Balak 5773 – Gilayon #804

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Parshat Balak

And balaam went with balak

And they came to the village of huzoth (streets).

(Bemidbar 22:39)


Kiriat Huzoth – A

city full of markets, men women and children in its street, so as to say "See,

and have pity that these not be uprooted".

 (Rashi ibid.,



And Balaam went etc.

meaning to indicate that he did not treat him with respect, but rather

that Balak went ahead and he followed, therefore it does not say ‘and Balak and

Balaam went', and it is possible that because Balak heard Balaam's statement

that he can do nothing, he turned his back to him and went off, but Balaam

attached himself to him from behind and went with him, and this is the meaning

of "And Balaam went with Balak".

(Ohr HaHayyim, ibid., ibid)


Kiriat Huzoth – It

may be that that Kiriat Huzoth was a town in the form of a hub with streets

extending from it in all directions. But "Huzoth" more commonly

refers to a street serving the transportation needs of the town, in the sense

of a city with many streets and in Medrash Rabba the explanation is "that

he created marketplaces of trade and he made himself a bazaar to show him the

populace so as to say, See who they are coming to kill – people and babes who

never sinned" This is to say: He brought him to a town with many streets

and markets, with trade activity and large populations; because he wanted to

show him Moab in all its flourishing of national success, so that he see with

own eyes the population whose existence was in danger.

(RaSHaR Hirsch, ibid., ibid.)



Israel and the family of nations

Efraim Chamiel


decides to join the Balak-Balaam game, to give it leverage and to exploit the

opportunity to achieve theological and political ends by transforming the curse

into a blessing. The theological goal – to enhance His name among the nations

of the world as Supreme Power, God of righteousness and justice, omnipotent and

exclusive Lord of truth, impervious to magical influence. The political goal –

to implant fear and trepidation of Israel in the hearts of the region's

nations, to further the rights of the Israelite nation as a member of family of

nations, one with leadership functions, as a moral nation which cannot be

defeated because of the covenant between God and His people, and to reinforce

its indisputable territorial rights to the Land of Canaan

as realization of the covenant. If these messages emanate from the mouth of one

considered by the nations to possess the greatest ability to influence

supernatural forces, they will receive authoritative approval and none will

protest.1 Balak, from his perspective, thought that he had the

political and economic prowess to enlist all the forces necessary for the

struggle, and Balaam believed that he held the necessary power. The region's

nations also thought – or at least hoped – so. This, then, presented a golden

opportunity to reveal to all the nations the identity of the Lord, to win

recognition of God and Israel,

and to reinforce the knowledge that as long as Israel keeps the covenant, no power

on earth can overcome it or prevent it from settling in its land.


the blessings with which Balaam blessed the Israelites at God's command is the

blessing "Look, a people that dwells apart, amongst nations it does not

need to come-to-reckoning" (23:9). Some

interpret this blessing as buttressing the approach which espouses boastful

isolation, disrespect for the values and opinions of other nations, and giving

them no consideration. It does not seem, however, that this is the intent of

the blessing. If, as I have demonstrated, there is importance to the nations'

recognition of the Israelite people and its reception into the family of

nations, then there is, it would seem, a different intent behind the blessing. It

seems to me that according to the plain understanding of the text, Balaam's

intent was to proclaim that the Israelite people, contrary to all other nations

which are ruled over by various earthbound forces, is not subject to magic; it

cannot be defeated with curses, because its Lord is God, who leads on the paths

of morality, righteousness and truth. It is also intended to note that as long

as Israel

maintains its part of the covenant, it will dwell in security in its uniqueness

and will not be subject to negative influences of other nations. From this we

can deduce that the influence is two-directional. Israel is unique as the Lord's

firstborn, sent by Him to humanity to instruct it in monotheistic morality

according to which all powers are subservient to God. Therefore Israel

is obligated to preserve this exceptionality throughout history, exceptionality

expressed through the observance of the commandments (not through singular

inherent superiority), which differentiates between us and other nations, and which

prevents us from straying from the good and straight path. The blessing is that

this uniqueness be preserved, and that when the nations will be numbered according

to their cultures and languages, the Israelite nation will be not counted along

with them but separately, as befits their eldest brother who preceded them with

its spirituality and its morality and its responsibility for elevating them to

its level as quickly as possible. The word "yitchashav" is not

to be understood in its usual usage as "taken into consideration",

but in the sense of "reckoning". Indeed, until this day the nations

see us, the Jews, as a special nation; they demand of us – who pride ourselves

as being guides for humanity – ethical and spiritual demands they dare not make

of any other nation, and that which they forbid us they permit themselves and

others. If only we can live up to these expectations.


See Abarbanel, end of his commentary to 22:7; Meshech Chochma, beginning of

parasha; Daat Mikra 22:6. See also C.Y. Chamiel, Studies in the Parasha of the

Week, Balak A (B), pps, 264-269, who adds that the significance of the nations'

recognition of Israel

is also the reason for publicizing Yitro's visit to Moshe

Dr. Effie Chamiel researches contemporary Jewish thought and teaches in

the Hebrew University.



