• Dvar for Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

    This week’s Parsha tells us a story about Balak, who commissioned Bilam to curse the Jews, since he was known to have abilities equal to those of Moshe. The twist in the story is that G-d tells Bilam that he shouldn’t travel to curse the Jews, and even if he decides to go, he mustn’t curse them, but must instead repeat whatever he’s told. On the way to curse the Jews (yes, he decided to proceed anyway), Bilam’s donkey was confronted by an angel who was sent to remind him that he shouldn’t be going, and that even once he arrived at his destination his words would be limited. Several times the donkey saw the angel and moved out of the way, only to be hit by Bilam for straying. Finally, the donkey miraculously spoke, rebuking Bilam for hitting him.

    In this story there are several glaring difficulties: 1) If Bilam wanted to curse the Jews, why was he asking G-d for permission? Further, once he was told that he shouldn’t and couldn’t curse, why did he go? 2) Why was it necessary for Bilam’s donkey to begin speaking? If G-d had a message to give Bilam, why couldn’t He just tell it to him, as He had done in the past?

    As the Birchat Peretz helps to explain, the answer lies in the way we interpret things, and our motives behind them. On one hand, Bilam really wanted the power and wealth that would have come with cursing the Jews, so that when G-d gave him permission to travel to the Jews, he was hoping it would grant him permission to curse them too. On the other hand, the donkey which didn’t have personal desires influencing him, was able to rebuke Bilam with honest, straightforward arguments, not tainted with personal agendas. Bilam justified what he wanted to do based on things he thought he heard or understood. It’s frightening to consider that one of the wisest people in that generation could let his heart dictate what he hears, and confuse what he knows is right.

    So the next time we find ourselves trying to justify our position when we know we’re probably stretching the truth, all we have to do is ask: Would an honest donkey agree with the way we’re thinking? And if we feel a tinge of doubt, consider ourselves rebuked, and think again.

  • Dvar for Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

    After a whole ordeal trying to curse the Jews, Bilam finally ends up blessing the Jews instead. So what does a person whose power lies in his word utter, after so much suspense? He says “How good are your tents, O Yaakov, your dwelling places, Israel” (24:5). Is it Yaakov or Israel? Is it the tents or the dwelling places (assuming they’re different) that are good? It’s a pretty ambiguous statement for someone presumably articulate.

    To understand this, we need to analyze the context of the three blessings he imparted in the following Pessukim (verses): 1) You should stay near water (reference to Torah), 2) G-d will help you crush your oppressors, and 3) Those that bless you will be blessed, and those that curse you will be cursed. It seems that there is a natural progression throughout these blessings: If we 1) stay close to the Torah, 2) G-d will help us defeat our enemies, and 3)we will be blessed upon blessings. That’s why the blessings start with the statement that it’s all because of our homes (tents), that leads to our communities (dwellings), from Yaakov as an individual to Israel as a nation. Conclusion: If we introduce the Torah in our own controlled-environment homes, it will not only help us and our communities, it will also lead to the many blessings that follow.

  • Dvar for Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

    After a whole ordeal trying to curse the Jews, Bilam finally ends up blessing the Jews instead. So what does a person whose power lies in his word utter, after so much suspense? He says “How good are your tents, O Yaakov, your dwelling places, Israel” (24:5). Is it Yaakov or Israel? Is it the tents or the dwelling places (assuming they’re different) that are good? It’s a pretty ambiguous statement for someone presumably articulate.

    To understand this, we need to analyze the context of the three blessings he imparted in the following Pessukim (verses): 1) You should stay near water (reference to Torah), 2) G-d will help you crush your oppressors, and 3) Those that bless you will be blessed, and those that curse you will be cursed. It seems that there is a natural progression throughout these blessings: If we 1) stay close to the Torah, 2) G-d will help us defeat our enemies, and 3)we will be blessed upon blessings. That’s why the blessings start with the statement that it’s all because of our homes (tents), that leads to our communities (dwellings), from Yaakov as an individual to Israel as a nation. Conclusion: If we introduce the Torah in our own controlled-environment homes, it will not only help us and our communities, it will also lead to the many blessings that follow.

