This issue is sponsored jointly
Vol. 21 No. 55
Esther bas Yisrael Yitzchok Haleve z"l
Yuta Krencha bas R' Hillel Hacohen z"l
Parshas Ve'Zos ha'Bracha
Moshe & Bil'am
(Adapted from the Oznayim la'Torah)
"Never again has there arisen a prophet in Yisrael like Moshe whom G-d 'knew' face to face" (34:10).
"In Yisrael there has not arisen", says the Medrash, but among the nations there has. And who was that? Bil'am.
At first sight, says the Oznayim la'Torah, this seems impossible to comprehend! How can one compare darkness to light, Tum'ah to Taharah, the scum of the earth to the man of G-d?
Yet if one thinks a moment, the initially startling statement makes good sense. When G-d offered the Torah (the main objective of the creation) to each and every nation in the world, the only nation to accept it unconditionally ('Na'aseh ve'Nishma!') was K'lal Yisrael.
This would have left Hashem (Kevayachol) open to criticism as to why he provided Yisrael with a master prophet to teach them His ways and to prepare them for the giving of the Torah. Had He sent them a prophet the likes of Moshe, they could argue, they too would have accepted the Torah!
And it is in order to remove this accusation that He gave them a prophet with the powers of prophecy akin to those of Moshe Rabeinu! (Medrash Rabah and Tanchuma).
But the power of prophecy is subject to change, both with regard to the way in which the prophet himself relates to it - in the way he uses or abuses it - and with regards to the attitude of the people towards the prophet that G-d sends them. And therein lies the difference between Moshe and Bil'am.
Regarding the prophet himself, we see that hardly had Moshe begun to prophesy that when Yisrael worshipped the Golden Calf, G-d told him to step down ("Go and descend!") because his people had become corrupt. He had proved himself unable to train the people not to allow the Eirev Rav to make a Golden Calf, even if he did not return at the appointed time, so he was no longer worthy of the same level of prophecy. Consequently, he was demoted to the level of an ordinary prophet.
And it was only after he returned to the camp, smashed the Luchos, burned the calf and killed those who had worshipped it, and brought Yisrael back to the service of G-d that, not only did he attain his previous status, but he rose even higher - to the point that he merited the Karnei Hod (the rays of light that shone from his forehead). And he continued to rise to higher levels until, at the time of his death, the Torah refers to him as "the man of G-d".
In contrast, says the author, let us see what Bil'am did with the prophecy which was bestowed upon him. Not only did he do nothing to encourage the nations to accept the Torah - which he acknowledged was given to K'lal Yisrael, when he told the people that "G-d is giving 'strength' to His people" - he did not even take the trouble to arouse the people to keep the seven Mitzvos which they were already commanded. In fact, the Medrash tells us, when the people questioned him about the thunder and the tone of the Shofar at Har Sinai, which resonated round the world, and asked him whether G-d was about to bring another flood upon the world and whether they needed to repent for their misdeeds, he merely assured them that G-d had promised not to send another flood, and that it was not therefore necessary to improve their ways.
And what use did he make of his great power of prophecy? He used it to curse nations, causing them to be destroyed, in order to make a lot of silver and gold (as he intimated to Balak). Moreover, he was the one to advise Mo'av to send their daughters en masse to cause the young men of Yisrael to commit acts of adultery and idolatry - and that at a time when the whole world had undertaken to live more moral lives.
No wonder then that the power of prophecy was taken from him, little by little. First he became lame in one foot, then blind in one eye, then he turned to black magic, and at the time of his death he is referred to as Bil'am the sorcerer (Yehoshua, 13).
Finally, the Oznayim la'Torah asks why, when Bil'am was killed, G-d did not appoint a prophet to replace him.
He replies by asking whether the people were interested in prophecy and what it represented. Indeed, he explains, it was the people themselves who were to blame for Bil'am's descent from prophet to wizard. The only request they ever made of him was to curse their opponents to defeat them in war. Contrast this with Yisrael, who came to Moshe with requests "to seek G-d", to explain "why they were prevented from bringing the Korban Pesach", because they had become Tamei. Moreover, they asked Moshe to "Approach G-d, and to hear what He would command" on their behalf.
Bil'am had the potential to become a prophet on a par with Moshe Rabeinu. The problem was that neither he, nor the people he represented, were prepared to rise to the occasion.
* * *
(Adapted from the Oznayim la'Torah)
Levi & Binyamin
"To Binyamin he said … . And to Yosef he said …" (33:12/13).
The Pasuk juxtaposes Binyamin next to Levi, the Oznayim la'Torah explains, because the former served in the Beis-Hamikdash that was built in the territory of the latter.
Efrayim and Menasheh
" … and they are the tens of thousands of Efrayim and they are the thousands of Menasheh" (33:17).
The G'ra explains that Ya'akov blessed Efrayim on his right hand side and Menasheh, on his left. Thus he blessed the former with tens of thousands (victims in battle) and the latter, with thousands - based on the Pasuk in Tehilim (91) "A thousand will fall on your (left-hand) side, and ten thousand on your right".
The Blessing of Asher
"Blessed be Asher more than all the sons. He will be popular among his brothers." (33:24).
Since there is no land, the Sifri explains, that is able to sustain the people during the Sh'mitah year (this is the text of the G'ra) like that of Asher.
Citing the Zayis Ra'anan, the Oznayim la'Torah explains that the territory of Asher was filled with olive-trees, unlike the rest of the country, which comprised mainly fields - which could not be sown in the Sh'mitah, and where wild -seeds were rare.
Consequently, everyone flocked to Asher to partake of the olives that were available in abundance. This made the tribe a favourite among the brothers. And this is what the current Pasuk is teaching us.
The Benefits of Olive-Oil
"And he dips his feet in oil" (Ibid.)
So rich in oil was Asher, the Oznayim la'Torah explains, that not only did they anoint themselves with oil, they also bathed their feet in oil.
The Gemara in Chulin (Daf 24) cites Rebbi Chanina, who claimed that the hot water and olive oil with which his mother used to anoint him ensured his continued good health even after he reached old age.
And that, says the author, is what the next Pasuk means when it concludes - "And your old age will be like your youth".
The G-d of Yeshurun
"There is no-one like the Powerful G-d, Yeshurun, who rides in the Heaven to save you." (33:26)
Yisrael are called 'Yeshurun' says the G'ra, because of the Shirah that they sang when they left Egypt.
At that stage they asked "Who is like You among the powerful ones, Hashem". Now however, after they had received the Torah and studied it for forty years in the desert, they are expected to know the answer - "There is no-one like the Powerful G-d." Hence Rashi comments 'Know, Yeshurun, that among all the gods of the nations, there is none that can compare to the Powerful G-d'.
* * *