For the week ending 23 July 2016 / 17 Tammuz 5776

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.


How About You?

“Balak son of Tzippor saw…” (22:2)

Once, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky got into a taxi. The driver saw who his passenger was and said, “Rabbi, I want to tell you a story. When I got out of the army I went with a friend to India. We were deep in the jungle and we got separated from the group. We found ourselves in a dark, thick place. I turned around and saw an enormous python coiling himself around my friend and slowly strangling him. I ran back to him, but despite both our efforts the snake coiled himself tighter and tighter. My friend was turning blue. I could see there was nothing left to do and I said to him, “You better say “Shma.” He summoned all of his remaining strength and whispered faintly with his last breath “Shma Yisrael, Hashem Elokenu, Hashem Echad!” Instantly, the snake uncoiled himself, and slithered off into the undergrowth. Rabbi, I want to tell you that my friend came back to Eretz Yisrael and is now learning Torah all day and most of the night.”

Said Rabbi Kanievsky, “U’mah itcha?” — “And how about you?”

Said the driver, “No, the Rabbi doesn’t understand. It happened to him, not to me!”

In the closing verses the Torah says, “Never again has there arisen in Yisrael a prophet like Moshe…” (Deut. 34:10). Our Sages infer from this verse that although there never arose a prophet on the level of Moshe amongst the Jewish People, there was a prophet of comparable stature amongst the nations of the world. And that was Bilaam. (Sifri)

One could ask of Bilaam, “U’mah itcha?” If you had access to a level of prophecy second only to Moshe himself, how could you have stooped to evil?

There are two creatures of the air whose eyesight is unmatched: the eagle and the bat. In the daylight the eagle’s eyes are sharper and more penetrating than any other winged creature. By night, however, he is no match for the bat. The bat can “see” by emitting ultra-sonic signals and constructing a “radar picture” of the landscape ahead that no bird can match.

Bilaam’s sight was drawn from the powers of darkness and impurity, whereas Moshe derived the sight of prophecy from the light of kedusha, holiness and purity.

  • Sources: Sde Eliyahu of the Gra as heard from Rabbi Pesach Feldman

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