For the week ending 5 July 2014 / 7 Tammuz 5774

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.


Early Risers

“And Bilaam arose early in the morning and he saddled his donkey… (22:21)”

One of the interesting aspects of anti-Semitism is the tremendous enthusiasm with which Jew-haters go about their plans. A cursory glance over the blood-stained history of our People reveals that from the Crusades to the Nazis to the Arabs a unifying enthusiasm bordering on religious fervor emerges to stamp out Israel.

The arch anti-Semite in the week’s Torah portion, Bilaam, was extremely enthusiastic to destroy the Jewish People. So much so that he arose at the crack of dawn to execute his plans.

“And Bilaam arose early in the morning and he saddled his donkey…”

Rashi comments on the above verse, “Said the Holy One, Blessed be He, ‘Evil One! You have already been preceded by their Patriarch Avraham, as it says, ‘And Avraham arose early in the morning and saddled his donkey’.”

What is the connection between Avraham and Bilaam? Why does the fact that Avraham woke up early and saddled his donkey have anything to do with Bilaam’s doing the same thing? Did Avraham create a mystical precedent that prevented all early-saddled donkeys from being exploited for the sake of evil?

G-d was telling Bilaam: “If Avraham awoke early with the intention of fulfilling My Will to offer his son Yitzchak as a korban, and despite his alacrity nothing became of his plans because I wished the Jewish People to descend from Yitzchak, then how much the more so when you arise early and saddle your donkey to cause evil to the Jews against My Will will nothing come of your plans!”

When our enemies arise against us with such enthusiasm, can there be a stronger weapon against them than to emulate our father Avraham Avinu and do the Will of G-d with as much, if not more, enthusiasm?

  • Source: based on the Kotzker Rebbe

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