Weekly Reading Insights: 

Balak

BS"D

From The Masters Of Kabbalah and Chumash (5 Books of Moses)

13th century - "RambaN" - Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman

14th century - "Bachya" - Rabbi Bachya ben Asher

16th century - "Alsheich" - Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Tsfat

17th century - "Shelah" - Rabbi Yeshaiya Horowitz

18th century - "Ohr HaChayim" - Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar


Ramban

"There shall step forth a star out of Jacob" [24:17]

Because the Messiah will gather together the dispersed of Israel from all the corners of the earth, Balaam compares him [metaphorically] to a star that passes through the firmament from the ends of heaven, just as it is said about [the Messiah]: "and behold, there came with the clouds of heaven, one like unto a son of man etc." [Daniel 7:13] Balaam thus said that he saw that at a distance time a star would pass from the ends of heaven, and there would rise out of it the scepter of a ruler, and he shall smite through the corners of Moab, and break down all the sons of Seth, the son of Adam [Genesis 5:3], who was the father of all the nations [Numbers 24:14]. He mentioned the corners of Moab in order to inform Balak that his people would not fall into the hand of Israel now, but in the end of days Moab will not be saved from the hand of the ruling king [in Israel]. And the meaning of 'the corners' of Moab is that this ruler [in Israel] will break down all the sons of Seth, and they [Moab] will not be saved, even though they are cut off on the 'corner' [Jeremiah 9:25] Ramban here uses this term metaphorically, to refer to a people who live in a remote corner of the world], and have no name among the nations, and will not fight against Israel.

"And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also, even his enemies shall be a possession" [24:18]

The downfall of Edom will be by the hand of the Messiah, because our present exile under the hand of Rome is considered Edom's [exile], just as it is said: "The punishment of thine iniquity is absolved, O Daughter of Zion, He will no more carry thee away into captivity; He will punish thine iniquity O 'daughter of Edom,' He will uncover thy sins" [Lamentations 4:22] - for G-d will not punish Edom until the sins of Zion are absolved, at the time when He will no more keep them in captivity [ibid]. Therefore Balaam mentioned Edom, for it is he who disputes our [right to] kingdom, and about him it has been said, and the one people shall be stronger than the other [Genesis 25:23]. Balaam thus prophesying that Edom will not completely fall until the time of the end [of the exile] by the hand of 'the star' [i.e., the Messiah] who will step forth out of Jacob [as stated in the previous verse].
Seir also, even his enemies shall be a possession". This means that Seir will become a possession of his enemies [i.e., of Israel]. Or [the term] his enemies may refer to [Jacob's enemies i.e.,] Edom and Seir mentioned [previously in the verse], who are the enemies of Jacob, [and the meaning of the verse would thus be: "Edom, and Seir also. Who are the enemies of Israel] will become a possession [of Israel]. And the meaning of the verse, and he shall destroy the remnant from 'the' city [Numbers 24:19], is "from 'every' city", for there will not be left a remnant of any city in the world [i.e. of those belonging to the Roman Empire, here referred to by the names Edom and Seir]. Thus at first [in Verse 17] Balaam said that [the Messiah] will break down all the sons of Seth, and now he is saying that he will not leave any remnant or survivor [of them]. Thus was completed Balaam's counsel to Balak.

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Rabbeinu Bachya

"(Vayakar Elokim el Bileam,) G-d chanced upon Bileam." [23,4]

Later on you will find (verse 16) that Vayakar Havaye el Bileam, that Bileam even experienced a vision from Hashem, a higher attribute than Elokim. This occurred as a result of Bileam's visions already having elevated him to a status where he could receive prophetic inspirations from the same celestial source as did Moses. It was then that he realized that the notion of cursing Israel was quite absurd, seeing Israel was under the protective wings of the attribute of Mercy.

As long as Bileam had been "visited" only by the attribute of Justice he had dared hope that he would somewhere find a weak spot in Israel's spiritual armor enabling him to curse them so that the attribute of Justice would be arraigned ready to pounce on the people. As soon as G-d addressed him in His capacity as Hashem, Bileam realized that he had hoped in vain. This great "spiritual promotion" which Bileam experienced when he was addressed by the attribute of Hashem did not last long as it had only occurred for the sake of the Jewish people not because of Bileam's own spiritual achievements. G-d did not want the nations of the world to argue that if they had been granted the caliber of prophet of Moses they themselves would have become spiritually uplifted similar to the Jewish people. By giving Bileam powers and insights similar to those of Moses, G-d demonstrated to the nations of the world that in spite of having at their disposal a spiritually outstandingly gifted individual such as Bileam this had no impact on their moral/ethic modes of behavior. This also gave the Jewish people an argument in favor of their preferred standing vis-a-vis G-d when they could point to the fact that the prophet and spiritual leader of all these nations had conceded the spiritual superiority of the Jewish people in that he sang their praises.

As soon as Bileam had concluded singing the praises of the Jewish people, i.e. their moral superiority over the other nations, G-d removed this spirit of prophecy from him. He reverted to relying on charms and that is why he wound up being killed by the sword instead of securing for himself the death of the righteous which he had wished himself.

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Alsheich

"Stand here by your total offering" [23:15]

The previous time, Bilam had taken up position some distance away from the altars. He ascribed the failure to receive a communication from HaShem rather than from Elokim, as due to his physical distance from the altar. Therefore, in this instance, he says he will remain close to the altar. Indeed, HaShem, communicates with him.

