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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Balak(68)

This week's sedra is devoted entirely to Bilaam's attempt to curse Israel and how his curses were turned into blessings. Balak, the king of Moav, hires Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. We will look at the first two verses. and Rashi's comment on the first verse.

Numbers 22:2,3

"And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.

Moav was frightened of the people, because it was great; and Moav was disgusted before the Children of Israel."


And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites: Rashi: He said: These two kings (Sichon & Og) in whom we relied on did not stand up before them (Israel), how much more so we (will not be able to).. And therefore 'and Moav was frightened.'


Rashi makes us privy to Balaks's thinking; his logic that lead to Moav being frightened (as it says in the next verse).

Rashi tells us that Balak discussed this with his people.

But none of this is in the verse.

What would you ask here?

Your Question:


A Question: Why does Rashi see the need to tell us all this? As we said, there does not seem to be any evidence for this in the verse itself.

What is bothering Rashi that lead him to make this comment?

Hint: Look at the Dibbur Hamaschil; what is unusual about it?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Rashi's Lead Words (dibbur hamaschil) are the whole verse! This is quite unusual; it may the only time Rashi does this in his Torah commentary. Rashi, it would seem, is bothered by the whole verse. It is superfluous. The main point in this introduction is that Moav feared Israel and hired Bilaam to curse Israel. We have all this in verse 3; verse 2 does not seem to add anything.

How does Rashi's comment deal with this question?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Rashi wants to connect our verse with the next verse - that Moav feared Israel. First of all he makes it clear that Balak did not see anything. Although the verse says "He saw", he couldn't have actually seen the battles between Israel & the Amorites. So here 'saw' means understood, like we say: "Oh, I see!" (Rashi tells us in Genesis 18:2, that 'Vayar' can mean 'understand' and not necessarily optical vision). Balak understood the significance of Israel's victories over these strong kings. Rashi tells us that Balak conveyed his thoughts to others - probably his ministers - for he speaks in the plural "whom we relied on" and "how much more so we (will not be able to). So Rashi is giving our verse significance. Balak's understanding (seeing) was what lead the whole nation of Moav to fear Israel. It should not be obvious that Moav would fear Israel since Og was not afraid even after Sichon was defeated. So perhaps Moav would remain confident in spite of Israel's victories. That is what our verse is telling us. That Balak saw and understood the implications of Israel's victories, he conveyed his fears to his people and then 'And Moav was frightened.'

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

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