Back to this week's parsha| Previous Issues

by Daneal Weiner

Parshas Balak
How do you do? We left off with Moshe Rabbeinu not doing too well. Last week he was told he would not lead Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael. Still, his job was not over yet and he brought B”Y to the border and began the conquering of the nations.

At the end of Chukas, the Torah tells us that Sichon, king of the Emori, waged war against Moav and took a portion of their land. Bnei Yisrael then came and tsushmettered Sichon and the Emorites. (That’s when the U.N. spoke out condemning aggressive behavior) Next was the war with Og and his valley of the giants and they too were cut down to a sprout. (Suddenly I'm craving some sweet corn.) B"Y is now pointed at Moav. Moav is now making Pelets, the nervous rabbit, look calm and collected. The king of Moav, Balak, knows that H’ forbade attacking Moav but since they just conquered from Sichon land which Sichon had taken from Moav, Balak was afraid that this was an indication B”Y was not going to listen to H’. (Thank you Artscroll) Balak also knows that B"Y's power is not from the physical realm and needs a spiritual means of defeating them. He seeks out the assistance of the infamous prophet of the gentiles, Bilaam.

(22:2) "And Balak ben Tsipor had seen all that B"Y had done to the Emorites." What’s the difference between seeing what B"Y did or ALL that they did? What's being added? What Balak saw was not just the end of a nation but the beginning of the end for ALL 10 nations.

Back in Breishis, in the Bris ben Habisarim, H' told Avraham Aveinu the 10 nations that would have to be destroyed for B"Y to eternally inherit E"Y. 7 were beaten in the days of the Tanach, 3 remain for days yet to come. (Some opinions hold that 9 have been defeated and only Edom remains.) This 7-3 split is not so unusual. Just ask anyone in the Bnei Brith bowling league. We also see it by the 10 sfirot. 7 of them ‘revealed’ in this world, and 3 are for the next. The 10 plagues were split up 7 & 3 between two parshas. But I digress.

Although Bilaam was tops in Tuma, Balak was no small potato himself. He was a world renowned warrior and knew the koach of tuma as well. He knew that the 10th victory of B”Y would bring the Mashiach and they were now under way! When the Mashiach comes it will be the end to the forces of evil. Needless to say, he wanted to stop that from happening.

How is it Balak is so up on the Mashiach? He should be. He's related to Ruth, mother of the Mashiach. What did he do to deserve to be a link in this chain? Chazal say he offered up 48 sacrifices to Hashem in order to destroy B”Y. He did it with such devotion and dedication that H’ rewarded him with a descendant that was going to offer up 1000’s of korbanos, but with the right intentions. This was Shlomo Hamelech. Talk about your lo lishma turning to lishma!

What could possibly give Balak and Bilaam the idea that they could succeed at such a thing? R. Moshe Shternbach makes the question even stronger. Two things were heard the world over.

The first was the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. A medrash tells the story [Psalm 109 gives us a little insight.] Not a peep was heard out of nature when suddenly a tremendous rumbling began to be heard the world over. All the kings of the world spontaneously sang praise to H" [u’v’haichalo kulo omehr kavod]. With such a presence of H’ now in the world, their souls, even from within their wicked bodies had to give honor. Consciously, they had no clue what was going on so they sought out Bilaam and asked [H’, l’mabul yashav] "is H' bringing another flood?" Bilaam said [Vayeshev H’ Melech l’olam] "No, H" promised no more water" They asked maybe a flood of fire? "No floods of any kind,”
"So what's going on with the rumbling?"
"H’ has something very dear that He has been saving since 974 generations before Creation. [H’ oze l’amo yitain] H’ is giving His children the Torah." Before returning home the kings said [H’ yivarech es amo bashalom!] "Let Him bless His nation with peace. HIS nation. As long as WE’RE left alone, He can bless them all He wants!”

Although the thrust of this medrish is the attitude of the other kings, R. Shternbach emphasizes how Bilaam refers to B"Y's relationship with H". He calls us G-d’s children! So, again, what could possibly make him think that he could assist Balak and curse them? R. Shternbach's answer is that Bilaam and Balak were hoping their curse would affect the Eirev Rav. The group of tag along Egyptians who were a source of much grief for B’Y. Once they were cursed, (not being G-d’s children) in time they would weaken B"Y's integrity enough to lose H’s favor and then they’d be defeatable in battle.