In this instance, Balak is asked to rise, not like previously, when G-d had merely said "Go back to Balak and speak thus" (23:5) This time it is HaShem, the most holy name of G-d, who addresses him. Even Balak senses this when he asked "what did HaShem say?"

A revalation by Elokim, may be received in a state of relative impurity, a message from HaShem requires moral preparation by the recipient, i.e., a degree of purity. He no longer refers to Balak as king, as in verse 7, to indicate that in the presence of HaShem, even the most exalted human monarch is devoid of pretensions to title and what this represents.

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Shelah

Balaam, who had come prepared to curse, was forced to bless; the angel who delighted in evil was forced to consent to the blessings; the accuser was turned into an advocate.

There was a cosmic necessity for Balaam to become the instrument of G-d. He, after all, was the prophet of the gentiles and the spiritual head of all the nations. When our sages commented on the verse, "There never did arise in Israel a prophet like Moses etc.", (Deut. 34:10) they said that amongst the other nations there did arise someone comparable to Moses - Balaam. Surely, they did not mean to compare Moses to Balaam as being equal or similar in holiness, character qualities, relationship with G-d, etc!

The Zohar (Balak, p. 193b) is very explicit in describing Balaam's low character, giving many examples of his appearing to credit himself with great insights and thereby misleading those who considered him a great seer. Here are a few quotes from that passage in the Zohar: "This wicked man took great pride in claiming to know everything. By doing so, he misled people into believing that he had attained a very high stature. He exaggerated every little achievement of his. Whatever he said concerned the domain of the forces of impurity. He spoke the truth - literally speaking - for anyone listening to him would form the impression that he was the most outstanding of the prophets of the world." When he described himself as "privy to the words of G-d, aware of the knowledge of the Supreme One", the impression is formed that he was speaking about G-d in Heaven. In fact he was privy only to words of "god" opposed to the words of "G-d".

He communicated with the forces of impurity, forces considered by the nations as deities. When he spoke about being privy to the Supernal Knowledge, the listener got the impression that Balaam claimed to be privy to G-d's range of knowledge, whereas in fact he was privy only to the "highest" of the forces of impurity that G-d has allowed to govern part of nature. Balaam, technically speaking, spoke truthfully, since he had access to a power that in its field was considered supreme. However, the listener did not know that this power had no independent authority at all. It was but an agent of G-d.

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Ohr HaChayim

"G-d put words in Bileam's mouth, etc." (23:5)

Although most commentators have already treated this verse exhaustively, they have also left some room for our comments.

G-d wanted to use this opportunity to reveal part of the future and to mention the wonderful things that would happen to Israel at that time. He was particularly interested that this future be revealed to the Gentile nations by their own prophet.
This is why He chose Bileam as His instrument to predict both Israel's eventual greatness and the other nations eventual downfall at the hands of Israel. When the Gentile nations would be able to note that one of their own had predicted all this it would impress them all the more.

Due to the negative spiritual influences Bileam had surrounded himself with, the Holy Spirit which would enable him to foretell the future could not come to rest on him; not only this, but the words of G-d themselves are inherently sacred and not entrusted to a member of an impure nation. This is why G-d had to resort to a special stratagem so that the words of holiness would not be spoken in impure surroundings.

G-d constructed a barrier between the power of the speaker and the words he spoke, and the "mouth of the pig." This is what the Torah means when it writes: "G-d put a thing, inside Bileam's mouth." The thing was the artificial barrier between G-d's holy words and Bileam's mouth. In this way Bileam's mouth was converted into a domain all by itself, divorced form Bileam the person.

When the Torah continued "and so you shall speak," (ve ko tedaber) the meaning is that with the help of this barrier in his mouth Bileam would be able to speak the words of G-d. The Zohar volume three page 210 writes that the word ko (and so) is an allusion to something sacred. Students of the Kabbala will understand what I mean.

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Sources

Ramban - credits
Adapted from the 13th century classic by the illustrious scholar, philosopher and defender of the faith, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman-known as 'RAMBAN' or 'Nachmanides', a master kabbalist in his own right and a major link in the transmission of Jewish mysticism-based on the excellent annotated English translation, Nachmanides on the Torah, by Rabbi Dr. Charles B. Chavel

Bachya - credits
Selected with permission from the seven-volume English edition of The Torah Commentary of Rabbeinu Bachya, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk. Rabbi Bachya ben Asher [1255-1340] of Saragosa, Spain, was the outstanding pupil of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (the "Rashba"), a main disciple of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the "Ramban"). Several books have been written about the Kabballah-based portions of R. Bachya's commentary.

Alsheich - credits
Adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech, the "Preacher of Zefat" on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

Shelah - credits
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz was born in Prague around the year 1565. He served as Rabbi of Cracow and other congregations before he was appointed as the Rabbi of the community of Frankfurt on Main in the year 1610. In 1916, Rabbi Horowitz moved to Prague where he became the Chief Rabbi of the city. He moved to Eretz Yisrael about 1621. He was rabbi in Jerusalem and in Tiberias, where he died in or about 1630. In addition to his magnus opus, Shenei Luchot HaBrit, he also compiled an edition of the prayer-book with a comprehensive commentary. Many of his innovations, including his formulation of the Kol Nidrei prayer, have become part and parcel of the Ashkenazi Siddur.

Ohr HaChayim - credits
Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco, on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only to his Torah commentary.

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