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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Balak ben Tzippor saw all that Yisrael had done to the Emori. Moav became very frightened of the people. (22:2,3)

Balak saw, and Yisro heard. When Yisro heard all that had occurred during the Egyptian exodus, with the consequences that the Egyptian People sustained, he was inspired to leave his home and come to the wilderness to join the Jewish People. He wanted to be a part of their religious experience. Balak saw what Yisro saw, but with a contrasting effect. Why? How did their perspectives differ?

It is not what they saw with regard to the Jewish victory over their enemies. Rather, it is Who orchestrated this victory. Yisro heard everything that Hashem had done to Pharaoh and his henchmen. He recognized and acknowledged the "Hashem factor" in this victory. He saw the miracles and Divine Providence at every step of the way.

Balak also saw the miracles, but he ignored them. He acknowledged only what Yisrael had done to the Emori. He disregarded the fact that Hashem was guiding the Jewish victory. He only saw all of the Jews who were brutally killing the Emori. He did not see what the Emori had done to the Jews. His perspective was limited to the Jewish response - but he did not recognize it as a response, but, rather, as an unwarranted offensive.

History repeats itself. The world sees every Jewish victory as something the Jews have initiated on their own. They never see what prompted their reaction, what provoked their military response. It is only what we do to them, not what they have done to us. The astute observer sees Hashem's guiding hand in everything that involves His people. Yisro was such a person.

Balak ben Tzippor saw all that Yisrael had done to the Emori. Moav became very frightened of the people, because it was numerous. (22:2,3)

The Torah begins by stating that "Balak saw." It goes on to say that the people of Moav feared the Jews. Why did it not simply write: "Balak and the people of Moav saw… and they were afraid of the nation (of Yisrael)"? Why is the "seeing" of Balak distinguished from the "fear" of the people of Moav? Is it not one and the same? Horav Nosson Ordman, zl, explains that the Torah is teaching us that there was a huge contrast between what Balak saw and what the people of Moav saw, and, consequently, their fear was also different. Balak feared the Jews because of what they had done to the Emori. The people of Moav were concerned, however, with the size of the Jewish Army. Balak saw all of the miracles that Hashem wrought against the Emori. He was no fool. He understood that the Jewish victory was not a result of their firepower or their skilled army. It was a miraculous victory which only Hashem could have orchestrated. His people were simple pagans who understood what appeared to them. They saw a large army vanquish the Emori. That was it. The Jews were simply stronger and bigger. They did not perceive the war with the same depth of vision that Balak was able to perceive. It was this unique perspective that indicated to Balak that victory over the Jews was not to be had through the medium of conventional warfare. He would have to battle them on a spiritual plane. Thus, he called on Bilaam, the pagan's answer to Moshe Rabbeinu. Bilaam would find a way to achieve victory over the Jews.

We should address another question. Throughout the parshah, we find Hashem maintaining a dialogue with Bilaam, making it seem that Bilaam is the primary enemy of the Jews. He is the one that seeks to curse them, and, ultimately, he counseled Balak how to destroy the Jews spiritually by using the young women to enchant the Jewish men and manipulate them into immoral behavior. When we think about it, however, Bilaam was only acting at Balak's behest. Balak initiated the entire debacle against the Jews. Bilaam was his hireling. In the end, we find that Hashem punished Bilaam for his evil intentions and actions. Balak seems to have left the scene unscathed. Indeed, Chazal teach us that in the merit of Balak's forty-two sacrifices, he was privileged to be the progenitor of Rus, who was the mother of royalty. Why did Hashem ignore Balak in terms of punishment? He surely was no saint.

Rav Ordman distinguishes between Balak's motivations and the basis of Bilaam's actions. Balak saw what the Jews had done to the Emori, and he feared for himself and his nation. As their king, their security was his responsibility. He did not take his role as their leader lightly. Therefore, he sought a way to limit the success of the Jews, to prevent them from overrunning his country. He certainly was no saint, but the fact that his actions were motivated by fear mitigates the evil that he sought to bring against the Jews.

