by Daneal Weiner
Based on the Torah of Rav Moshe Wolfson, shlita.
This week’s parsha is named after an enemy of Israel, remarkable as it is. It certainly calls for explanation. We are introduced to him in the very first verse of the
ben Tsippor.”- Balak, son of Tsippor. Also calling for explanation is verse 23:18 where the prophet Bilam ben Be’ore- Bilam, son of Be’ore says to Balak, “Ha’azina adai, beno Tsippor.”- Give ear to me, his son is Tsippor. Rashi immediately addresses this grammatical incongruity saying, in essence, ‘Poetic license.’ The Torah does that sometimes. He brings a few examples like Psalms 114:8, “Lema’y’no mayim.”
Son of a gun, or should I say, his son is a gun because one chapter later (24:3) Bilam refers to himself saying Bilam beno Be’ore- Bilam his son is Be’ore. Ok, the Torah did it again. And again Rashi jumps in and says, “Just like ‘Lema’y’no mayim.’” But this time Rashi adds, “There is a Midrash which says they were bigger than their fathers. Balak, his son was Tsippor means he was greater than his father in sovereignty. Bilam, his son was Be’ore means he was greater than his father in prophecy.” Why did Rashi wait till this second occurrence to quote this Midrash? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to introduce it at the first opportunity?
There is answer we can rely on. The Midrash is speaking the praises of Balak and Bilam. What happened back in 23:18 that Bilam said, “Ha’azina adai, beno Tsippor”?
Balak hired Bilam to curse Israel. Bilam told Balak he will try but he can only say what Hashem wants him to say. The first attempt at a curse ended up as a blessing. It is now the beginning of the second attempt and Balak, in 23:17, says to Bilam, “What does Hashem say?” Rashi tells us Balak was ridiculing Bilam. Bilam was not going to let Balak get away with it, King or no King. So the first thing Bilam says, introducing the second attempt is, “Arise Balak [why should you sit while I do all the standing?] Give ear to me, son of [his son is] Tsippor!”
If the purpose of Bilam’s words was specifically to degrade Balak, it does not seem to be the place to bring in a Midrash saying, “This is obviously alluding to praise of Bilam that he was greater than his father!” But later, when Bilam is talking about himself, ah, now he’s talking praise. So lets bring in the praise of the Midrash, too. This still leaves us with a couple questions. If Bilam did not intend to praise Balak when he called him Beno Tsippor, then why did he use the expression? And even if the Torah does use that ‘poetic license’ a few times, why those times and not others?
The Midrash back in Parshas Shelach says that nothing is more endearing to Hashem then someone who sets out to do a mitsva and overcomes great obstacles to complete the mitsva. Accordingly, it mentions the two spies whom Yehoshua sent to Yericho which the Midrash contrasts to the 10 (of the 12) spies which Moshe sent out in Parshas Shelach. This idea is what gives the potential for Jews, at this time of the year, to be most endearing in the eyes of Hashem.
This Shabbos introduces us to the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz, the beginning of the three weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Temples. Unlike mourning a lost one, lo aleinu, when the pain is first greatest and then diminishes with time, to mourn the Temples we start out with light expressions of mourning which grow over the three weeks, culminating in the fast of the 9th of Av. Although our Rabbis tell us that in any generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt it is like it was destroyed, regrettably still, our feelings of loss are remote and have to be awoken in us.
Tammuz and Av, in general, are considered as difficult periods of time on the Jewish calendar. It is a time of the year when Hashem’s mercy seems distant from us and the forces of Judgment are heavily upon us. It is, likewise, a time when divine providence seems distant and doubt and despair have the upper hand. As the spies of Moshe, who left to tour Israel on the New Moon of Tammuz, reported, “Amaleik dwells in the south and the Hittites and Amorites dwell in the mountains.” In other words, sure Hashem wants to give us the land but, where do we go? Where do we begin? Our enemies are throughout the land. Doubt and despair.
Granted, during the great and merciful days of Nissan, we are closest to Hashem. Then we merited redemption. Then we merited the splitting of the sea. But for what purpose did He put us here on earth? Why not keep our souls at their source, clinging to the base of Hashem’s Throne of Glory? Why drag them off, stuff them in a body and send them into this world? Our purpose is to consecrate the desecrated. To elevate the mundane. We’re not hear to ride the crests of the waves. We’re here to stay afloat while the waves come crashing down.
Our Rabbis say greater is one hour of the World to Come than all the lifetimes of this world. That is only with regard to the degree of our relationship with Hashem. But greater is one moment in this world then all of the World to Come when it comes to tshuva and ma’asim tovim- repentance and good deeds. The World to Come will the highest crest of the quintessential wave. One that will never peter out. In fact, it will grow and grow. This world is for staying afloat. The days of Nissan are World-to-Come days. These days of Tammuz and Av are this-world days. The days of our forefathers were World-to-Come days. Our days, these ikvisa demashicha- end-of-time days are this-world days. Days where the world is most void of spirituality. Rav Avigdor Miller, zy’a, said that the Romans might have been absolute barbarians but they never would have said there is no value to greater aspirations. They never would have glorified lowliness, as is done today.
We said last week that the manna was the manifestation of the spiritual sustenance of Israel which was “siphoned off” to feed the Jews in the desert. Israel had become a spiritual void which was killing off the inhabitants. When the spies entered the Land of Israel it was like they stepped into end-of-time days. To them, that year, their Tammuz and Av were like our years of history.