  • Dvar for Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

    After a whole ordeal trying to curse the Jews, Bilam finally ends up blessing the Jews instead. So what does a person whose power lies in his word utter, after so much suspense? He says “How good are your tents, O Yaakov, your dwelling places, Israel” (24:5). Is it Yaakov or Israel? Is it the tents or the dwelling places (assuming they’re different) that are good? It’s an ambiguous statement from someone presumably articulate.

    To understand this, we need to analyze the context of the three blessings he imparted in the following Pessukim (verses): 1) You should stay near water (reference to Torah), 2) G-d will help you crush your oppressors, and 3) Those that bless you will be blessed, and those that curse you will be cursed. It seems that there is a natural progression throughout these blessings: If we 1) stay close to the Torah, 2) G-d will help us defeat our enemies, and 3)we will be blessed upon blessings. That’s why the blessings start with the statement that it’s all because of our homes (tents), that leads to our communities (dwellings), from Yaakov as an individual to Israel as a nation. Conclusion: If we introduce the Torah in our own controlled-environment homes, it will not only help us and our
    communities, it will also lead to the many blessings that follow.

  • Daily Aliya for Balak, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Before leaving, Bilaam prophesies about the end of days: “I see it, but not now; I behold it, but not soon. A star has gone forth from Jacob, and a staff will arise from Israel which will crush the princes of Moab and uproot all the sons of Seth…” He also speaks about the eventual destruction of Esav, Amalek and Assyria. Following Bilaam’s unsuccessful attempt to curse the Jewish nation, Moabite and Midianite women seduce many Jewish men. In the course of their seduction, they also entice the Jewish man to worship the Baal Peor deity. G‑d commands Mohss to execute the guilty people, and simultaneously a lethal plague erupts amongst the Jews. A Jewish leader, Zimri, publicly displays the Midianite princess with whom he was consorting. Phinehas, Aaron’s grandson, kills them both, and the plague is halted.

    Passuk (verse) 14 says “I’m leaving… but I’ll advise you of what will happen to your people” (they’ll be destroyed). Telling Balak that his people will be destroyed doesn’t seem like advice at all. What he could have been telling him was that although you’re ultimately doomed to fail and lose, if you want to succeed temporarily, baiting the Jews into immorality would work, and it did. Why tell him he’s doomed to fail? I think Passuk 25 tells it all: “Bilaam got up, left, went home, and Balak went on his way”. Balak going on his way sounds like he continued on his original path of attempting to destroy the Jews, regardless of his previous and now FUTURE failures. Truly a lost cause.

  • Daily Aliya for Balak, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The entire process repeats itself once again, Balak takes Bilaam to another place, hoping that Bilaam can curse the Jews from there. For a third time they build altars and bring offerings, and for a third time, only blessings issue from Bilaam’s mouth: “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel! … G‑d, who has brought them out of Egypt with the strength of His loftiness He shall consume the nations which are his adversaries … Those who bless [them] shall be blessed, and those who curse [them] shall be cursed.” At this point, Balak despairs of accomplishing his goal, and sends Bilaam on his way.

    Two important concepts are demonstrated in this Aliya. First, the persistence of these two people to accomplish their goals is admirable, even if their goal itself isn’t. Second, whereas when they first started the attempts it was Bilaam building the alters and trying to find a way to curse the Jews, now it is Balak trying different tactics to get it done. The two men strengthen each other’s resolve to accomplish their goal, a concept very much a part of Judaism. We focus on community and gatherings, many of the Mitzvot (commandments) focusing on helping each other, and that’s what not only makes each of us stronger by being around others, but it makes the collective “us” much greater than the sum of its parts.

