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Parshas Balak

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Parshas Balak
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Rav Levi Yitzchok MiBerditchev - Why Shouldn't Bil'am Have Hit His Donkey?

When Bil'am's was on his way to Midyan and his Donkey saw the Malach in the middle of the road he stopped. This happened three times and each time Bil'am hit the donkey. When the Malach finally revealed himself to Bil'am he criticized him for hitting his donkey. Why was this warranted? If a donkey stops while you are riding doesn't common procedure call for you to hit it to induce it to continue on.

The Kedushas Levi answers that we all know that everything that happens in this world is caused by Hashem. Certainly Bil'am the great Navi knew that and believed it. If our eyes are wide open we can see many signs from Hashem and know if he is pleased with our actions. Before Hashem gave Bil'am lukewarm permission to go to curse Am Yisroel he warned him that even though he has permission to go nevertheless Hashem will be running the show and only His will, will prevail. This should have put Bil'am on high alert to take note of any unusual occurrences and signs from Heaven. When his donkey mysteriously stopped three times, which was something very unusual, Bil'am should have taken it as a sign from Hashem not to go.

Even after that, Bil'am stubbornly refused to interpret this obvious sign as Hashem's way of telling him that he should not continue on his doomed mission. Therefore the Malach criticized him.

Bilam - 0 for 4!... and Having A Bad Name Day

According to Targum Yonason Ben Uziel, (31:8), Bilam was notorious for 4 attempts to destroy the Jewish people. The name Bilam hints at these four attempts.

1) He was Lavan HaArami, who wanted to destroy our forefather Yaakov.

2) He advised Pharaoh to torture the Jews in Mitzrayim.

3) He incited Amalek to declare war against the Jews.

4) Upon Balak's invitation, he came to curse the Jews, and he advised Balak to encourage Z'nus among the Jews.

The word Bilaam (Bes, Lamed, Ayin, Mem) is an acronym for Balak, Lavan, Amalek, and Mitzrayim.

Balak Lacks Confidence In Bilam - "You Goofed Back in Mitzrayim"

"Hinay Am Yatzah MiMitzrayim Hinay Chisah Es Ayn HaAretz"; "Behold a nation has come out of Mitzrayim, behold it has covered the surface of the earth" The entire world knew that the Jews had left Mitzrayim. Why did Balak need to mention it now to Bilam?

The Chida explains, when Yaakov and his family came to Mitzrayim, they miraculously grew in number. Pharaoh, fearing that ultimately the Jews would take control of the land, consulted his 3 advisors: Bilam Iyov and Yisro. Bilaam advised him to stop the growth of the Jewish people by casting the newborn babies in to the Nile River and torturing the nation with excruciating labor (Sotah 11a).

Balak now complained to Bilam, "Obviously your idea failed: Not only did they multiply and survive, but they managed to also leave Mitzrayim. Since they pose a threat to me, it is incumbent upon you to do something to stop these people. I implore you to curse them!!

Chida adds, when Balak sent messengers to convey his request that Bilam come to curse the Jewish people, he said, "Ulai Uchal Nakeh Bo" - "Perhaps I will be able to strike them". Instead of expressing doubt, he should have spoken with confidence, telling Bilam that with his curses he would definitely be able to defeat the people.

In view of the above, that he was disappointed with his performance, it is clear that although he wanted Bilam to try again to harm the Jewish people, inwardly he doubted that Bilam could really accomplish anything.

The Vilna Gaon on Bilaam's Use of The Names Of Hashem

"Lo Uchal Lavor Es Pi Hashem Laasos Ketanoh O Gedolah"; "I can not transgress the word of Hashem to do anything small or great." If Bilam could not do a small thing, obviously he could not do a great one. Why does he mention that he was not able to do a great thing?

The Vilna Gaon answers that the various names of Hashem represent different attributes that he reveals to the Jewish people. The four-letter name of Hashem (Yud, Hay, Vav, Hay) expresses his mercy. His name Elokim - expresses his severity in judgment. The name (K)eil - is a sign of kindness, as the pasuk says, "Chessed (K)eil Kal Hayom" - "The kindness of Hashem is all day long". The 2 letters - "Yud Hey" of the 4-letter name, as a separate name, are a sign of Gevurah - severity.