Bilaam was a totally different story. He hated the Jews because of what they represented. He had two objectives: money; and honor. Balak was prepared to give him both if he could help him solve the Jewish problem. Bilaam was prepared to accommodate him for no other reason than for his prejudicial hatred of the Jewish people. If he could personally benefit, he could not refuse Balak's offer.

This gives us a new perspective on hatred. Balak hated, and Bilaam hated. Balak was in a state of fear: for himself; his land; his people. Bilaam hated simply because he was an evil person. Very often, we find individuals who are plagued by a deep malevolence towards others that garner support for their "cause" by arousing fear and discord. This fear often serves as a form of justification for some of the most heinous acts of destruction. Espousing hate is difficult. Sowing fear is much easier and generally more successful.

You shall not go with them… Arise, go with them. (22:12,20)

First, Hashem told Bilaam not to go with Balak's agents. Afterwards, Hashem told him to go with them. What happened? In the Talmud Makkos 10b, Chazal explain that b'derech she'adam rotzeh leilach, molichin oso, "In the way that a person wishes to go, they lead him." In other words, Hashem did not want Bilaam to go, but, after seeing that Bilaam wanted so much to join them, He said, "Arise, go with them."

Let us try to understand what happened. Bilaam was an individual whose proficiency in the area of esoteric wisdom was prolific. He had reached unprecedented heights in his conception of the workings of the spiritual world. Well versed in Maaseh Bereishis, Creation, and Maaseh Merkavah, Holy Chariot, he achieved a level that had never before been attained by a non-Jew. He did not speak just to Eliyahu HaNavi; he conversed with the Almighty! In fact, he did not make a move without first consulting with Hashem. This is yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, at its apex. What more could he do?

We see from here, explains Horav Reuven Grozovsky, zl, that everything is dependent upon one's ratzon, will. An individual can possess abundant wisdom and incredible depth of knowledge, but, if it stands in contrast to his ratzon, the wisdom will be of no avail. Ratzon is determined by one's middos, character traits. If his character is in consonance with his wisdom, he will grow in a positive manner. Otherwise, all the wisdom and knowledge in the world will be of no avail to him, because he is a slave to his base character. He is no different than a donkey carrying volumes of Torah novellae. He remains the same donkey. Yiraas Shomayim is of no avail to such a person, because the moment that his fear of Heaven challenges his ratzon - his ratzon prevails.

This idea precludes the notion that many have to legitimize their lack of observance. "If I would know more, I would be more observant" is a common rejoinder. Bilaam demonstrates for us that one's level of observance has nothing to do with knowledge or wisdom. It is intrinsically connected to desire and will. One acts according to his will. Bilaam had no shortage of wisdom, but, regrettably, his desire for good was at a premium. His negative ratzon overwhelmed his exceptional wisdom and brought him to his well-deserved and miserable end.

Ratzon can also work the other way. It has a flipside that can transform a person and motivate him to achieve the ultimate in spiritual success. There is certainly no dearth of stories that relate the extent of an individual's achievements when he has the will. I recently came across a collection of stories, published by Shuvu Chazon Avraham, the organization for reaching out and educating Russian immigrant children in Eretz Yisrael, which was founded by Horav Avraham Pam, zl. Among the many moving stories of return and faith, I take the liberty of sharing the following episode:

A teenager who had finally decided to give it a try and "check out" a Shuvu High School was asked to attend classes for one day in order to get a firsthand knowledge of the school. It was not an easy decision, and many hurdles and challenges had to be surmounted before this decision became a reality. The principal of the school was kind enough to accompany the young man on a tour of the school.

He dressed up for the momentous occasion, and, with a heart filled with pride and anticipation, he entered the halls of learning. Vibrant, enthusiastic sounds of Torah study greeted him as he walked into the bais hamedrash. Each classroom he visited was filled with students involved in serious Torah study, eager to learn and continue the heritage of our People. It was for this reason that he was almost totally stunned when he entered the last classroom where the rebbe was delivering a shiur to a classroom of students in which all but one were engrossed in his words. All but one, because one sixteen-year-old student with long hair sat with closed eyes, his head on his desk. He was out cold! How dare he do this in this hallowed makom Torah, place where Torah is studied? Where was his respect? If he was not interested, then he should have remained home. How dare he come to school and sit there with such insolence, ignoring the rebbe, the class, the Torah! Every student enrolled in the school had a story of triumph over adversity. This boy was undermining their achievements.

