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Parashat Balak

On the 17th of Tamuz, the Korban Tamid was Nullified

This Tuesday the fast of the 17th of Tammuz will take place- may this day quickly be turned into a day of happiness and rejoicing with the coming of redemption. One of the terrible things that happened on this day, was the nullification of the Korban Tamid sacrifice. The gemara (Sota, 49.) explains that when the enemy besieged Jerusalem, the Kohanim would lower a purse full of money over the walls, and the besiegers, in return, sent over two lamb for the Korban Tamid sacrifice. One evil elderly man saw the enemies doing this and said to them, "As long as the Jews continue to perform the Korban Tamid sacrifice, you will never overcome them!" The next day, as usual, the Kohanim lowered a bag full of money to their enemies, in anticipation of a lamb for the Korban. In return, the enemies sent back a pig. From that day on, the Korban Tamid was not able to be brought, and soon after, the Temple was destroyed.

The penetrating message of this story remains: it is not the "kerav" (battle) that wins the war but rather the "korban" (sacrifice)- "Not with courage or with strength, but with my spirit, says Hashem!"

The institution of prayer takes the place of korbanot, and the Misvot are even more important than sacrifices: "It is better to listen [to the Torah] than to bring a sacrifice." It is asked in the gemara, "Why was the First Temple destroyed?". The answer is not that there was a military defeat, but rather, the First Temple was destroyed because of three severe sins that were committed. And the second Temple was not destroyed because of the failed rebellion and the strength of the Romans. It was destroyed because of the sin of senseless hatred between man and man. Both on the individual and universal level: "Man does not have a right to the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu until we believe in all its words and the incidents it discloses, for they are all miracles, there is nothing natural about them, whether on an individual or public level.

But rather, if a person fulfills the misvot, he will recieve his reward, and if he transgresses, he will be given a punishment. Everything happens according to heavenly decree." (Ramban, Exodus 13:16).

It is for this reason that we fast before the day of the Temple's destruction, on the 17th of Tammuz- in order to think about the reasons that caused the destruction, to contemplate, and repent!

A Lesson from the Parasha

The Zohar HaKadosh explains that the word "Torah" derives from the word "Hora'ah" which means, teaching and guidance. Indeed, everything in the Torah is intended to teach and to guide. To acquire knowledge, there are specific commandments to follow such as keeping the Shabbat and wearing Tefillin. There are also a myriad of lessons that are learned from the stories of the Torah. From the story of "Mei Merivah", for example, we learn about the terrible ramifications of anger, and the severity of the sin of Hillul Hashem, etc.

What can we learn from this week's Parasha, Parshat Balak...What can we learn from the coming of Bilam to curse Israel, from the placing of Berachot into his mouth instead, from his advice to cause the Jewish people to sin by the persuasion of the women of Moav, from the plague that broke out among the tribes because of this...? At first glance, it seems that this Parasha is merely relating a historical incident. However, the Torah is not a history book, but rather a book of guidance- what guidance may we glean from this Parasha?

When this incident is closely investigated, we find that in fact, there is a fundamental lesson to be learned here. In order to elucidate this lesson, we will use an example taken from the recent past.

The State of Israel engraved on its flag the words "Never Again," Messada will not fall again, we will never again walk like sheep to the slaughterhouse. We have built strength, the Israeli army will return strike for strike- return it seventy fold with it's mighty army. We have an air force, tank force, paratroopers, and navy.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, a sudden alarm came. The Egyptians were preparing for attack. The Commander in Chief pressured the government to preempt the attack. However, the Prime Minister declared, "We will bend our heads and absorb the attack, and then we will return the attack." And the attack was painful and burning. Years passed, and the Gulf War broke out. In the seat of the prime minister stood a determined man... multiple bombs exploded in the state, and the army was not put into action. Miraculously, no one was injured. Why was the army not put into action?

We know why, and understand the decision. The government officials knew that if the army was damaged, they would lose the great support that the state relies on from a political and economical standpoint. And protection is more important than everything. The hypothesis was that if we were to attack first in the Yom Kippur war, we would attain only short-term security.

This short term victory would be lost in comparison to the greater defeat. And perhaps there may be some who disagree with this, but we are using this as an example.

And what is the lesson to be learned from this example? Balak and Bilam knew the lesson. That the Jewish nation has a shield! "It is better to rely on Hashem then to rely on princes." And they knew, that if they wanted, G-d forbid, to be victorious over Israel, they should not rely on their own stength. For in those times, there was no nation in the world stronger than Egypt, and even Egypt had not been able to defeat the Jews. Hashem had stricken Egypt to destruction, and brought us out of Egypt with a raised hand. If Balak and Bilam wanted to conquer the Jews, they knew they had to find a way to create a breach between Israel and their Father in Heaven, G-d forbid. At first, Bilam tried to awaken Hashem's decree of Judgment on the Jewish people with his curses, but to no avail. Later, he tried a different method, which succeeded- he caused Israel to sin. Sin creates a separation and mutual estrangement. "For your sins separate between you and your G-d, and your sins have hidden G-d's face from you" (Yishaya, 59,2).