Therefore, in order to curse the Jewish people, Bilaam wanted to invoke the anger of Hashem by pronouncing the name Elokim and the name Yud Hey.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 105b) explains the pasuk - "Hashem placed Davar - a thing- in Bilam's mouth" to mean that he placed a "Resen and Chakah" - a bridle and a hook in his mouth. The Vilna Gaon explains that one pulls an animal by holding its mouth closed while the other pulls the animal by pulling its tongue out. When Bilaam attempted to pronounce the name Elokim the bridle closed his mouth and cut him short, allowing him to only say the first 2 letters - (K)eil (the name of kindness). Further, when he wanted to say only the first 2 letters Yud Hey, of the 4-letter name, the hook pulled his tongue out and was forced to say "Yud, Hey, Vav, Hey" (the name of mercy).

When Balak's messengers invited Bilaam to come curse the Bnei Yisroel, he told them that he was not in control of his powers and it would be impossible for him to do anything small - to say only 2 letters of the 4 letter name Yud Hey - or to do anything great - to pronounce the name Elokim in its entirety.

This is also the pshat in the pasuk later in the Parsha when Bilaam says (23:8) - "Moh Ekov Lo Kaboh El, Moh Ezom Lo Zoam Hashem" - "How can I curse them "Lo Kaboh El" - I can't curse them with name "(K)eil"! How can I be angry at them "Lo Zoam Hashem" - I can not be angry at them with the name Hashem - "Yud, Hey, Vav, Hey".

Yaakov's Treaty With Lavan and Bilaam's Crushed Foot

"Vatereh HaAson Es Malach Hashem... VaTilchatz Es Regel Bilaam El HaKir" The donkey saw the Malach Hashem...and it pressed Bilaam's leg against the wall. Why did the donkey crush Bilaam's leg against the wall?

Chizkuni explains, many years earlier, Lavan and Yaakov made a peace treaty. First Yaakov took a stone and raised it up as a monument. Then they took stones and made a mound. Then Lavan declared, "This mound shall be witness and the monument shall be witness that I may not cross over to you to pass this mound, nor may you cross over to me past this mound and this monument for evil" (Bereishis - 31:45,52)

Bilaam was a descendant of Lavan (Sanhedrin 105a). By coming to curse the Bnei Yisroel, he was the first to transgress this ancestral agreement. When one deserves a punishment for transgressing before witnesses, the Torah says, "Yad HaEidim Tihyeh Bo Barishonah" - The witnesses should be first to administer the punishment. (Devarim 17:7)

The fences in the vineyard where the Malach stood were of stone (Rashi). Since Bilaam has blatantly defied the agreement not to cause harm to the Bnei Yisroel, he was punished by having his leg crushed by the witnesses - the stones of the wall.

Remez To The Weapons Exchange Between Bilam and the Malach

Eisav's weapon given to him by Yitzchok is the sword, while Yaakov was given the power of the mouth through tefila. A Malach's power is like Yaakov, a spiritual strength to physically destroy. In this odd showdown between Bilam the Goy and the Malach we find Bilam on his way to attempt to wipe out Bnei Yisroel with his mouth by cursing them. Lo and behold we find the Malach blocking Bilam's way holding a sword in his hand; not normally his weapon of choice. The Malach was showing Bilam that he is using the wrong weapon to try and fight Klal Yisroel and it wouldn't work.

A Remez for this odd confrontation says Rav Moshe Singer shlit"a can be found in the passuk "Hashem Nitzav BaDerech V'Charboi Shlufa BiYadoi"; (A Malach of) Hashem stood in the way with a sword in his hand . The Roshei Teivos spell out the word "B'Shnui"; a change. A Remez to the reversal of weaponry.