After a few minutes of silent observation which slowly led to seething anger, the prospective student turned to the principal, and, without concealing his anger, asked, "Why is he here?"

The principal's reply teaches us a lesson in how far ratzon can go, and, incidentally, how to always judge people in a positive light. A loving smile crept across the principal's face as he said, "Oh, do not be misled by that boy's closed eyes. You see, he underwent his Bris Milah today. In fact, just three hours ago, he was under sedation for the procedure. I encouraged him to go home and rest, but he refused. He did not want to miss a day of Torah study, even if it meant dozing during class. He insisted that I permit him to stay - and I did.

This young man had closed eyes, but his heart was wide open. He wanted to be a part of the Torah study going on in his classroom. He had waited so long for it, he would not forfeit even one moment. That is ratzon. Nothing stands in the way of such positive desire.

Behold! The people will arise like a lion cub and raise itself like a lion. (23:24)

Horav David Moshe Rosenbaum, zl, the Admor m'Kretchnif, once remarked, "He who arises early in the morning to study Torah has arichas yamim, longevity." He explained that by arising early, he adds those extra hours to his day, making his day longer than he whose day begins later. This is much more than an anecdote. When we think about it, the time that we spend sleeping, reading and whatever else we might do in our past time is the time that Hashem allots to us - to live, to do, to achieve. When we use this time in a positive manner, we lengthen our days. When we waste it, we are wasting the most precious gift that Hashem has granted us.

Arising early in the morning is not "senior citizen" behavior, as some might suggest. Chassidic literature devotes a special place to this endeavor. Indeed, the Bais Yisrael,zl, would encourage his talmidim, students, to make use of the early morning hours to study Torah and prepare for Tefillas Shacharis, Morning Prayer service. He would often invite them to his home to join him in a cup of tea and words of Torah. Today, throughout the world, thousands of Jews have a morning seder, study session, prior to Tefillas Shacharis. Certainly, this preface to the morning prayers transforms their character and ultimately affects their development.

This unique Jewish quality did not escape Bilaam. When he was enumerating Klal Yisrael's enviable virtues, he made a point to praise their efforts in arising early in the morning with great alacrity and enthusiasm to greet the Almighty with their daily prayer. "They arise like a lion to grab mitzvos, to don the Tallis, recite the Krias Shema and to put on their Tefillin" (Rashi ibid 23:24). The Maharasha writes (Berachos 12b) that this pasuk is the source from which we derive the significance of arising early in the morning, taking great care not to be late in reciting Krias Shema.

How does one ensure that he arises "like a lion"? Many of us go to sleep with good intentions, but, in the morning when a warm bed is beckoning, it is difficult to leave. Horav Meir, zl, m'Premishlan, cites the Rema in the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch, who writes: "He should gather the strength to overcome and arise in the morning to serve his Creator." The Rema then adds a statement that is enigmatic: "When he retires, he should be aware before Whom he lies." We are discussing getting up in the morning - not going to sleep at night. Why does the Rema add how one should lie down?

Rav Meir explains that Rema was explaining how a person can arise in the morning like "a lion." It all depends on how and with what attitude one goes to sleep. One who goes to bed like a horse will not get up like a lion! If one retires like a lion, however, knowing full well before Whom he lies and what his goals are, he will be able to arise the next morning with alacrity and enthusiasm to serve the Almighty. How one wakes up depends on how he goes to sleep.