Bilam said to Balak "The G-d of these people detests lewdness, go and make them commit this sin, topple the boundaries of modesty, nullify the gates of family purity, and thus you will remove from them the protection of the Creator. In this way they will fall, even without a war." And, unfortunately, a plague broke out among the Jewish people because of this.

One cannot, G-d forbid, insult the means of the State - in the military, political, economical, or social realm. But, if we wish for these to become fruitful, we have to act in a manner that will cause the Creator to give us his strength and protection- we can do this only through repentance, misvot, and added Torah learning. It is true, the army is necessary, but the people who are learning in yeshiva add Torah, kedusha, mitzvot, and cause the shield of the Creator to be spread over us. Only in this way can the army be victorious.

And this principle is not only true on a universal level, but also on an individual level. One has to work in order to make a living, and one might think that if one were to work on Shabbat, he would make a greater living. Or, one might think that if they went to hear a shiur in Torah, they would lose an hour's worth of making a living. Maybe one would gain a little, but in the larger picture one loses. However, if one listens to the will of the Creator, then he will merit the Light of his Face, and will earn infinite reward.

The Golden Column
Rabbeinu Chaim Ben Atar, zt"l

On Sunday, the 15th of Tammuz, the day of remembrance for Rabbeinu Chaim ben Atar, zs"l, will occur. He is well-known for his book "Or HaHaim Hakadosh". Hundreds will go up to his grave site in the heights of Mt. Olives, to pray and request mercy, that in his merit and in the merit of his Torah, Hashem will show mercy to his nation, and will speedily send us both spiritual and material redemption to the nation and to each individual person.

The grave site of Rabbeinu Hakadosh is known for wondrous events. During World War II, when Syria was controlled by the Vichy government, which was a German ally, Haifa was bombed by the hand of the Italians, also German allies. The Germans themselves were preparing for battle in North Africa.

The religious courts of Jerusalem announced that the people of Jerusalem would go up to the cemetery of Rabbeinu Hakadosh, on the day of his remembrance, the 15th of Tammuz.

Among those who had made aliyah to Zion, was the elderly Rabbi from Huseiton the grandson of Rabbi Yisrael from Rhizin, zs"l.

It is impossible to describe the moving prayers that were said, and the tehilim that were recited in tears. Everyone had heard the declaration of the enemies that the western wall stood to justify its name, "The Wailing Wall".

The prayers ended and everyone descended from the mountain, depressed and worrried. Only the face of the Sadik reflected great happiness. The Gaon of Taplik, zs"l asked the Rabbi from Huseiton to explain his happiness, and he answered "The danger has passed, the enemy will not enter the gates of the land!"

The Gaon of Taplik then asked, "How do you know"

And he answered, "because I saw the name of Hashem blessed is He, lighting over Holy Zion".

Two days later the enemies suffered their downfall at Al Almein, and the wheel was overturned, from that day on they suffered defeat after defeat until the time of their destruction!

Asking and Expounding
The Blessing on Rice

There is a dispute among the Rishonim as to the proper blessing to be said upon eating rice. The Ba'al Halachot Gedolot and the Ra"avia are of the opinion that the blessing should be "shehakol", whereas the Rif, Rambam, and Rosh are of the opinion that the blessing should be "borei minei mezonot." The Rosh justifies his opinion by arguing that although rice is not part of the five grains that "mezonot" is normally said over, it serves the same function of satiety. However, since it is really not officially part of the five grains, one makes a concluding blessing of "borei nefashot" and not the blessing of "me'ein shalosh" which is normally said over the five grains. The Shulchan Aruch concurs with this approach.

One point in particular needs clarification. It seems that the Rosh only says that you make a blessing of "mezonot" on rice when it is cooked and ground up into a meal - i.e. it has lost its distinguishable form of rice. The same rule actually applies to whole wheat stalks - even if they are cooked, one says a blessing of "borei peri ha'adama" and not "mezonot." However, there is a significant distinction between wheat and rice. Wheat is not normally eaten in its original form, whereas rice is. Therefore, there is a logical argument to say "mezonot' on rice even when it is in its original form (as is the common way to eat it today.)

The Shulchan Aruch seems to follow our last line of reasoning whereas the Rama seems to hold by the Rosh and says that a blessing of "mezonot" is only said over rice which has been made into flour or meal and used to make a bread or cooked dish. However, even among Benei Ashkenaz who normally follow the Rama, there seems to be a consensus to say "mezonot" over rice.

