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 Parshas Balak - Vol. 6, Issue 41
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Vayisyatzeiv malach Hashem ba'derech l'satan lo (22:22)

            Many times in life we are convinced that we know what we need, and we become upset when circumstances don't work out the way that we had hoped and we can't get what we wanted. Rav Pam points out that when Bilaam was riding his donkey to go curse the Jews, the donkey turned aside because it saw a sword-wielding angel in the middle of the path. Bilaam didn't see the angel, so he got upset at the donkey for making it difficult for him to do what he wanted. In reality, Rashi writes that it was an angel of mercy, meaning that Hashem had sent an angel to try to stop Bilaam from going on his journey.

            Bilaam unfortunately didn't get the message and ultimately met a bitter fate, but Rav Pam commented that many times in life, when we are convinced that we have to get a certain shidduch or get a certain job or get into a certain yeshiva or seminary, and it seems like the harder we try, the more inexplicable obstacles pop up in the sabotage our efforts, we should remember that it might be an angel of mercy trying to save us from becoming our own worst enemies.

            In Ashrei we say (Tehillim 145:19) that Hashem will do the will of those who fear Him, and He will hear their cry and save them. This seems to be a redundant expression. If Hashem does the will of those who fear Him, why does the verse have to continue to say that He listens to their cries and saves them when they call out to Him? Isn't that already included in the first statement?

            Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank explains that the verse can be read as saying that when people pray to Hashem for something which they think they want but which is actually going to be detrimental to them, He still grants the request, as the verse says that He does the will of those who fear Him, and if this is something that they want and ask for, Hashem will give it to them.

            Then, after the person gets what he asks for and realizes how detrimental it is for him, he screams out to beg Hashem to take it away. Even though a human would be tempted to say that if this is what you asked for, now you have to live with it, Hashem doesn't work this way. Instead, the verse continues to say that when they cry out to Hashem to undo the damage that they brought on themselves with their initial request, He honors this petition as well and fixes the situation.

            The following story illustrates this point. There was once an aspiring psychiatrist who arranged to get a tour of a mental hospital. He went into the first room and saw a broken man sitting on the edge of his bed, staring at the wall and saying "Nechamaleh, Nechamaleh, Nechamaleh." He went outside to ask one of the nurses what the man's problem was. The nurse explained that the man had been madly in love with a woman named Nechamaleh and was devastated when she refused to marry him. He was unable to handle the rejection and move on, and all he could do was repeat her name over and over again.

            The visitor decided to go into the next room. To his surprise, he saw another man sitting on the bed, staring at the wall, and saying "Nechamaleh, Nechamaleh, Nechamaleh." He went back out to speak to the nurse and asked, "Another person who got rejected by the same Nechamaleh?" The nurse replied, "No, that's the guy who married her!"


Vayiftach Hashem es pi ha'ason vatomer l'Bilam meh asisi lecha ki hikisani zeh shalosh regalim (22:28)

Judaism forbids causing unnecessary pain and suffering to animals. There is a Talmudic dispute (Bava Metzia 32b) regarding the origin of this prohibition: is it Biblical or Rabbinical in nature? As there seems to be no explicit verse anywhere in the Torah forbidding a person to afflict animals, what is the source of the prohibition according to the opinion that maintains that it is a Biblical commandment?

The Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:17) suggests that this opinion is derived from Parshas Balak. Hashem attempted to impede Bilaam’s journey by sending an angel to block his path, but only Bilaam’s donkey saw the sword-wielding angel. When the donkey attempted to turn to avoid the angel, Bilaam grew angry at the donkey, striking it and threatening to kill it. Hashem opened the donkey’s mouth and it asked him, “What have I done to you that you struck me these three times?” The Rambam writes that these words of the donkey serve as the source for the opinion that it is Biblically forbidden to strike or otherwise cause needless pain to animals.


Lo heebeet aven b'Yaakov v'lo ra'ah amal b'Yisroel (23:21)

            Bilaam praised the Jewish people for the fact that Hashem doesn’t see any toil and hard work among them. This is difficult to understand. In what way is it a compliment to say that the Jews don’t work hard in their service of Hashem?

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that although the Jews certainly exert themselves to the fullest in their study of Torah and performance of mitzvos, these activities should intrinsically be enjoyable and invigorating. Thus, no matter how much effort a person puts into doing mitzvos, he won’t appear to be toiling, but will always be refreshed. This praise is exclusive to the Jewish people, as nothing else in the world has this unique ability to invigorate.

Of the thousands of parables developed by the Dubno Maggid, there were three which the Kotzker Rebbe declared were said with Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration). With a theme similar to the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, one of those three was used to explain a verse from the Haftorah for Parshas Vayikra (Yeshaya 43:22), in which the Navi rebukes the Jewish people, “But you did not call Me, Yaakov, for you grew weary of Me, Yisroel.”

            The Dubno Maggid explained as follows: a businessman once returned home from his travels and hired one of the young porters at the train station to carry his luggage to his home. Upon arriving at the man’s house, the porter put down the bags and approached the man to receive his payment. The traveler took one look at the boy and informed him that he had mistakenly brought the wrong suitcases.

The surprised porter questioned how the businessman could make this claim with such certainty when he hadn’t even seen the bags, which were still outside. The man explained that it was clear from the boy’s appearance that he had sweated and exerted tremendous effort to transport the luggage. As the bags which belonged to the businessman were filled with lightweight items which wouldn’t have required such exertion, it must be that the porter mistakenly brought the wrong suitcases.

            Similarly, Yeshaya relates that Hashem told the Jewish people, “You haven’t called Me” in your performance of mitzvos. Yeshaya teaches elsewhere (40:31) that those who look to and trust in Hashem will be constantly strengthened and refreshed. Just as the businessman informed the porter of his error, the Navi chastises the Jews that they must not be learning and doing mitzvos for Hashem’s sake. The proof of this claim is that instead of feeling renewed and energized, you grew weary of Me.


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Balak was afraid of the Jewish people, so he hired Bilaam to curse them. Balak told his messengers to tell Bilaam that he knows that whomever Bilaam blesses is blessed and whomever he curses is cursed (22:5-6). If Bilaam possessed such powers, why didn’t he simply bless himself to make himself rich and powerful? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Seforno, Ayeles HaShachar)

2)     The Mishnah in Avos (5:8) teaches that just before Shabbos at the end of the week of Creation, Hashem created ten things, one of which was the mouth of Bilaam’s donkey and its miraculous ability to speak (22:28). Does this mean that Bilaam’s donkey actually existed from the time of Creation and was at the time of this incident more than 2000 years old? (Rav Ovadiah Bartenura, Tiferes Yisroel, and Tosefos Yom Tov Avos 5:8; Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer 30, K'Motzei Shalal Rav)

3)     Hashem attempted to impede Bilaam’s journey by sending an angel to block his path, but only Bilaam’s donkey saw the sword-wielding angel. When the angel attempted to turn and avoid the angel, Bilaam grew angry at the donkey, striking it and threatening to kill it. Finally, Hashem opened Bilaam’s eyes and allowed him to see the angel. Bilaam commented (22:34), “I have sinned, for I didn’t know that the angel was on the road.” How can lack of knowledge be considered a sin? (Paneiach Raza, Shelah HaKadosh)

  © 2011 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to


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