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by Daneal Weiner
We left off last week with Moshe Rabbeinu not doing too well. He was told he would not lead Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael. Still, his job was not over yet and he brought Bnei Yisrael 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. (Only then 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.) Bnei Yisrael is now pointed at Moav. Moav is nervous. The king of Moav, Balak, knows that Hashem forbade Bnei Yisrael to attacking Moav. Since, however, they just conquered from Sichon land which Sichon had taken from Moav, Balak was afraid that this was a way around the law. Once their foot was in the door they'll now come all the way in, so to speak. (Thank you Artscroll) Balak also knows that Bnei Yisrael's power is not from the physical realm and he 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 Bnei Yisrael had done to the Emorites." What's the difference between seeing what Bnei Yisrael 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, by the Bris ben Habisarim- Covanant of the Parts, Hashem told Avraham Aveinu that 10 nations that would have to be destroyed for Bnei Yisrael to eternally inherit Erets Yisrael. 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 unusual. Just ask anyone in the Bnei Brith bowling league. We also see it by the 10 sfirot- spiritual realms which envelope our world. 7 of them are very prominent in the goings on of our world now and 3 are more behind the scenes, for days to come. The 10 plagues were split, 7 & 3, between two parshas. But I digress.
Although Bilaam was tops in tuma- impure forces, Balak was no small fish himself. He was a world renowned warrior and knew how to manipulate tuma as well. He knew that the 10th victory of Bnei Yisrael over the 10th nation would bring the Mashiach and they were now under way! When the Mashiach comes it will be the end to the forces of tuma and needless to say, those who live by it. Balak wanted to stop that from happening.
How is it Balak is so up on the Mashiach? He should be. He's a decendant of Lot and a precendent(?) to Ruth, mother of the Mashiach! What did he do to deserve to be a link in this chain? He offered up 48 korbanos- sacrifices to Hashem in order to destroy Bnei Yisrael. He did it with such devotion and dedication that Hashem rewarded him with a descendant that was going to offer up 1000's of korbanos, but with the right intentions. That decendant was Shlomo Hamelech. Talk about your lo lishma turning to lishma!
What could possibly give Balak and Bilaam the idea that they could succeed in destroying Israel? Rav Moshe Shternbach makes the question even stronger. Two things were heard the world over. The first was the revelation at Mt. Sinai.
The Torah spends a few verses talking about the thundering and the other
sounds heard from over Mt. Sinai. A Midrash tells the story [and Psalm 109
gives a little insight as well]: Not a peep was heard out of nature when a
tremendous rumbling sound began to be heard the world over. All the kings
of the world spontaneously sang praise to Hashem [u'v'haichalo kulo omehr
kavod]. With the direct manifetation of Hashem 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,
[Hashem, l'mabul yashav] "is Hashem bringing another flood?" Bilaam said,
[Vayeshev Hashem Melech l'olam] "No, Hashem promised no more water and His
word stands forever."
Although the emphasis of this Midrash is the attitude of the kings, Rav Shternbach focuses in on how Bilaam refers to Bnei Yisrael's relationship with Hashem as us being G-d's children! So, again, what could possibly make Bilaam think that he could assist Balak and curse the Children, Israel to the point of destruction?
Rav 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 Bnei Yisrael. Once they were affected by the cursed, them not being G-d's children, by association and assimilation Bilaam guessed they would weaken Bnei Yisrael's integrity till they lost all favor with Hashem, ch'v'sh. Then we'd be defeatable in battle.
The Rav P'nimim Chumash has a different answer to this same question. Balak knew his army was inadequate and no other nation would be crazy enough to help him. He felt if the other nations would see the great Bilaam cursing Bnei Yisrael, then they would have the confidence to join forces.
This finally brings us to the 2nd thing that was heard round the world......Bilaam's curses which we know actually came out as BRACHOS!!! Hashem foiled that plot with the first satellite broadcast of Bilaam's words!
Bilaam wanted Hashem's permission to go with the representatives of Balak to curse them. Verse 22:12, Hashem said to Bilaam, "Don't go with them." The word for 'with' is 'imahem.' Verse 22:20, the 2nd time Bilaam asked Hashem to go Hashem says, "if you want, go with them." 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. But wait!?
In 22:21 Bilaam gets up and goes and in the next verse Hashem is mad at him and sends an angel down to confront him. What is Hashem 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 'same purpose and spirit'! That he was not given permission to do.
When Bilaam finally sees 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! Same purpose and spirit. What happened?! Now we can understand the insight of Rashi and his comment "in the way a person wants to go, that is the way he will be led." Hashem 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 Hashem love His children. How many parents would give their child a stick whileknowing it will be used to strike them?
Of course, the end of the story is Bilaam being killed by a sword. In the end we do have to be careful what we ask for. We just might get it and then we'll be responsible for the consequences!
Backing up a bit, in Bilaams discussion with Balak's messengers he says, (verse 22:18) "I can't go beyond the word of Hashem, 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 Hashem 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 Hashem 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 Bnei Yisrael. He can only do it by calling upon Hashem's names of Din- 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, Hashem would pull the hook and draw out the full yud heh vav and heh!! When he'd try to pronounce Elokim, Hashem 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 Hashem, small or big!" Neither the small name nor the big name.
Finally, after failing to curse 3 times and giving blessings, 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 tells us what this advice was. "Hashem hates promiscuity. Send out your daughters!" Again, what makes Bilaam think, after all his foiled plans, that there is still a way?
Twice Bnei Yisrael had sinned big time. The calf and the spies. Neither time had Hashem destroyed Bnei Yisrael. Bilaam thought the rules were "2 strikes and you're out!" But Bnei Yisrael wasn't out. In the back of Bilaam's mind he thought they may never be fully destroyed. So what suddenly changed? Remember we said that Balak was no small fish in tuma? Balak had Bilaam try to curse 3 times!!!, Bilaam said, "OOOOH! 3 times and you're out!? There may be a chance yet!"
We know we'll never be out. Not nationally speaking. But each Jews comes up to bat. Make sure the way you want to go is to be G-d's child and round the bases the Torah way. If you desire it in that direction you will be lead (and I'm telling you now, it's clockwise). A great way to start is to ask Hashem for a home run Shabbot Shalom.
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