Balak 5773 – Gilayon #804
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And balaam went with balak
And they came to the village of huzoth (streets).
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".
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.)
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
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
and to reinforce the knowledge that as long as
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
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.
firstborn, sent by Him to humanity to instruct it in monotheistic morality
according to which all powers are subservient to God. Therefore
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'
is also the reason for publicizing Yitro's visit to Moshe
Dr. Effie Chamiel researches contemporary Jewish thought and teaches in
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
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
(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)
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
(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
err in identification of the maschiach
rises from Yaakov" – Because the Messiah will gather the
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
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
(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
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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