Weekly Reading Insights:  Balak

Overview of the Weekly Reading

Torah: Numbers 22:2-25:9
Haftorah: Michah 5:6-6:8 (mentions Billam, Balak, and their plots)

Overview: Parshat Balak opens with Balak, king of Moab, hiring Balaam, the gentile prophet, to curse the Jews. Despite Balaam's numerous sacrifices and attempts to curse the Jews, all he succeeds in doing is blessing the Jews! When Balaam and Balak realize the futility of trying to curse the Jews, they decide to try to cause the Jews to sin and thus arouse G-d's anger toward them. The parsha concludes telling how many of the Jews sinned with the Moabite women, worshipped their idolatry, and were punished subsequently with a plague. One of the tribal princes even sinned publicly, but was killed by Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron, whose act of zealousness simultaneously staved the plague.


"Balak the son of Tzipor saw all that the Jews did to the Emorites." (22:2)
He saw what the Jews did to the Emorites, but he did not see what the Emorites had done to the Jews. This is the way of the Nations of the World. They only see what the Jews are doing to the non-Jews, but the deeds of the non-Jews that led to the reactions of the Jews, these they do not see.
(Iturei Torah)

"G-d opened the mouth of the donkey." (22:28)
"Don't think too highly of yourself for being a prophet," G-d was rebuking Bilaam. "Look, even a donkey can speak if I so decree. Like the donkey, the only reason you have been granted prophecy is that it will ultimately bring benefit to the Jewish people."
(Kli Yakar)

"May my soul die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like him." (23:10)
A Jew once came to the tzadik Rabbi Yehoshua of Belz, and while speaking to him expressed the desire that "at least I should die like a Jew." The Rebbe interrupted him and said, "That is what the non-Jew Bilaam requested when he said, 'May my soul die the death of the righteous.' He wanted to die as a Jew but to live as a non-Jew. We must ask G-d to grant us to live as Jews."

" Yaakov is like the dust, who can count his hordes?..." (Num. 23:10)
Why are Jews being compared to dust? Explained the Baal Shem Tov:
In the earth are hidden incredible treasures (indeed, even today we have not yet discovered all that the earth contains). But in order to acquire these treasures, one has to dig very deep in order to bring them out. In the same way, inside every Jew without exception are hidden treasures of belief in G-d and love and fear of Him. Just, sometimes there is need for great effort to reveal them.
(Keter Shem Tov, Appendix -translated from Sichat HaShavuah 81)

"You shall see but the utmost part of them, and shall not see them all." (23:13)
It is only if one looks at a "part" of a Jew, a small detail of his make-up, that one might notice any flaws; if he is considered as a whole, no defects will be visible.
(Ohel Torah)

"He has not beheld any wrong in Jacob, nor has he seen evil in Israel: The L-rd his G-d is with him, and the glory of the king dwells among him." (23:21)
It states in the holy Zohar that "The Holy One, Blessed Be He, the Torah and Israel are one." The same way one cannot pick G-d or His Torah apart by saying, "This particular verse of the Torah doesn't appeal to me," so too, should we approach our fellow Jew, treating him with respect and acknowledging his importance to the Jewish People as a whole."
(Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorka)

When the word "Jacob" is used for the Jewish people, it alludes to the inner struggle of the G-dly soul against the animal soul. Yet, even on this level, the Torah states that the Jew is without wrong. Where does the Jew derive the strength to prevail? From his unique Jewish soul, of which it states, "the L-rd his G-d is with him." The Jewish soul, a "veritable part of G-d Above," is endowed with the power to transform even the animal soul into holiness.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Only one who "sees no wrong in Jacob" or "evil in Israel," who does not try to find fault with his fellow Jew and always judges him favorably, will merit that "the L-rd his G-d is with him, and the glory of the King dwells with him."
(Rabbi Chaim of Sanz)

When a Jew seeks constantly to attribute merit to each and every Jew and to all Jews collectively, so that "He has not seen wickedness in Yaakov, nor has he seen perverseness in Yisrael," that in itself is a sign that "G-d his L-rd is with him," for the fear of G-d is in his heart.
(Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev - translated from Sichat HaShavuah #444)

Even a Jew that is a sinner, as distant as possible from Torah observance, there is still a G-dly spark in his soul and a drop of light in his heart of love of G-d and desire to return to Him.
(Rebbe Yisrael of Rhyzin - translated from Sichat HaShavuah #495)

"He does not look at evil in Jacob, and sees no perversity in Israel: G-d, their G-d, is with them." (23:21)
"Jacob" refers to the Jew as he is involved in the mundane reality of the workweek, while "Israel" refers to the Jew in his transcendent state on Sabbath. When we attempt to pray during the week, we much strive to overcome the many confusing and distracting thoughts that intrude from our involvement in worldly affairs. We are only able to succeed in this struggle because, "G-D, their G-d is with them." On Shabbat, however, we do not have to expend any effort to rise above the distractions of the mundane world [This is alluded to by the fact that the word for "perversity" (amal) in this verse also means "effort," rendering the phrase: "…and sees no effort [on the Sabbath, when the Jew is] Israel."]; all we need to do is cultivate sensitivity to the special illumination of our soul that is revealed on Shabbat. This is the meaning of the phrase "G-d, their G-d is with them" that applies to Shabbat .
(Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Chabad)

