For the week ending 3 July 2004 / 14 Tammuz 5764

Parshat Balak

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Balak, king of Moav, is in morbid fear of Bnei Yisrael. He summons a renowned sorcerer named Bilaam to curse them. First, G-d speaks to Bilaam and forbids him to go. But, because Bilaam is so insistent, G-d appears to him a second time and permits him to go. While en route, a malach (emissary from G-d) blocks Bilaam's donkey's path. Unable to contain his frustration, Bilaam strikes the donkey each time it stops or tries to detour. Miraculously, the donkey speaks, asking Bilaam why he is hitting her. The malach instructs Bilaam regarding what he is permitted to say and what he is forbidden to say regarding the Jewish People. When Bilaam arrives, King Balak makes elaborate preparations, hoping that Bilaam will succeed in the curse. Three times Bilaam attempts to curse and three times blessings issue instead. Balak, seeing that Bilaam has failed, sends him home in disgrace.

Bnei Yisrael begin sinning with the Moabite women and worshipping the Moabite idols, and they are punished with a plague. One of the Jewish leaders brazenly brings a Midianite princess into his tent, in full view of Moshe and the people. Pinchas, a grandson of Aharon, grabs a spear and kills both evildoers. This halts the plague, but not before 24,000 have died.


Safe From A Hostile World

"For from its origins, I see it rock-like, and from the hills do I see it. Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations." (23:9)

Two people went into the forest to chop down trees. The less bright of the two started to lop of branches one at a time a long and tedious job that did not address the root of the objective. The other reasoned thus: "If we can find the roots of the tree and sever them, then with one fell swoop we take care not only the tree but all its branches too."

Thus reasoned Bilaam in this weeks Torah portion: "Rather than curse each of the Tribes of Israel separately, I will attack their roots. If I can find an impurity in their origin, with one curse, I can damage the entire people."

"For from its origins, I see it rock-like" However, Bilaam saw that the Jewish People were the descendents of holy forefathers, "rocks", and holy mothers, "hills"." Like their physical counterparts, the rocks and the hills that are the foundations of this world, so too are Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah the spiritual foundations of the world.

Bilaam realized that since the origin of the Jewish People was in holiness so their souls would always aspire to holiness. They might become misdirected and stray to the Far Eastern cult of asceticism or the Far Western cult of materialism, but they would never assimilate totally.

However "it is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations." As long as the Jewish People maintain their distinctive lifestyle and beliefs, they live in safety. When they try to assimilate, however, they will not be accepted by the other nations. The reaction will then be anti-Semitism. And the virulence of that anti-Semitism will be in direct proportion to the attempt to assimilate.

When the Jewish People "dwell alone," when they do not intermarry, nor adopt the beliefs and cultural mores of their host culture; they will be protected by G-d.

The letters of the Hebrew alphabet contain many hidden secrets in the understanding of the Torah. We find a case in point in this very verse: The word Hain! meaning "Behold!" is ostensibly superfluous. Hain consists of two letters Heh, and Nun. The gematria of Heh is 5. The gematria of Nun is 50. What do 5 and 50 share in common?

In the mystical sources, the decimal numbers symbolize the completion of an entire stage or level. To make the decimal number of ten, you could take 1 and 9, or 2 and 8, or 3 and 7 or 4 and 6. However there is only one number which when added to itself will make 10. That number is 5. Similarly, the only number which added to itself will make the decimal number of 100 is 50. Hain.

Hain symbolizes the Jewish People.

When the Jewish People find completion by connecting only with their own kind, they are safe from a hostile world.

  • Sources: Midrash Rabba, Hemek Davar

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