The lord opened the

mouth of the

she-donkey, and she said to balaam, "what have i done to you that

you have struck me these three times?" balaam said to the she-donkey,

"for you have humiliated me; if i had a sword in my hand, i would kill you

right now."

(bamidbar 22:28-9)


The Lord opened

the mouth of the she-donkey 

to speak, since Scripture often alludes to speech and the pronouncing of

letters with the term mouth,

as in who gave man a mouth,

and Moses said, for I am heavy

of mouth and heavy of tongue. Here too, God granted the she-donkey's mouth

the power to pronounce the letters, but it should not be said that the

she-donkey gained a human-like spirit of intelligence. God forbid one think

that way; that is why she did not make any mention of the angel of the Lord who

stood before her, for she lacked the intelligence to make an argument defending

her stubbornness as having resulted from her having seen the angel. Rather, she

spoke like any animal prone to anger that was upset at having been hit. This

miracle occurred in order to cast down Balaam's pride and humiliate him before

the Moabite ministers who accompanied him. Instead of glorying before them in

his wisdom and prophesying, he is now reproved by an animal that has made an

unanswerable argument against him. He had to admit she was right, and there is

no greater humiliation for such an arrogant man. The miracle also paralleled

his sin and crime, for he wanted to find fault with the holy seed and the

chosen elect, and this impure beast found fault with him as if she were his

better. He came to sin with his tongue against the intentions of the Creator

Who granted man the power of speech to use for good and not for evil, and the

she-donkey, who could not speak by nature, spoke more correctly than him in

order to shame him so that he might learn a lesson.

If I had a sword – his mind was confused by anger, and

he spoke words that were a great embarrassment for him in the eyes of the

ministers, since he was going forth to kill an entire nation with his speech,

but he needed a weapon in order to kill the she-donkey.

(R. Yitzhak Shemuel

Reggio ad loc)



People, asses, sorcerersand the will of God


the lord opened the ass's mouth" – to inform us that the mouth

and tongue are under his control; should he wish to curse, his mouth in under

his control.

 (B'midbar Rabba Parasha 20)



things were created on the eve of Sabbath at twilight, namely: the mouth of the

earth, the mouth of the well, the mouth of the ass, the rainbow,

the manna, the shamir, the shape of the written characters, the engraving

instrument, and the talents of stone. Some include also the demons, the grave

of Moshe, and the ram of our father Avraham; others include also the original

tongs, for tongs can be made only by means of tongs.

(Mishna, Avoth 5:6)


The eve of the first

Shabbat of the six days of creation; not that they were actually created then,

for should you really suppose that if Father Avraham's ram and Bil'am's ass

lived thousands of year, our holy Torah would have concealed from us this great

miracle? But the intention is to tell that He implanted in His creation

the potential to produce the miracle at its appointed hour.

(Commentary "Tiferret Yisrael"

on Avoth ibid., ibid.; see also Bavli, Pesahim 54a)



we can certainly comprehend the opinion of those of our commentators who

understand the dialogue between the ass and man the scorn with the Torah holds

these beliefs, contempt for human "wisdom's" conceit which believes

that the sorcerer-magician-augurer has the power to curse, i.e., to

force divine powers to obey him.

(Nehama Leibowitz: Studies in

B'midbar, p. 298)


"Why Have You Beaten Your

Ass?" – The Torah Desires Development of Moral Sensitivity Towards All



the angel of the Lord said to him, Why have you beaten your ass?" – The

angel came to protest the insult to the ass, and he said: If I have been

commanded to demand redress for this insult to the ass – who has neither

[patriarchal] merit, nor a covenant with the Patriarchs – how much more so for

an entire nation which you seek to eradicate?!

(Tanhuma, Balak, 10)


It is

set down with a view to perfecting us so that we should not acquire habits of

cruelty and should not inflict pain gratuitously without any utility, but that

we should intend to be kind and merciful even with a chance animal individual,

except in case of need – "Because your soul desires to eat

flesh" – for we must not kill out of cruelty or for sport.

(Rambam, Guide of the Perplexed III, 17)



there is no divining ["nachash"] in Jacob: In the

connotation of "I have received the signs ["nichashti"]

and He has blessed me", and "in which he always divines ["yenachesh"]."

You said ‘Let him go with me to a different place': No divining and no

experimentation can avail against Jacob, and no sorcery can success in cursing Israel.

(Hizkuni, Bemidbar 23:27)


Who is Balaam in the

tradition of generations?

Said Rabbi Elazar

Hakapar: Balaam looked out and saw that there will be a man, born of woman, who

will some day arise and attempt to set himself up as a divinity, and to lead

the entire world astray. Therefore was power given to the voice of Balaam so

that he would be heard by all the nations of the world, and so he said: "Be

careful not to go astray after that man (Jesus), as is written, "No man

is God, that he should lie," and if he claims to be a God, he is

lying and he is destined to mislead and say that he is disappearing but will

come in time (i.e., that he is the messiah of the end of days) "Should

he say and not do so?"