"How goodly are thy tents Jacob - thy dwelling places, Israel." (24:5)
It is a good for Jacob to build tents - synagogues and houses of learning. But only on the condition that they become "thy dwelling places, Israel" - that Jews should actually be in them. A synagogue should not be built solely for its beauty, standing empty a whole week and only with difficulty finding a minyan on Sabbaths and Festivals.
(Rabbi Yaacov Yosef of Polonye)

"How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel." (24:5)
The names "Jacob" and "Israel" also refer to the ways different kinds of Jews fulfill the commandment to study the Torah. "Jacob" refers to those of us who are principally involved in worldly matters; for these people, learning is a part-time venture, just as a tent is a part-time structure. "Israel," in contrast, refers to those of us for whom study is a full-time occupation, their full-time dwelling place. The Torah informs us here that both the "tents of Jacob" and the "swelling places of Israel" are "good" and beloved by G-d. But this is only true when our learning is imbued with selfless devotion. [This being alluded to by the fact that the word for How "mah" that begins this verse indicates selflessness (cf. exodus 16:7; Tanya, ch. 19 [24b]).]
(Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Shneersohn of Lubavitch)





"It is a nations dwelling alone secure, not being counted among the nations." (23:9)
Even during exile, this prophecy continues to be fulfilled. For the identity of the Jews has remains intact; they have not assimilated among the nations.Indeed, the exile lifts the Jews to a higher level, as indicated by the interpretation of this verse by the Targum as foreshadowing the Era of the Redemtion when: "in the future, this nation will take possession of the earth," with the coming of the true and ultimate Redemption, led by Mashiach; may it take place in the immediate future.
[The Lubavitcher Rebbe]

"What this people will do to your people in the end of days." (24:14)
In the end of days, before the arrival of Moshiach, an attempt will be made to turn "this people" into "your people," i.e., to transform the Jewish people into a nation like any other, indistinguishable from non-Jews in custom and habit.
(Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa -From L'Chaim #376)

"A star will shoot forth from Yaakov and a staff will arise from Israel" (24:17)
One source, cited in the Jerusalem Talmud, Targum and Midrashim, states that this verse refers to Mashiach. Another passage in the Jerusalem Talmud interprets that it refers to every Jew. This apparent disagreement can be resolved by a teaching of the Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, who said that every Jew contains within himself a spark or part of the soul of Mashiach. Both interpretations thus converge, for ultimately they state one and the same thing.

'A star will shoot forth from Yaakov' -- refers to David; 'And a staff will arise from Israel' -- refers to King Mashiach. (Rambam). Here the Torah refers to Mashiach's role as a leader over the Jewish people ("Israel"). His direct, powerful leadership is represented by a "staff", in contrast to David, who is represented by a somewhat aloof "star," symbolizing a weaker form of influence.
(Likutei Sichos – Chumash, compiled and adapted by Rabbi Chaim Miller)

"And destroy the remnant of the city" (Num. 24:19)
Rashi explains that this verse refers to Melech HaMashiach: 'Regarding Melech HaMashiach does it say this, of whom it is said, "And he shall reign from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the land" (Psalm s72:8).'
The simple meaning is that Melech HaMoshiach will reign and rule over the whole world, as in the commentary of Ibn Ezra, "from the southern sea, called the Red Sea to the northern sea, which is the ocean, and from the river going out from Eden, which is the beginning of the east, until the ends of the land at the end of the west."
The lesson to be drawn is that it is forbidden for a person to close himself into his own four cubits and not think anything about the world around him, saying, "I've saved my soul," and he's in "Eden" (the place of G-dly revelation). Rather, he must be involved in the avoda (Divine service) with the "river," refining and purifying the whole world, "to the ends of the land." It is this avoda that will lead to the culmination of Mashiach's sovereignty.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, translated by Michoel Lieb Dobry)

Every Jew is able to bring out the spark of Mashiach within himself into the open and to help bring about the actual manifestation of Mashiach by means of Torah and mitzvot. For Torah and mitzvot effect a purification and refinement of the physical world. Impurity is reduced and nullified, to the point of "I shall remove the spirit of impurity from the earth" (Zechariah 13:2). This will be achieved with the coming of Mashiach who shall reveal goodness and holiness in the world, culminating in "The earth shall be full with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).
(Adapted from Discover Mashiach in the Weekly Torah Portion (by Rabbi Berel Bell and the students of Bais Chaya Mushka Seminary of Montreal), as published on www.mashiach.org)



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