The idea of lying down to sleep in the presence of the Almighty Whose Presence fills the entire world is a point of discussion in the chassidic sefarim. The Rizhiner Rebbe, zl, cites the Arizal who changes the tefillah of Hashkiveinu, "Lay us down," in Maariv, from Hashkiveinu Hashem Elokeinu, l'shalom, "Lay us down Hashem, our G-d, to peace" to, Hashkiveinu Avinu, our Father, l'shalom. He feels this is due to the enormous trepidation one should have in "lying down" in front of the King of Kings. When we view Hashem as our loving Father Who cares for us as His children, there is room for a dispensation to lie down. After all is said and done, however, the best advice for waking up in a timely fashion with the proper attitude is to prepare oneself for this moment when he goes to bed.

And behold! A man of Bnei Yisrael came and brought the Midyanite woman near to his brothers before the eyes of Moshe and before the eyes of the entire assembly of Bnei Yisrael… and Pinchas saw… and he stood up from amid the assembly… and he pierced them both. (25:6,7,8)

Why were they crying? Chazal explain that when Zimri brought Kosbi to Moshe Rabbeinu, he asked, "Moshe, is this woman forbidden or permitted? If you say she is forbidden, then who permitted Yisro's daughter to you?" Moshe did not respond because nisalmah mimenu halachah, "The law which applied to this travesty was concealed from him." The people cried as a reaction to what appeared as a weakness on the part of the great leader. They did not understand that Hashem had concealed the law from Moshe, so that Pinchas would come and take that which is fit for him. We must endeavor to understand the meaning of "the law being concealed from Moshe." Once Pinchas came to ask Moshe, "Rebbe, did you not teach us that one who has relations with a non-Jewish woman, zealots may kill him?" Moshe replied, "The one who reads the letter in public, let him be the messenger to carry out its contents." In other words, Moshe Rabbeinu deferred to Pinchas and allowed him to perform the act of kanaus, zealotry. Why? Now that the halachah was no longer concealed from him, he should have carried it out. Why did Moshe allow Pinchas to take over what rightfully was Moshe's function as leader of the Jewish nation?

Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, zl, explains that the halachah of kanaim pogiin bo, zealots may kill him, is different from other halachos. All halachos are directed towards any Jew that possesses a modicum of intelligence. The commandment concerning zealotry applies only to he who is filled with righteous indignation, whose heart burns with emotion, whose passion has reached a frenzy seething with anger and hurt over the great desecration of Hashem's Name. Only such an individual may take the mantle of zealotry upon himself and act accordingly. He must sense within himself a drive to avenge Hashem's Name. Otherwise, he is not a kanai, zealot. Pinchas felt the pain and humiliation this act of debauchery engendered. One who feels the pain may carry out the punishment. To Moshe, however, it was now a halachah - not a passion. Since originally the halachah was purposefully concealed from him, it was now a halachah which had lost its fervor for him. He could not carry the mantle of kanaus, because he was not a kanai. Pinchas was the man of the hour. He saw; he questioned; he reacted. That is kanaus.

Va'ani Tefillah

Tnu oz leiElokim, Al Yisrael gaavaso v'uzo bashechakim. Ascribe power to Hashem, Whose pride is in Yisrael, and Whose might is in the high heavens.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, notes that the word, oz, used here to denote strength, is one of many terms used to describe strength. He explains that oz is the "strongest" of them all, meaning "irresistible" or "invincible," something that cannot be overcome. This is why Torah is called oz, having maintained its strength despite the many incursions against it. All strength, all power, should be ascribed to Hashem, Who is the source of everyone's power. The simple meaning of this phrase would imply that we should give or lend power to Hashem. This is a concept that is both ludicrous and impossible. Perhaps, the verse is speaking in human terms, intimating that when we serve Hashem, when we act as Jews should act, we raise the banner of Torah and elevate Hashem's standing in the world. Hashem certainly does not need us, but when we act appropriately, we sanctify His Name and "give power" to it.

The Arizal notes that Hashem, Who is the source of all power, Who controls the heavens and the earth, finds no other source of pride other than from the fact that His chosen nation observes and performs His Will. We are Hashem's pride. What a wonderful observation, which should serve as food for thought the next time anyone has an insufficient supply of self-esteem.

Moshe Shimon and Tibor Rosenberg

in memory of their father
Pinchas ben Shimon z"l Rosenberg
niftar 18 Tammuz 5719

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