(From an uncensored version of a

midrash – quoted by Y. Leibowitz in Seven Years of Discussions of the Weekly



Israel's great can also

err in identification of the maschiach

"A star

rises from Yaakov" – Because the Messiah will gather the

dispersed of Israel

from the ends of the earth, he compared him to a star rising in the firmament

from the ends of the earth.

 (Ramban, B'midbar 24:17)



Cochba] has risen from Yaakov". When Rabbi Akiva would see bar Kozba, he

would say: This is Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai taught: Rabbi Akiva would expound

"A star has risen from Yaakov" – Kozba the anointed King

– the Messiah. Said to him Rabbi Yochanan ben Tortah: Akiva, grass will sprout

from your cheeks and still the Messiah will not arrive.

(Yerushalmi, Taanit 4:5)



imagine that the Anointed King [Mashiach] must perform signs and miracles and

create new things in the world or resurrect the dead, etc. Such is not the

case, for we see that Rabbi Akiva was a great sage among the sages of

the Mishna, and he was the ‘arms bearer' of King Ben Kozibah, and he said of

him that he is the Messiah, and he and all the sages of generation thought that

he was the Messiah. When he was killed because of his sins they realized he

was not. The sages did not ask him to show a sign or a miracle. The main

principle is as follows: This Torah, its precepts and rulings are eternal, not

to be added to nor detracted from.

(Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings



My masters, it may be

that all those who spoke about the beginning of the blossoming of our salvation

erred. It could be that the disciples of the Gra erred, it is possible that the

followers of the Besht erred, that the disciples of Rabbi Akiva Eiger erred

when they spoke about the beginning of the blossoming of our salvation, as is

written in the books. It is possible that Rav Kook erred, that Rav Harlop

erred. Rabbi Akiva, the greatest tanna, also erred.

(From Rav Amital's essay "To Hear the Sound of an Infant Crying",

p. 85, quoted by Moshe Maya: Olam Banuy V'charev Vbanuy' p. 40)



connectiom between the Jewish nation and world peace

Rashi wrote: "These

three times" – you wish to uproot a nation which celebrates three

times." From this it derives that those three signs mentioned refer to the

three pilgrim festivals, beginning with Sukkot, which occurs in the month of

Tishrei, the beginning of the year, about we it is said "When you

gather in the results of your work from the field (Shemot 23:16). In connection with this is it

written "The ass swerved from the road and went into the

field" – you wish to uproot a nation which celebrates the

Harvest Festival which is dependent upon the field, and during

which Israel

offers 70 bulls on behalf of the 70 nations? If so, their

destruction will lead to the destruction of all the nations.

 (Kli Yakar, B'midbar 22:23)


There is a People that Dwells Apart – Promise or Challenge?

A people that

dwells apart [levadad] 

as he said: The Lord alone

[badad] did guide it – so how

can I destroy them?

(Seforno Bamidbar 23:9)


The Lord alone

did guide it – He guided

them in the wilderness alone (unassisted) and yet in security.

No alien god at

His side – for not one of

the gods of the other peoples possessed the power to display its might and to

war with them. Our rabbis, however, explained it as a promise referring to the

future, and so, too, does Onkelos render it.

But I say that they are words of reproof which he said with the view of calling

heaven and earth as witnesses against them, and also in order that this song

should be witness, because He knew that they would in future prove faithless

and would bear in mind neither the past deeds that He performed for them nor

those that would come to pass, which at a future time He would do for them. For

this reason it is necessary to make the text fit in with this and with that

(the past and the future). Indeed, the whole section is to be connected with, Remember the days of old, consider

the years of generation after generation (32:7): Thus has He done for them and thus will

He in the future do for them – all this they ought to bear in mind.

(Rashi on Devarim 32:12, Silberman translation)


There is a people that dwells alone  It

will live in an insulated land without much intercourse with other nations,

living its "internal" national mission as an am [people] as a national social

body, and will not seek its greatness as goy [nation] among goyim [nations], not as a powerful imposing

national body among the other individual nations.

(Rabbi S. R. Hirsch on Bamidbar 23:9, Levy



Dwells alone" –

is not taken into consideration as being among the nations, because he has

no territory. What can be positive about this statement, that Yaakov has no

land? Therefore I say that "Dwells alone" means differentiated from

the nations, thereby he does not stray from the right and just path, and

therefore His Lord God helps him succeed. And similarly I interpret "and

he does not take the nations into consideration", meaning he does consider

himself to be part of the community of nations […] and the RaLBaG explains

similarly […].

(ShaDaL, ibid., ibid.)


'This is a nation

which dwells apart, amongst the nations it is not reckoned'– The Israelite

nation are apart. They have 613 mitzvoth plus warnings and safeguards,

that should a Jew, Heaven forefend, transgress one, it will be reckoned to him

as a sin – and there are a number of things which are not considered sins by

the nations of the world. For example: If one transgress through sight or

speech, etc, – it is considered [by Israel] to be a sin. But the

nations do not considered it a sin. And this is what Scripture says: "It

is a nation which dwells apart" they are a nation ‘for itself', but "amongst

the nations it is not reckoned" to be a sin.

(R. Yehudah Zvi of Stretov)



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