Bilam Says A Heartfelt Ma Tovu

All the Brachos Bilam gave eventually were reverted back to curse except for Ma Tovu, the bracha praising our shuls. Why was this the lone exception? The Yaaros Dvash explains that the reason the brachos did not have any long lasting effect was because Bilam meant them to be curses. This refers to any of the greatness he prophesized about Bnei Yisroel's kingdom and glory, which he really did not want to materialize.

However when it comes to the Bais HaMikdash all the bracha in the world comes to all the nations via the Bais HaMikdash. Chazal tell us that if the nations knew how much the Bais HaMikdash benefited them they would not have destroyed it. They would have placed armed guards around it to protect it.

The Bracha from Bilam of Ma Tovu was the lone Bracha that he said with any amount of sincerity since deep within it lay his own good and not just Klal Yisroel's. Therefore this bracha remained.

Bilam's Mad Race Against The Clock

What was Bilam's big rush to wake up early to go to Balak? What was with the waffling decision making by the Malach? Hashem gave Bilam permission to go and now a malach was stopping him?

Rav Yehonason Eibushitz answers with a Medrash Tanchuma that says that when Hashem is judging the world there is no anger in Shamayim. This refers to the days from Rosh Hashana until after Yom Kippur. Bilam arrived in Moav on the first day of Rosh Hashana. Because of this the Malach let him go since his curses would be ineffective as there was no anger in Shamayim. Bilam, realizing that he had to get to Moav and curse Bnei Yisroel before Rosh Hashana woke up early to beat the deadline. Therefore although he previously gave him permission, due to Bilam's hasty departure the Malach had to come stop him or at least slow him down so that he arrives on Rosh Hashana when it is already too late to curse Bnei Yisroel.

No One Can Nuke Us - Only Ouselves

Bilam held the ultimate secret weapon. The Gemara in Brachos says that Hashem gets angry every day for just one short moment. During that time if you curse someone the curse will happen no matter who, when, where, or what. Bilam was the only human ever to possess knowledge of this moment. According to Tosfos all he had to do was wait for that moment and say one word "destroy" and that would have been the end of Bnei Yisroel; men women, and children. That didn't work because there is a Hashem and no one can outsmart him. Hashem simply didn't get angry during the days that Bilam waited to curse us.

At the end of the Parsha, Bilam gave advice to Balak after his failed mission and told him to cause Bnei Yisroel to sin. That is our real achillies heel. That plan worked and 24,000 people ended up dying. From here we see that no matter what weapons or what evil plans our enemies have they are powerless against us. The only one that can cause us harm is ourselves.

Haftorah Balak: Learn From Hashem How To Do Good And Keep Your Mouth Closed

This weeks Haftorah is from Micha and spans two perakim and two separate topics. It starts by describing the status of Bnei Yisroel by Gog U'Magog. Although not many Jews will be left and they will not have any natural strength yet they will reign supreme over the whole world purely through the hand of Hashem. Hashem will do this out of Chesed and not from their efforts or even tefilos.

In the second part Hashem tells Bnei Yisroel to look at the wonderful chesed he has done for us. One of the acts of chesed mentioned is how Hashem did not let Bilam destroy us, hence the connection to this week's parsha. Hashem challenges us to explain why our service is hollow and lacking in spite of his kindness. Why are all our mitzvos done just to receive honor from our peers? Hashem does not need our actions, be it korbanos or any other mitzvah.

Why is the story of Bilam such a powerful reproach to the way we do mitzvos? Hashem saved us from Bilam without us ever knowing that we were in danger, not before, during, or even after. This shows that he did it out of pure love and not for any honor or thank you in return. The lesson the Navi wants us to learn from the story of Bilam is that Hashem wants us to perform mitzvos without ulterior motives. The Navi tells us the Hashem wants us to "act justly, love chesed, and serve Hashem in a modest way". It does not say perform chesed, rather love chesed. Hashem is not asking at how much or what kind of chesed we do but what he wants is for you to do it for the love of chesed, for the love of Hashem. Hashem wants us to perform mitzvos quietly and modestly not on plaques on buildings and inscriptions in newly published sefarim. Hashem wants true service. Service from the depths of our heart!

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