For the week ending 30 June 2018 / 17 Tammuz 5778

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.


Three Candies

“The she-donkey saw the angel of G-d... with his sword drawn in his hand” (22:23)

A young fellow from a religious family in Bnei Brak decided one day to turn his back on religion. He moved out of his home and into his uncle’s apartment in Tel Aviv, a stone’s throw from Bnei Brak geographically, but as far as Mars religiously.

Time went on and this young fellow met and fell in love with a non-Jewish girl. He got engaged to her. This was too much for his secular uncle, who became very angry with him. However, despite of all his efforts to get his nephew to cancel the wedding, the nephew was determined to marry his fiancée. The uncle at least was able to convince his nephew to go home and tell his parents face-to-face what he planned to do. The young fellow agreed to go back for Shabbat, provided that his parents agreed to “his conditions.” So he spent most of Shabbat night “chilling” on his parents’ porch, with a cigarette in his mouth, and Shabbat morning he was out there again, using his iPhone.

In the afternoon his father came over and asked him if he wanted to go with him to the lectures given by Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman. Surprisingly, he agreed to go. After the lecture, his father brought him over to wish the Rav “Shabbat Shalom”. His father told the Rav that his son was no longer Shabbat-observant. Rav Aharon looked at the boy and asked him, “How long is it since you kept Shabbat?” “Two years,” the young fellow replied. “And during that time, did you have thoughts of teshuva?” “Yes. About four times.” And how long did each time last when you had those thoughts?” “About ten minutes,” he replied. Said the Rav, “Ah, so it comes out that in the last two years you had about 40 minutes of “in the place of ba’alei teshuva, completely righteous people cannot stand.” For that, I envy you! Shabbat Shalom.” The young fellow returned to his uncle’s apartment in Tel Aviv, but the Rav’s words would not let him rest. He cancelled the wedding. One thing led to another, until today he has returned completely to Judaism.

People asked what made him want to go to Rav Shteinman’s class. There he was sitting on his parents’ porch playing with his iPhone and puffing cigarettes opposite the windows of the neighbors.

He answered, “When I was in 4th grade in Cheder, my class went in to be tested by Rav Aharon Leib. My class rebbe asked that we should be given easy questions, and so Rav Aharon Leib asked questions that everyone could answer. When each boy answered his question, Rav Aharon Leib gave him a candy. When it was my turn to go in, he asked me an easy question, but I didn’t know the answer. So he asked me an easier question, and I still didn’t know the answer. Then he asked me and even easier question, and I still couldn’t answer!

“While everyone was leaving with their candy in their hand, Rav Aharon Leib gestured to me to come over to him. He said to me, ‘In Torah and Yiddishkeit we receive reward for our efforts, not for results. All the children tried to answer one question, and they received one candy; you tried to answer three questions, so you get three candies.’ And with a smile he dropped three candies into my hand.”

“...with his sword drawn in his hand.”

Rashi explains that this confrontation symbolizes the eternal confrontation between Yaakov and Eisav. The power of the voice — “The voice is the voice of Yaakov” and the sword — “you (Eisav) will live by the sword”. The angel was warning Bilaam that should he try and usurp Yaakov’s power of the voice and try to curse the Jewish People, he would be punished by the sword, the symbol of Eisav.

As parents and teachers, how careful we must be to use our heritage, the voice of Yaakov, only to encourage and inspire and give love, and not to turn it into the sword of criticism.

  • Sources: Adi Guttman, Even Bedolach; thanks to E. Conick

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