In summary: when one eats rice, a blessing of "mezonot" is said before hand, and a blessing of "borei nefashot" is said afterward.

From the wellsprings of the parasha

"Those who you bless are blessed."

The "Or Hachaim" has asked: "We know that Bilam has the power to curse, because our Rabbis tell us that he knew the time of day when Hashem is angry and that he was given the power of the "evil eye," but where does he get the power to bless from? The answer is that in truth Bilam did not have the power to bless. What he would do is that every time he would see someone's luck increase, he would give them a blessing, and then everyone would attribute that person's success to Bilam's blessing! In reality, though, he only had the power to curse.

"Do not go with them."

The Ibn Ezra has asked: Why did Hashem have to prevent Bilam from cursing Benei Yisrael? Why couldn't Hashem have simply let Bilam curse the Jewish people and then not let that curse materialize? The answer is that Hashem knew that Bilam's agenda was to cause the Jews to sin with the daughters of Midyan and that Hashem would have to send a plague to punish the Jews for this. Hashem did not want people to think that this plague was a result of Bilam's curse, and therefore he had to stop Bilam from the very outset!

"And Hashem opened the mouth of the donkey."

The Ramban points out that although the donkey complained that Bilam hit him, the donkey did not justify its stubbornness by explaining to Bilam that there was an angel of Hashem blocking the road. The reason for this, the Ramban explains, is that a donkey can not see an angel. When the Torah says that the donkey saw the angel, it simply means that the donkey felt the presence of something scary. However, a donkey can certainly not see an angel. Only someone with a neshama - a soul - can see an angel.

The Wonders of the Creator
The Head

Every one of man's organs has been created and designed perfectly by Hashem for the function that it performs. Let us take the head and all of its part as an example.

The brain, the most lofty and complex of man's organs has been created with a special covering - the skull. The eyes, man's gates to the world around him, have also been encased by the skull for support and protection. The jaws, important for speech and eating, have been perfectly designed for these functions - especially the lower jaw which can move up and down and from side to side. The head itself can also move around in order to see peripherally and yet is held strongly by the cervical vertebrae. The muscles of the face are also extremely important. These muscles are used for speaking, eating, smiling - among many of their functions.

There are even tiny muscles in our ears which control our hearing! From a spiritual perspective, the face is the gateway to the spirit of a man - from a man's face, we see his soul.

Ma'ayan Hahinuch

We find a Midrash in Sefer Beresheet which is connected to our parasha and needs explanation. The midrash says: " Woe to us when the day of judgment comes, woe is to on the day of rebuke! For Bilam, who was merely an idol worshipper was not able to withstand the rebuke of his donkey! (after Bilam strikes his donkey three times, the donkey says back to him, "Am I not your donkey upon which you have ridden all your life to this very day? have I ever endangered you?" To this, Bilam simply answered "no.") How much more so will we not be able to withstand the rebuke when the Holy One Blessed Be He comes to rebuke us!" The question asked on this Midrash is: What is so poignant about the rebuke of the donkey that caused our Rabbis to parallel it to the rebuke that we will one day receive from Hashem?

The rebuke of the donkey is so powerful because it asks Bilam a very simple question: where is your common sense? The donkey does not point out any specific sin. Rather, he recalls to Bilam that he has always been a faithful donkey, and if there is anything wrong, its obviously not his fault or his malicious attempt to obstruct Bilam's journey. The donkey is accusing Bilam of simply not considering the situation with enough thought and sensitivity. This is the message of the Midrash - that certainly in the future we will be judged for all of our individual sins. But more importantly, we will be judged for simply not having common sense. Judgment will be passed on us for all of the days spent frivolously without properly considering our true role in the world and what our duty is as Jews and servants of Hashem.

Excerpts from: Sing You Righteous... by: Rabbi Avigdor Miller

Behinah in the talmud

The question might be raised: If the observation of the Creator's wisdom and kindliness is such an essential requirement, why is the Talmud not full of it? But the same question can be asked about the subject of praise to G-d, which certainly is obligatory at all times, as is clearly evident throughout the book of Tehillim, such as: "Let me bless the L-rd at all times; always shall His praise be in my mouth"(Tehillim 34:2). The answer is that the Talmud is chiefly for the purpose of teaching the Halachot, but the Sages left the subject of Tehillim to the book of Tehillim which teaches the importance of praise of G-d's wisdom and kindliness. The Sages certainly studied all the Scriptures, and they relied on this and therefore did not repeat the scriptural admonitions other than what pertained to Halachah. The admonitions toward the observation of the Creator's work are in the Scriptures. "Raise up on high your eyes and see Who created these" (Isaiah 40:26). "When I see Your heavens, the work of your fingers; the moon and the stars which You established" (Tehillim 8:4). "At the work of G-d they do not look, and the doing of His hands they did not see" (Isaiah 5:12).

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