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JULY 6-7, 2001 16 TAMUZ 5761

The fast of the Seventeenth of Tamuz will be on Sunday, July 8.

Pop Quiz: Who did Balak send to seek the help of Bil'am?

- Rabbi Reuven Semah

"So the officers of Moab stayed with Bil'am" (Bemidbar 22:8)

Hashem in His wisdom ordained that the gentile nations should have a prophet who would be comparable to Moshe. This way they would not be able to contend that if only they had someone to communicate to them the will of G-d they would be as righteous as Israel. Bil'am was that prophet. Two nations, Moab and Midyan, sent representatives to Bil'am offering to hire Bil'am to curse the Jews so they would be able to defeat the Jews battle. Upon hearing the offer, Bil'am stated that they should stay overnight so he can communicate with Hashem and get his permission. The verse above states that the people from Moab stayed overnight to hear the response. Rashi says that the verse implies that the men of Midyan left. They decided beforehand that if Bil'am stalled it would indicate that he was afraid, so when asked for an overnight delay, they left.

The Zohar says that the men of Midyan were wrong in leaving. It showed a lack of respect for Hashem. If Bil'am was to communicate with Hashem they should have at least waited to hear the response. However, the men from Moab did remain. This gesture of the men of Moab was not lost. In the future there was a king of Moab named Eglon. His nation of Moab ruled over Israel. In the book of Shoftim (chapter 3) we are told that a Jewish hero by the name of Ehud slew Eglon, routed Moab and saved the Jewish people. However, in that story there was an unusual detail that stood out. Ehud concealed a sword and was able to have a private audience with Eglon. Before Ehud drew his sword he said he had a message from Hashem. Upon hearing this, Eglon, the king of Moab, stood up to hear the message in honor of Hashem. The men of Moab gave honor to Hashem by staying overnight. This was a factor in causing a descendent of theirs to also respect Hashem. So what? Rashi says in Shoftim that in the merit of Eglon standing up, he had a daughter named Ruth! Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, who is the forefather of the Mashiah.

We see that it all depends on the deeds of man. One deed led to a good deed years later which earned them everlasting reward and glory in fathering the Mashiah and changing the future of the entire world. Shabbat Shalom.

- Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

When we read in the perashah about the talking donkey we can't help but wonder why this miracle had to occur, and to none other than to Bil'am, the prophet of the nations. Indeed, this was one of the phenomenon created at the end of the six days of creation, which makes it even more amazing why such a great event was necessary, and to Bil'am of all people.

The Rabbis tell us that the lesson here is very simple and yet very important. Bil'am, the greatest prophet of all the nations, was intending to curse the Jewish people. He wanted to use his G-d given gift of speech to do harm to our nation. Hashem wanted to show him that the gift of speech is divine and should be used properly. Even a donkey could speak if Hashem wills it so, and therefore Bil'am should not be arrogant about his ability to bless or curse because it is only from G-d that a person can say anything.

We have to appreciate our ability to speak and communicate. We should understand that it was given to us to be able to pray and bless Hashem and bring benefit to ourselves and to our fellow man. Yet when we abuse the power of speech by speaking evil about others or cursing other people, we are misusing one of the greatest gifts to mankind.

One great Rabbi once said that we should have been created with two mouths, one to pray to Hashem and the other to use for everyday talk. Then he reconsidered and said that if we would use both our mouths the wrong way, imagine how terrible it would be. We hear of small children using foul language that they pick up from the street (or from the home!) Could this be why our prayers are not being answered the way we would like them to be, since our mouths are being used to hurt rather than to help? Imagine the benefit to everyone if words of praise, compliments, constructive criticism, consolation and encouragement would be the bulk of what came out of our mouths? After we say something good to others, let's try to pray to Hashem and see what happens. We will be pleasantly surprised! Shabbat Shalom.


"And Bil'am rose up in the morning and saddled his donkey" (Bemidbar 22:21)

Rashi says: Hashem said to Bil'am," Wicked one, their father Abraham has already preceded you." This refers to Abraham's rising early and personally saddling the donkey in preparation for Akedat Yitzhak.

It is necessary to explain the relationship between Bilam's act and Abraham's act, and the significance of Abraham having preceded Bil'am. We learn from here that Hashem demands of us to exert at least the same effort in performing His will, as the wicked exert in opposing His will. Bil'am specifically rose early in the morning and personally saddled his donkey to show his supreme devotion to the task at hand and thereby direct an indictment at the Jews for not exerting such devotion in pursuance of misvot. Hashem immediately responded by noting Abraham's alacrity and enthusiasm in performing Hashem's will.

We should learn from here to expend our energies for Torah observance no less than our energy spent in pursuing our daily activities and livelihood.

When we pursue our daily endeavors energetically, with zeal and enthusiasm, while we are indolent and unexcited regarding our spiritual observances, Hashem points an accusing finger at us. We should demand of ourselves consistency throughout all our daily endeavors. (Peninim on the Torah)


And Bil'am said to the donkey: Because you have mocked me, if I were to have a sword in my hand right now I would kill you" (Bemidbar 22:29)

The Brisker Rav commented on this: Usually why does a person hit a donkey? Because he wants it to go faster. But Bil'am was a pursuer of honor. Therefore when the donkey caused him irritation he considered it a slight to his honor and wanted to kill it. When a person seeks honor, he doesn't realize how ridiculous he is and how he hurts himself. Bil'am said that he wanted to kill the donkey right now. He should have said that he would wait until he reached his destination and only then would he kill it. His seeking honor prevented him from thinking straight. Moreover, the donkey started speaking. This was a miraculous event and Bil'am should have been overwhelmed with amazement. But what does Bil'am focus on? Only one thing: his honor. He seems totally unaware of how unusual the talking of the donkey is and only thinks about how the donkey has slighted his honor. Also, from whom does Bil'am want honor? From a donkey! Every honor seeker has aspects of this in him. Because of the negativity of this trait one must do all he can to overcome it. (Growth through Torah)


Balak, in his fear of attack by B'nei Yisrael, hired Bil'am, the highest prophet of the gentile nations, to curse the Jews. Bil'am eagerly accepted the mission, but Hashem did not allow him to succeed. Three times, Bil'am attempted to curse the Jews, and all three times, Hashem changed his words to blessings.

While all this was going on, what was B'nei Yisrael doing? Presumably, they were going on with their daily lives in the desert, totally oblivious to what was taking place a short distance from their camp. Not only did Hashem save them from their enemy, but He didn't even make them aware that any danger existed. In effect, He said, "No need to worry them. I'll take care of everything."

Question: Can you think of ways that Hashem protects us, possibly at this very moment, from dangers that we are not even aware of? What can we do to become more conscious and more appreciative of Hashem's constant protection?


This week's Haftarah: Micah 5:6 - 6:8

This week's entire perashah discusses the futile attempts of Balak and Bil'am to curse B'nei Yisrael in the desert. This haftarah recounts some of the miracles that Hashem did for the Jewish people in the desert. The episode of Balak and Bil'am is mentioned, adding that we should always remember how Hashem, in His righteousness, protected us from them.

Answer to Pop Quiz: The elders of Moab, and the elders of Midyan.

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