For the week ending 4 July 2020 / 12 Tammuz 5780

Parshat Balak

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
Become a Supporter Library Library


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 about 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 are issued 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 act halts the plague, but not before 24,000 people have died.


Distressed by Relic-ing

“‘…if Balak will give me his houseful of silver and gold, I cannot transgress the Word of Hashem, my G-d, to do anything small or great.’” (22:18)

“Relic-ing” means taking a pristine electric guitar and making it look like it’s been used on the road for fifteen years by some rock idol. The verb is to “relic.” Merriam Webster’s online dictionary lists it as a noun only, and not a verb, and I couldn’t find it anywhere online except in the context that I already had heard it.

The concept isn’t new. It always amazed me that the price of faded “stone washed” — and better still — torn Levis was far in excess of what a new pair would cost you. And further back still, “distressing” furniture to give the authentic patina of an antique heirloom has been going on for many years. (I wasn’t able to find out exactly how long.)

Now, apart from the obvious uses of “distressing” for counterfeiting and forgery, why would you want something to look used and half worn out, when you could have a spanking new version for a fraction of the price?

Advertising has long demonstrated that selling dreams sells soap. (The origin of the term “soap opera” comes from the days when soap companies sponsored radio dramas). When you buy a guitar relic-ed to look like Eric Clapton’s famous guitar,you’re not buying a guitar — you’re buying a dream. Buying dreams, however, is not merely a modern, Madison Avenue phenomenon.

“‘…if Balak will give me his houseful of silver and gold, I cannot transgress the Word of Hashem, my G-d, to do anything small or great.’”

Throughout this week’s Torah portion, Bilaam repeatedly tells Balak that he cannot curse the Jewish People, for he who Hashem has blessed cannot be cursed by mortal man. Unperturbed by the facts, however, Balak lives out his own dream and invests Bilaam with a power that Bilaam himself tells Balak that he does not have. A dream is more powerful that a fact. A fact can be contradicted, but a dream can never be.

© 1995-2024 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.

Articles may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue or school newsletters. Hardcopy or electronic. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission in advance at [email protected] and credit for the source as Ohr Somayach Institutions

« Back to Parsha

Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.