For the week ending 7 July 2012 / 16 Tammuz 5772

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.


Ready When You Are, Mr. De Mille!

“...and from there he saw the edge of the people.” (22:39)

Cecil B. De Mille, the Hollywood director who invented the 'epic' movie, stood ready to shoot the climax of his latest epic.

No expense had been spared to re-create a mind-boggling authentic depiction of the collapse of an entire city in a massive man-made earthquake that would rival the real thing.

De Mille was taking no chances and he had a then-unheard-of three cameras shooting the convulsions and death-throes of the city.

Everything was set.

He signaled the special effects team. A massive explosion rent the air, followed by another, the ground heaved and surged upward, manipulated by vast unseen hydraulic lifts; specially trained stunt men and women risked their lives, dodging falling Doric pillars and the lunging floors careering skyward.

Buildings were falling in every direction; fires poured out of the carcasses of those that had already fallen.

After the dust had settled, De Mille picked up his bullhorn and roared to the first camera, “Didja get it?”

“Mr. De Mille, I don’t know what happened, I’m so sorry! The film jammed just before we started.”

“Okay, don’t worry, we still have two cameras.”

“Camera two, didja get it?” “Mr. De Mille, right at the beginning, during the first explosion, a stone hit the camera; we didn’t get anything!”

“Never mind, we’ve still got one camera. Camera three, didja get it? Didja get it?”

“…Ready when you are, Mr. De Mille…”

It seems like the Jewish People are like extras waiting to come on the set in this week's Torah reading.

Had the Torah not told us of the episode of Bilam trying to curse the Jewish People, we would never have known about it.

All the other events that the Torah writes concerning the Jewish People could also be known from tradition, but not this week’s parsha. When this week’s parsha was taking place, the Jewish People were way out of earshot. You could only see them somewhere in the distance — from the top of a hill; across a field; in the wilderness. But we never see them close up. They’re like extras in their own movie. Had it not been for the Torah, we would never know what a narrow escape we had. The Jewish People walk through this week’s parsha blissfully unaware of the machinations of Balak and Bilam.

At the end of sixth century, the Byzantine Empire completely destroyed the Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel. Unbeknownst to the Jews of Babylon, the Byzantines then poised themselves to also make Babylon ‘Judenrein’. Before they could implement their plans, however, the Moslem revolt toppled them from power.

Jews played a prominent role in the overthrow of Czarist Russia and in the subsequent Soviet government. Secretly, however, in 1953, Josef Stalin tried unsuccessfully to destroy the Jews in what became known as “The Doctors’ Plot.” According to one theory, if the "Doctors' Plot" had carried on and reached its climax, there would have been a mass expulsion of Soviet Jewry. But these plans died along with Stalin on March 6, 1953.

In the series of Psalms that make up Hallel, there appears the shortest Psalm (117). It speaks of a world in the time of the Mashiach:

“Praise G-d all nations; laud Him all the peoples; for His kindness to us was overwhelming.”

Once, a Russian prince asked Rav Itzaleh of Volozhin why non-Jews will be expected to praise G-d for His kindness to Israel. Rav Itzaleh replied, “The princes of the nations constantly plot our annihilation but our Merciful G-d foils your plans. You keep your plots so secret that we Jews don’t even realize in how many ways you have tried to harm us and in how many ways G-d has saved us. Only you, the nations of the non-Jewish world, truly see the extent of G-d’s kindness to us, and therefore only you can praise Him adequately.

  • Source: Based on an idea heard from Rabbi Reuven Subar

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