Although most of the spies were not able to stay afloat, two did. Putting aside Yehoshua who received a special blessing from Moshe, Calev succeeded on his won. How? He went to pray by the graves of our forefathers. While experiencing the end-of-time he tried to tap into the spirituality of those who represented the world to come.
You may have heard that the Israel is working very hard to bring to justice every arab that participated in the lynching and murder of two Israeli soldiers who were being held in an arab police station, hy’d. And then the “high” court gave the go ahead for the murder of an Israeli woman. It was under the guise of a mercy killing. Most doctors, descendants of Calev, refused to murder her. But two stepped forward who would. The article in the paper quoted one such doctor who was asked what it was like to kill patients. He said, “The first one was difficult, but…” He was momentarily stricken with the common sense not to finish his sentence. Amaleik is in the south, the Hittites and Amorites are in the north, the Canaanites span from east to west. We surrounded on all side with the glorification of lowliness.
We need to follow Calev’s example. To pray by the graves of our forefathers, or of any righteous individual who kept Israel stay afloat against the waves of assimilation, not to succumb to the foreign influences which engulf us. But there is an even better way. Especially for those who do not like to frequent cemeteries. Another energy source of the World to Come is Shabbos! Hey, the three meals of Shabbos correlate to the three forefathers. His son is a gun! What a coincidence! Shabbos is mayain Olma Habah- a taste of the Word to Come. Shabbos is the energy source of the forthcoming week. It is the spiritual preserve which is too help us against the tides of the 6 week days till the following Shabbos. Shabbos, however, is a day that is sanctified by Hashem. Nothing is more endearing to Hashem then that which is sanctified at our hands.
What is remarkable about Balak is that even though he was the antithesis of all things pure and sanctified, buried under all that impurity was a tremendous spark of sanctity. Balak was the grandfather of Ruth, the Moabite! Bilam told him to offer up sacrifices to G-d to fid favor that He allows Bilam to curse Israel. Balak gave the sacrifices with such “purity” of heart that he married a descendant who would offer up thousands of sacrifices. King Solomon.
The Zohar says the Mashiach is sitting and waiting in a hall called Tsippor, which means Bird. The Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh, at the beginning of Parshas Metsorah, says that the Mashiach himself is called Tsippor. Perhaps this is insight into the opening verse, “Vayar Balak ben Tsippor”- And Balak saw a son, Tsippor. Balak saw a descendant would issue from him which would be responsible for the ultimate demise of Moav, everything that it stood for. This is undoubtedly related to a famous Zohar regarding Balak, that his main instrument of divination was a mechanical bird. Through a tsippor he was told about the Tsippor. And in Balak’s message to Bilam he said that the people who will be led by this Tsippor are currently residing “mimuli”- opposite me. Rashi says, “’To cut me down,’ like in Psalm 118:10, ‘All the nations surround me; in the Name of Hashem I cut them down.’”
Mimuli is from the root milah- circumcision. So when Rashi explained it to mean, “to cut me down” he did not intend what might have first come to mind, total destruction. Rather milah is a cutting off of a covering that reveals a sanctity that resides within. That’s why Rashi brought that particular verse from Psalms, “All the nations surround me,” That is Moav. When Moav is cut down, like by milah, what will be left is Balak’s son, David, the father of Tsippor.
Now we can look back at Balak’s original message to elders of Midian, when trying to get them involved in his war against Israel. Balak said, “The [Israelites] will lick up our entire surroundings as an ox licks the grass of the field.” Contextually speaking, Balak was explaining why Midian should fear Israel even though geographically they were not in the region. Why should Israel ever war with them? Balak persuaded them saying that they were not sitting pretty. When an ox puts his mouth to the grass he does not eat the grass right in front of his mouth. He makes a sweep with his tongue gathering all the surrounding grass! Even at a distance they had what to fear. But, on a deeper level, Balak was foretelling of a much greater threat. When Israel cuts Moav down it will reveal a leader who will ultimately defeat Midian and everything they stand for as well.
So Balak wants Bilam to curse Israel. Bilam’s greed causes him to defy G-d’s will and he accepts the job. Bilam tells the conditions to Balak, he will only say what G-d puts in his mouth. After the first curse issuing as a blessing, at the moment Bilam was to try again, Balak mocks Bilam, “Nu, so, what does Hashem say?” Bilam, says, “Balak beno Tsippor- Balak, whose son IS Tsippor.” Nothing you can possible do or say will ever thwart the plans G-d has for you and your descendant. Beno Tsippor = 434 = Mashiach ben David, when David is spelled complete, with the yud. The yud which will be returned to him and to Yerushalayim when the Mashiach comes. (Over 650 times Yerushalayim appears in Tanach without the yud. 4 times with.)
What time of the year could be better than this time to read Parshas Balak. A parsha which seems to be named after a man who wanted to spill the blood of all Israel but, in reality, it is the name of a man within whom resides the spark of very salvation of Israel. His parsha and his message comes at the onset of the fast of Tammuz and the three weeks. This time is similarly a time of much bloodshed of Israel but which will be reverted to times of the greatest celebrations of Israel. The greatest because they won’t be times sanctified by Hashem. They will be times sanctified by us. By our overcoming the foreign influences of the nations which surround us. By our overcoming the obstacles hindering our service of Hashem. Most dear to Hashem are those who set out to do a mitsva and, with self-sacrifice, are able to complete it. That will me merit the Tsippor who’ll descend from heaven, no doubt singing the songs of his father, David.