Friday, July 22, 2016

Parshas Balak

This Week’s Parsha – Balak:

This week’s parsha is Balak, and it discusses mostly the ordeal with Bilaam and the curse-turned-into-blessing for the Jews. Balak was afraid of the Jews, and so he hired Bilaam to curse them. That is why he hired Bilaam – because he wanted him to curse the Jews so they would not be able to beat him in battle. But, in the end, Hashem made sure that Bilaam did not curse the Jews, and instead, He had him bless them! Hashem is so kind always, and we tend to hardly even notice. He protects us more than we even know! And, aside from that, we do not tend to appreciate the great things which we find ‘normal’. Such as breathing; we must do this almost every second of every single day and night. But we tend not to think about it – thinking that breathing is just a regular thing. In reality, however, it is a great gift from Hashem! So what we come out with is that Hashem does essentially everything for us, and we don’t pay much attention to it. Is this not the height of ungratefulness? And Hashem is surely not happy with this. Imagine; somebody gives you some great gifts, and you just take them, say a quick "Thanks" and walk away – not showing any gratefulness. How foolish this is! So, what we must all do is start to contemplate and realize how much Hashem truly gives us. Contemplate each thing that you have; the fact that Hashem gave it to you, and how great it truly is. And this way, B’Eizer Hashem/with the Help of Hashem, we will come to appreciate the great gifts which Hashem gives to us. Hashem will be happy with this surely! It is very important to work individually on each of our middos/traits, trying to refine them always. It is very hard to just say "I’ll do good things and be a good person" – you have to work on each individual trait, and keep refining all of them. This way, we will all be much, much better people, and we will serve Hashem a lot better. We must try to refine all of our traits. We must try! And may Hashem help us all to do this, Amein, so may it be His Will. These things are very important.

And now on to the parsha: The first passuk/verse in the parsha is: ‘Vayar Balak ben Tzippor, eis kol asher asah Yisroel laEmori/And Balak son of Tzippor saw all that Israel did to the Emori.’ First, Rashi quotes from Midrash Tanchuma, which explains that Balak was really scared because the Jews had just beaten the giants, Sichon and Og, whom he and his nation relied on, so, all the more so, if the Jews attacked him and his nation, they would obviously beat them.

Also on this verse, the Trisker Maggid (Rebbe Avraham of Trisk zt"l) asks; what exactly does Emori mean? True, it means the nation of the Emorim, but it can also come from the word ‘emor’ which means ‘to say’. Thus, we can translate this verse like this: ‘And Balak son of Tzippor saw all that Israel had done to saying things’, i.e. to speech. This teaches us that a big power of the Jewish People is their speech. We can Daven to Hashem, speak words of Torah, etc.1 We need to concentrate on using our speech for good things, and we need to appreciate the great power of speech. After all, the only creature to whom Hashem really gave the ability to talk was a person. It is a precious gift that must be used the right way. Back to the parsha: The Torah discusses the fact that the nation of Moav was very afraid of the Jews, because they were very numerous. But, the Chassidishe Masters point out that there is something that does not seem to look right in this passuk/verse. When talking about how numerous the Jews were, the Torah says ‘Ki rav hu/Because they were numerous’. ‘Rav hu’ is in the singular, as if talking about one person, they explain, when it looks like, since the Torah is talking about the entire Jewish People, it should be in the plural form, ‘Ki rabim heim’! So they explain beautifully that, the Torah is telling us that the entire Jewish People was like one person – all together with Achdus/togetherness and ‘brotherly love’ (thus the singular form), and that is what Moav was afraid of!2 The Jews were all working together, and that is likely more dangerous to fight against than a very large nation that is not together. We must work on having Achdus/togetherness and brotherly love today, as, unfortunately, we have not had as much nowadays, and we need to work on this. Back to the parsha: The Moavim were very afraid that the Jews would annihilate them, so Balak sent messengers to Bilaam, telling him about how the Jews covered the ‘eye’ of the land, i.e. they had a lot of people. And he wanted Bilaam to curse them, because they were mightier than him and his nation, and he was hoping that if Bilaam cursed the Jews, then he and the Moavim would be able to wage war on them, and drive them away. The elders of Moav and Midian went to Bilaam and delivered the message which Balak had said. Bilaam told them to stay with him for the night, and he would tell them if he could curse the Jews after Hashem spoke to him. Now, Bilaam was a prophet, meaning that Hashem spoke to him.

