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Pop Quiz: Which idol did Moab entice Israel to worship?

by Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

We are all familiar with the donkey of Bilam which spoke to him after Bilam hit it. This was an extraordinary miracle done for the benefit of the Jewish people to show Bilam that the power of speech belongs to Hashem, so that Bilam should not be connected with his ability to bless or curse people, since even a donkey could talk by will of Hashem.

The amazing thing is that G-d had this donkey killed so that people shouldnít point to it and say, "This donkey talked back to Bilam the prophet." Imagine what a kidush Hashem, sanctification of G-dís name, it would be if we could see this donkey and what a great lesson it would teach people. But for the sake of Bilamís honor, even though he was wicked, Hashem caused this animal to die. We see from here how important is the honor of a human being, which can override the lessons to be had with this amazing talking donkey. We would do well to remember this whenever a question comes up which involves the dignity and respect of someone else. Be it with words or deeds, how careful should we be to preserve the honor of any human being, especially a friend or a loved one! Shabbat Shalom.

by Rabbi Reuven Semah

"And an angel of Hashem stood on the road to impede him" (Bemidbar 22:22)

The perashah of Balak is perhaps one of the most thought-provoking portions of the Torah. The diabolical planning of Bilam, the startling miracle of the talking donkey, and donít forget the grand finale, the courageous act of Pinhas. As the story unfolds, Hashem sends an angel to stop Bilam from cursing the Israelites. Rashi notes that the pasuk says an angel of Hashem as opposed to an angel of Elokim. The use of Hashem, the name that indicates G-dís compassion, implies that G-d was being merciful to Bilam by sending an angel to save him from a sin that would lead to his own destruction. But Hashem didnít stop there. Hashem tried to show him in many ways that he shouldnít go. Hashem even went so far as to make Bilamís donkey talk. All to no avail, Bilam continued. Why so much bother? Why didnít Hashem just stop him? Because Hashemís goal is that each person on his own should make the right decision. Our greatest source of success is to use our own free will to come to realize the truth and act upon it. This is the true kindness from Hashem. Bilam chose to ignore it.

However, there is another profound lesson here. Bilam used his free will to try to destroy the Jewish people. Hashem would not take away his free will, but bottom line, Bilam didnít succeed. He tried to execute his free will to curse us, but Hashem would not allow that gift of free will to bring us harm. The Jewish people have nothing to fear, even from powerful people who have the potent weapon of free will. Hashemís mercy and love for us, his people, is infinite. Shabbat Shalom.


"And Balak son of Sippor was king of Moab at that time" (Bemidbar 22:4)

The Zohar teaches that Balak was one of Yitro's grandchildren, the only one who did not convert to Judaism. The elders of Moab made him their king in order to prevent him from having any thoughts of converting along with the rest of his family.

Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman commented that this is the technique of the yeser hara. When a person performs a transgression, the yeser hara seeks to make the person feel good about the sin, so that he doesn't come to regret it and repent. Very often, we see what seems to be a good result from a sin, and we tend to think that we must not have been so bad or Hashem would not have allowed any good to come of it. For example, a person may have a quick temper and speak harshly with everyone around him. However, of all the people he yelled at, there was one who genuinely deserved to be rebuked. It will be very hard for this person to feel regret over his short temper because he sees that it sometimes brings positive results.

Our Rabbis teach that a person should never think that good results can come from bad deeds. If one sees what seems to be a positive outcome from a sin, he must realize that if he had performed a misvah instead of a sin, the effects would have been far better. One should not say, though, that if he hadn't made the sin, the good results would not have happened. An example the Rabbis give is with the brothers of Yosef. Even though their sale of Yosef eventually led to his supporting the entire world, they never thought that their action was correct even though it led to such positive results.

By keeping this principle in mind, one can protect himself from the attacks of the yeser hara. If bad actions seem to bring good results, then good actions would have brought on much better outcomes. (Lekah Tob)


"And Hashem said to Bilam, 'Do not go with them. Do not curse the nation for they are blessed'" (Bemidbar 22:12)

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz commented that any unbiased person who heard that Hashem said here not to go with the messengers would understand that Hashem did not want Bilam to curse the Jewish people. We see here the power of bias to blind a person from seeing what any unbiased person could see. What did Bilam report back to the messengers of Balak? That Hashem considered him so distinguished that He would not allow him to go with them. It is quite possible that Bilam did not merely lie to them. Rather his own arrogance led him to fool himself about what he thought were Hashem's intentions. A person always hears what he wants to hear.

Each person has a similar tendency, said Rav Chaim, to interpret the Torah according to his own bias even though his conclusions might be opposite the Torah's true intentions. By being aware of your own biases, you will be able to avoid this trap. (Growth Through Torah)

Answer to pop quiz: Baal Pe'or.

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