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Simcha Groffman

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Parashas Balak

Torah from the Poor

Balak hired Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. He tried three times, and each time he blessed them instead of cursing them. The third time he made the following statement. "Water shall flow from his wells" (Bamidbar 24:7). The gemora (Nedarim 81a) has a novel drasha on this verse. "Be careful with the sons of poor people, for from them will come Torah. As the verse states, 'Water shall flow from his branches.'" The word, "dalim" is translated as "wells" but it can also mean "lowly ones." These are the sons of poor people. The word water is darshened to mean Torah. Our sages compare the Torah to water. Just as water gives life to the world, so too Torah gives life to the world. Just as water flows to the lowest point, so too Torah goes to the most humble. That is the gemora's drasha on the verse, "Water (Torah) will flow from the low ones (sons of poor people)."

What is so special about poor people that they will produce Torah? Doesn't any Jew have the capability of becoming a talmid chochom? In theory, yes. However, the Ran points out that poor people have two distinct advantages. Firstly, they do not have any business ventures to distract them. Their minds are free to learn Torah without interruption. Secondly, they are humble. Poverty is a humiliating experience. As we said before, just as water flows to the lowest place, so too Torah goes to the most humble. The Torah Temima adds that the sons of wealthy people are involved with the pleasures of this world. That is not the way of Torah, as the Mishna (Pirkei Avos 6:4) states, "This is the way of Torah. Eat bread and salt, drink water in measured amounts, sleep on the ground, live a life of tsaar, and toil in Torah. If you do this, 'You are fortunate, and all is well with you!' (Tehillim 128:2)".

The Iyun Yaakov has a different interpretation. The Gemora is referring to teachers of Torah. In the olden days, the only way for advanced students to learn Torah was from a private teacher. These private teachers were paid a salary for teaching the student. Therefore, poor students were at a definite disadvantage. The Torah is warning these teachers "Do not refrain from teaching the sons of poor people! Do not think that because your father paid a teacher to teach you, so too you must receive pay for every student that you teach. Teach poor students without pay, for from them will come Torah. They will continue to teach others without pay, and in this way, they will produce much Torah.

Kinderlach . . .

Poverty is a test and a struggle. Those who pass the test grow tremendously from it. However, we should not ask Hashem for tests. We hope to grow without the suffering. When it comes to learning Torah, however, there are distinct advantages to being poor. One's mind is free from business matters. One is humble - the perfect middah to receive Torah. One's lifestyle is the derech of Torah - simplicity in gashmius (material things) - just taking what one needs and not overindulging. This is the formula for success in Torah. Kinderlach, may we all live the simple, uncomplicated, humble life, without the suffering of poverty, and merit to become talmidei chachomim, rich in Torah.

A Silver Lining

Bilaam tried his hardest to curse the Jewish people. Hashem had told him, "You shall not curse the people, for it is blessed" (Bamidbar 22:12). Yet Bilaam still tried three times to curse us. What happened? Each time, the curse turned into a blessing.

The Shelah HaKadosh draws a fascinating insight from this episode. We are now approaching a period of three weeks called "Bein HaMetzarim" (between the straits). Many calamities have befallen the Jewish people during this time. Yet the Shelah states that no evil descends upon the Jewish nation from Above. Why? Because we are Hashem's children. Just as a father disciplines his son, so too Hashem disciplines us. It is all for our good, to purify us. Just as pure oil produces a clear light. As Dovid HaMelech writes, "I will exalt you Hashem, for You have drawn me up [from a low place]" (Tehillim 30:2). The low place represents the tsorus (troubles) that befall us. They are the reason for the exaltation. The curse itself turns into a bracha (blessing).

The destruction of the Beis HaMikdash made way for the third Beis HaMikdash to be built in its place. This future Beis HaMikdash will never be destroyed. So too, the fasts of these days, the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av will be festivals. This is hinted to in the words of Aharon HaKohen, "A festival for Hashem tomorrow!" (Shemos 32:5). He said this at the Chet Ha'egel, which occurred on the Seventeenth of Tammuz. "Tomorrow," at the end of days, this fast will become a festival. Similarly, the Ninth of Av always falls on the same day of the week as the first day of Pesach. On that day, Israel was redeemed from Mitzraim. And the verse states, "I will show you wonders (in the future redemption) as in the days when you left Mitzraim" (Micah 7:15).

Kinderlach . . .

This is a time of national mourning for the Jewish people. We express our sadness over the tragedies that have befallen us over the centuries. The Shelah gives us a bright ray of hope. Each event purified us. Each destruction made way for future building. We can take comfort in knowing that the future holds great things in store for us. Destruction that will be building. Fasts that will be festivals. Exile that will be redemption. May it occur speedily in our days, amen!

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