Rashi quotes from the Midrash, which explains that Hashem gave the non-Jews a prophet, who could hear things from Him, so that they could not say that they did bad things because they did not have somebody telling them what Hashem wanted from them. Hashem gave them Bilaam, who was a prophet, but they still did bad things. Now, the Sages tell us that Bilaam was on the level of Moshe Rabbeinu in prophecy. But obviously, we know that Moshe was so much greater than Bilaam! So how could the Sages say this? Answers the Ksav Sofer (HaRav Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer zt"l), Moshe and Bilaam were both given the gift of prophecy, but there was a major difference between them; Moshe worked to be a good person and to refine his talent, but Bilaam used his talent for bad things, and rebelled against Hashem. So, at first, he continues beautifully, they were sort of on the same level in prophecy, but Moshe worked to get better and use stuff for good, but Bilaam did the opposite.3 In fact, the Gadol HaDor, HaRav Aharon Yehuda Leiv Shteinman shlita says around the same thing. He discusses the fact that Moshe refined his middos/character traits, and Bilaam did not. And middos/character traits, he explains, are so important, and so the powers of prophecy that were given to Bilaam were sort of ruined by his bad middos/character traits.4 These are very important messages. Back to the parsha: Hashem came to Bilaam in the night, and asked him who the men with him were. Obviously He knew, but, according to the interpretation of Rashi quoting from the Midrash, Hashem said this to open a conversation with Bilaam. But maybe we can say there is a deeper meaning behind it. Maybe, Hashem asked him this, not because, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid, He did not know who the people were, but to sort of try to make Bilaam think about what he was doing – make Bilaam think about why the people were there. Hashem wants to help us, and He gives us lots of messages, but are we taking them and stopping ourselves form doing bad things, or are we just doing what we want? These things need to be thought about. Back to the parsha: Bilaam told Hashem that Balak had sent the men to him, and told him basically the message that Balak had had sent to him, which we listed earlier. And Hashem told him that he should not go with the people, and he should not curse the Jews, because they are blessed. Look how Hashem protects us! He is so kind! Bilaam got up in the morning, and told the officers that they should go back to their land, because Hashem had refused to let him go with them. The officers left him, and told Balak that he refused to go with them. So Balak continued to send officers, but ones who were higher than the previous ones. They came to Bilaam and told him what Balak had said, essentially asking him again to come with them. Bilaam told them basically that he couldn’t disobey Hashem no matter what.

