For the week ending 26 June 2021 / 16 Tammuz 5781

Parashat Balak

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Balak, King of Moav, is in morbid fear of the 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.

The 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 brings an end to the plague — but not before 24,000 people died.


An Artist's Impression

“May my soul die the death of the upright…..” (23:10)

In June 2012, the Israeli government expedited its “Tama 38” (National Outline Plan) mandate, which calls for the reinforcing of buildings against earthquakes. The incentive for builders is that they can build and sell an extra floor, and for apartment owners, that they receive an extra room that doubles as a rocket shelter.

I live in Ramat Eshkol in Jerusalem, an area where every second building seems to be in some stage of the “Tama.” The signage outside these buildings always depicts an idyllic scene of a super-modern façade with nary a stroller to crowd the entrance, or an errant air-conditioner hanging from a window, or a porch covered over to make another much-needed bedroom.

Often in life, our aspiration fades in proportion to our perspiration. We start with high ideals, but sometimes things get very difficult. However, if we never had that “artist's impression” of our future, we would never have an ideal to aim for.

“May my soul die the death of the upright…”

Bilaam wanted to die the death of the upright — he just wasn't prepared to live the life of the upright.

Bilaam saw evil as the easy way to success. With all his gifts as a prophet, he never made the effort to get out of his spiritual armchair.

It is likely that most of us will never achieve our spiritual goals, but if we never had that “artist's impression” in our heads, we would never have even left our armchairs – let alone built an entire floor on the edifice of our spiritual lives.

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