygone days wars were fought between nations who lived in separate lands, today, in the age of globalization, the boundaries are different. Notwithstanding this, I contend that the underlying cause of war, and therefore twenty-first century terrorism, has not changed since biblical times.

There is one particular story in the Bible that offers insight into the cause of war. The story opens with Balak king of Moab noticing how the Children of Israel had defeated the Amorites. The Bible notes that “Moab became afraid of the people [of Israel], because they were numerous. And Moab became disgusted because of the children of Israel” (Numbers 22:3). The sequence of these two phases—fear, followed by disgust—is significant.

There can be two responses to a more powerful and successful person or people. A person can be motivated to endeavor to establish good relations with the more powerful entity, or they can become frightened and attempt to undermine it.

The Bible tells us, in a word, why Moab chose the latter option. They were afraid and envious of the Israelites, and envy breeds disgust. As the story in the Bible illustrates, disgust is only a short step away from a hatred that can lead to cold-blooded killing.

According to the Midrash, Balak realized that it would be difficult to defeat the Israelites with military might alone, so he attempted to find the source of the Israelites’ strength in order to undermine it. “Moses, the leader of the Israelites, was raised in Midian,” reasoned Balak. “Let us ask them what his strength is.” They told him, “His strength lies solely in his ability to communicate verbally with G‑d.” To which Balak replied, “In order to neutralize this advantage, we will enlist Balaam the gentile prophet to curse them; then we will be able to crush them in battle.”1

The Israelites had a completely different outlook. When faced with a powerful adversary, they would choose the peaceful option; war was always a last resort.2 The reason for this is clear. Satisfied with what they had been given by G‑d, they did not feel the need to have what belonged to others. This characteristic was, and still is, integral to Jewish identity. And eventually even the evil prophet Balaam was forced to recognize it and extol it. G‑d did not allow Balaam to curse the Israelites, and he was forced to give them blessings instead. The third blessing he gave was different than the previous two: “Balaam did not go in search of omens, as he had done in the previous [blessings], but turned his face toward the desert. Balaam raised his eyes, and he saw Israel dwelling according to its tribes; and the spirit of G‑d rested upon him. He took up his parable and said: . . . ‘How goodly are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places, O Israel!’”3

Our sages explain that Balaam was commenting on the fact that the openings of the Israelites’ tents did not face each other, so that no one could peer into another person’s tent.4 Each family was happy with their own lot; they therefore had no reason to want to look into the tents of their neighbors. The way the tents were laid out reflected this—so Balaam had no choice but to recognize this and contrast it with the fear, discontent and envy he had encountered with Balak and the Moabites.5

Fundamental to Islam is the concept of jihad, which is the obligation to expand the territories under Muslim rule at the expense of non-Muslim territories. Integral to this ideology is the fact that Islam is not happy with its portion—it would like to conquer, own and control that which currently belongs to others. If this is achieved peacefully, as moderate Muslims claim it should, it would seem that no one could possibly object. However, the underlying principle is perilous, because discontent with one’s lot often leads to the disgust and hate of others, and then, tragically, to carnage.

This is the underlying cause of terrorism. The terrorists’ ideology of discontent causes them to be disgusted by, and ultimately hate, cultures different than theirs. Make no mistake: the cause of terrorism has nothing to do with socioeconomic factors, and everything to do with an ideology of discontent and hatred. It is this ideology that breeds homegrown terrorists.

Their strategy of trying to defeat us is age-old. Like Balak in the Bible, they have identified the strength of western democracies—our free and open societies—and they intend to exploit it in an effort to defeat us.

Judaism rejects the ideology of discontentment. That is why Judaism has never sought converts or the enlargement of Jewish boundaries. Judaism believes that by keeping to the seven universal moral ethical laws, non-Jews too receive a place in the World to Come. By being satisfied with what it has, Judaism teaches to leave space for others.

Indeed, in order for the terror to end, the world must once again take a look at—and emulate—the beautiful setup of “the tents of Jacob and the dwellings of Israel.”