Bilaam asked these people to stay with him overnight as well. And that night, Hashem came to Bilaam again, and He told him that if the people had come to call for him to go with them, but only what He spoke to Him, he should speak. Rashi explains "If the calling is for you, and you expect payment for it, arise and go with them." However, the question still arises; why did Hashem now let Bilaam go with the people? The great Vilna Gaon (HaRav Eliyahu Kramer zt"l) answers that, in the Hebrew language, there are two words for ‘with’ – את and עם. The word עם, he explains, connotes going completely with something, not just physically going with, but agreeing with, etc. However, the word את can connote more of just a superficial going with, maybe just physically. If you notice, the Gaon explains beautifully, when Hashem told Bilaam not to go with the people, He told him not to go Imahem/with them’ with the root of עם, the deeper sense of going with, but when He told Bilaam that he could go, He used the term ‘Itam/with them’, the root being the word את, implying that He was telling him that he could ride with them to Balak, but not go with them in a more spiritual sense.5 This is a very beautiful explanation. Back to the parsha: In the morning, Bilaam got up, saddled his she-donkey, and went with the Moavi people. Hashem got very angry that Bilaam was going, and He put an Angel on the road to impede him. At first, the question would seem to arise, why did Hashem get angry, when He told Bilaam that he could go with the people?! But, if we use the explanation of the Vilna Gaon zt"l which we quoted above, we can easily answer this question: Hashem allowed Bilaam to physically go with the officers of Moav, but not to go with them in the same mindset – that is, to curse the Jews. And a proof for this; if you notice, when the Torah says that Bilaam went with the officers of Moav, it uses the word עם, implying that he went in the same mindset as the officers, which Hashem did not let him do.  As Rashi says "His heart was the same as theirs." Bilaam really hated the Jews, and his intention was to do bad to them. This explains why Hashem was angry. Back to the parsha: The donkey saw the Angel, but Bilaam didn’t, and the Angel had a sworn drawn, and so the she-donkey strayed into a field. Bilaam beat the donkey to get it onto the road. Then, the Angel stood on a path in the vineyards, with a fence on both sides. The donkey saw it, and pressed up against the wall, pressing Bilaam’s leg against the wall, and so he struck her again. The Angel kept going ahead, and it stood in a narrow place, where there was no space on either side of it. So the donkey crouched down with Bilaam, and Bilaam beat it again. Hashem let the donkey speak, and it asked Bilaam why he had struck it the three times. Bilaam replied that it was because the donkey had humiliated him, and if he had his sword, he would kill it!

The donkey essentially asked rhetorically if she was the donkey that he had ridden on ever since he started until this point, and also, if she was accustomed to do that to him, and he answered "No." Then Hashem opened Bilaam’s eyes, and he saw the Angel, and he bowed and prostrated himself (which was a sign of respect). The Angel asked Bilaam why he had struck his donkey the three times, and it told him that if the donkey had not turned away, he (the Angel) would have killed him already, and spared the donkey. Bilaam admitted that he had sinned, and he said that if it displeased the Angel (if he would keep going), he would return. The Angel (which only says what Hashem wants it to) told Bilaam that he should go with the men, but should only say what Hashem speaks to him. So when Balak heard that Bilaam was coming, he went out to greet him. And Bilaam had to tell him that he could only speak what Hashem told him to. As we see in the next parts of this parsha, Bilaam had wished to curse the Jews, but Hashem, in His Kindness, told him to bless them, and so Bilaam blessed us a lot. At the end of the parsha, the Jews stray and start to go after idols. One particular Jew was doing a bad thing with a non-Jew in public, and Pinchas the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen saw it, and he took a spear, and killed them both – which in this case, was a very great thing.

Just a final commentary for this parsha report: The Chassidishe Masters note that the Gematria/numerical value of the Hebrew word used here for ‘spear’ – רמח, is 248. This corresponds, they say, to the 248 limbs a person has in their body. So what does this teach us? It teaches us, they explain beautifully, that a person must use all of their 248 limbs for Hashem, just like Pinchas went and fearlessly killed the people doing the bad thing in public, for Hashem.6 We must take this message to heart, B’Eizer Hashem/with the Help of Hashem. May Hashem help everyone to do this, Amein, so may it be His Will.

There are 104 pessukim/verses in this parsha.

Have a great Shabbos!

Refoel Berel

1©.  'Chassidic Gems on Parshas Balak'.  Shiur given by HaRav Elyakim Rosenblatt shlita.  Also, YUTorah  'Parshas Balak 5776: Balak's Biggest Fear: A Jewish Teffilah'.  Shiur given by Ari Mirzoeff shlita. 
2©.  'Chassidic Gems on Parshas Balak'.  Shiur given by HaRav Elyakim Rosenblatt shlita.
3©.  'Pre-Slichot D'rasha'.  Shiur given by HaRav Noach Isaac Oelbaum shlita. 
4 - Yeshiva Bircas HaTorah.  'Parshas Balak 5775'. 
5  'Musings on Parshat Balak (1/1)'.  By Rabbi H.L. Berenholz shlita.
6©.  'Chassidic Gems on Parshas Balak'.  Shiur given by HaRav Elyakim Rosenblatt shlita.

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