The Rav P’nimim Chumash has a different answer. Balak knew his army was inadequate and no one would be crazy enough to help him. Now, if the other nations would see the great Bilaam cursing B"Y, then they would have the confidence to join forces. This brings us to the 2nd thing that was heard round the world......Bilaam's curses which we know actually came out as BRACHOS!!! H’ foiled this plot with a satellite broadcast of Bilaam's words!

Verse 22:12, H’ said to Bilaam, "Don’t go with them (the representatives of Balak).” The word for with is ‘imahem.’ Verse 22:20, The 2nd time Bilaam asked H’ to go. H’ says, “if you want, go with them.” Did H" change His mind? The second time ‘with’ is ‘itam.’ What’s the difference between ‘imahem’ and ‘itam.’ The Vilna Gaon explains ‘imahem’ means with them in purpose and in spirit while ‘itam’ means with them only physically. Very nice explanation. Thank you Mr. Gaon. But wait!?

In 22:21 we see Bilaam gets up and goes with them and in the next verse H" is mad at him and sends an angel down to confront him. What is H’ angry about? He just said he could go?! If you take a look at 22:21 you will see that Bilaam went with them. WITH as in purpose and spirit! This he was not given permission to do.

When Bilaam finally comes to see the angel, after a little give and take he asks the angel if he should go back? The angel says, “Go with them.” Yes! WITH with, not just with! What happened?! Now we can understand the insight of Rashi by his comment "in the way a person wants to go, that is the way he will be led." H" gave us free choice. He’ll advise us, warn us, even threaten us. In the end, it's our choice and which ever we choose, He'll give us the strength for it. How much does H’ love us. He gives us the power to swing a stick even if we chose to swing it at Him.

The end of the story is Bilaam being killed by a sword. We indeed do have to be careful what we ask for. We just might get it!

Just to back up a little bit. In Bilaams discussion with Balak’s messengers he says, (verse 22:18) "I can't go beyond the word of H", small or big." That makes sense? Shouldn't that be "big or small"? If he can't do 'small', of course he can't do 'big'. What is he talking about then?

The Vilna Gaon, in his sefer Kol Eliyahu, answers beginning with verses 23:5 and 16 telling us H’ put a ‘davar’ in the mouth of Bilaam. Davar means an utterance in the simple context of the verses. G-d told Bilaam what to say. But davar also means a 'thing'. A physical thing. What thing did H' put in Bilaams mouth? Rashi says 2 things. A fish-hook and a horse-bit (see Rashi 23:16) A hook draws out and a bit holds back.

Bilaam is trying to curse B’Y. He can only do it by calling upon H's names of Judgment. One is Elokim. But the first two letters E-l spells a name of Mercy! (E-l rachum v’chanun). Another name of Judgment is yud-heh which happens to be the first 2 letters of yud heh vav and heh, another name of mercy! Bilaam didn't care which he'd use, he just wanted one of them to work. When Bilaam tried to use yud heh, H' would pull the hook and draw out the full yud heh vav and heh!! When he'd try to pronounce Elokim, H' would yank back on the bit and only E-l would come out! Now what Bilaam said makes sense. “I can't go beyond the word of H’, small or big!” Neither the small name nor the big name.

Finally, after failing to curse 3 times and only giving blessing, Bilaam says to Balak, "I'll give you an idea" (verse 24:14) “l’cha i’ahtscha.” We might not have got them this way but here’s another way. Rashi says what this advice was. H' hates promiscuity. Send out your daughters! Again, what makes Bilaam think, after all his foiled plans, that there is still a way?

Twice B"Y had sinned big time. The calf and the spies. Neither time had H' destroyed B"Y. Bilaam thought the rules were "2 strikes and you're out!" But B"Y wasn't out. Bilaam figured they would never be fully destroyed. So what suddenly changed? Remember we said that Balak was no small potatoes either. Balak had Bilaam try to curse 3 times!!!, Bilaam said, "OOOOH! 3 times and you're out!? There may be a chance yet!"

I just flew out from Israel and am in the states. I’m past deadline so I have to disappoint any budding Rav Wolfson fans but I promise to make it up in the future. In the meantime, make sure the way you want to go is the way of Torah and a great way to start is to ask H’ for a triple blessed Shabbot Shalom.

Back to this week's parsha| Previous Issues