  • Daily Aliya for Balak, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Balak takes Bilaam to another location, hoping that this new venue would be more inauspicious for the Jews. They again build altars and offer sacrifices, and again G‑d dictates blessing for the Jews which Bilaam repeats. “G‑d does not look at evil in Jacob, and has seen no perversity in Israel; the L-rd, his G‑d, is with [Israel], and he has the King’s friendship…”

    After Balak takes him to a different location, one where there might be weakness (he took him to the spot where Moshe would eventually die), Bilaam explains that he has no choice but to say what G-d tells him to say, and G-d instructed him to bless the Jews again. He then goes on to bless the Jews by saying that G-d does not see evil in Jacob, nor perversity in the Jews. How is this a blessing? It sounds more like a fact. But the blessing is that although we know evil and perversity does exist, G-d overlooks it long enough for us to correct our mistakes, demonstrating His love and friendship (Passuk 21: Rashi).

  • Daily Aliya for Balak, Revii (4th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Upon Bilaam’s instructions, Balak builds seven altars and offers sacrifices to G‑d. G‑d “chances” upon Bilaam, and dictates to him the words he should repeat to Balak and his ministers: “From Aram, Balak the king of Moab has brought me, from the mountains of the east: ‘Come, curse Jacob for me and come invoke wrath against Israel.’ How can I curse whom G‑d has not cursed, and how can I invoke wrath if the L-rd has not been angered?…” Bilaam then proceeded to shower the Israelites with beautiful blessings and praises. When Balak responds angrily to the blessings, Bilaam reminds him that he can only say that which G‑d tells him to say.

    This is the origin of the bait-and-switch! Bilaam was brought in to curse the Jews, and instead praises them, boldly stating that he cannot curse those that have done nothing wrong to deserve curses. What? Did we not read over the last few weeks about how the Jews complained about their situation and wanting to go back to Egypt? This is the ultimate proof that G-d forgives the Jews for their misdeeds, because someone skilled at finding minute faults that would allow curses to take hold couldn’t find any faults to do so to the Jews.

  • Dvar for Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

    After a whole ordeal trying to curse the Jews, Bilam finally ends up blessing the Jews instead. So what does a person whose power lies in his word utter, after so much suspense? He says “How good are your tents, O Yaakov, your dwelling places, Israel” (24:5). Is it Yaakov or Israel? Is it the tents or the dwelling places (assuming they’re different) that are good? It’s a pretty ambiguous statement for someone presumably articulate.

    To understand this, we need to analyze the context of the three blessings he imparted in the following Pessukim (verses): 1) You should stay near water (reference to Torah), 2) G-d will help you crush your oppressors, and 3) Those that bless you will be blessed, and those that curse you will be cursed. It seems that there is a natural progression throughout these blessings: If we 1) stay close to the Torah, 2) G-d will help us defeat our enemies, and 3)we will be blessed upon blessings. That’s why the blessings start with the statement that it’s all because of our homes (tents), that leads to our communities (dwellings), from Yaakov as an individual to Israel as a nation. Conclusion: If we introduce the Torah in our own controlled-environment homes, it will not only help us and our communities, it will also lead to the many blessings that follow.

  • Daily Aliya for Balak, Shlishi (3rd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary:: Bilaam leaves together with the Moabite dignitaries. G‑d sends an angel with a drawn sword to block Bilaam’s path. While Bilaam couldn’t see the angel, the she-donkey he was riding did, and refused to move onwards, causing Bilaam to strike her. The donkey miraculously speaks, admonishing Bilaam for striking her. Eventually, G‑d “opens Bilaam’s eyes,” and he sees the angel. A conversation between Bilaam and the angel ensues, wherein Bilaam is chastised for his behavior towards his donkey, and again he is reminded only to say what G‑d dictates to him. After this humbling episode, Bilaam arrives in Moab where he is greeted by Balak.

    If G-d gave Bilaam permission to go to Balak, why did He send an angel to stop him, and why was He angry that Bilaam was going (Passuk/Verse 22)? Midrash explains that Bilaam woke up early and saddled the donkey himself (unusual) because he hated the Jews so, and was excited at the possibility of being able to curse them. So even though he hadn’t actually cursed the Jews, and even though G-d knew that he ultimately wouldn’t, he was still wrong for intending to do something bad, and that’s what G-d was angry about. Luckily, though, we don’t get punished for improper acts unless we actually commit them.

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