Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 6 No. 36

Parshas Bolok

The King's Glory
(Based on R. Bachye's introduction to the parshah)


"The King's glory lies with a multitude of people, and when there are (only) few people, his princehood is lacking" (Mishlei 14-28).

In this possuk, Shlomoh ha'Melech is explaining that it is the large numbers of people that make up the king's honour and prestige. For without doubt, there are among his subjects, those who are his equals in strength and in wisdom, and some perhaps, who are even a cut above him. His superiority therefore, lies in the number of soldiers who serve in his army and the grandeur of his sovereignty. This is the advantage that the King enjoys over all his subjects.

"And when there are (only) few people - when his subjects abandon him - His princehood is lacking". The possuk, which began with "the King's glory", should have concluded with the words "his Kingship is lacking". However, when he has only few followers, he no longer bears the title 'King'. He is no more than a prince, for there is no King without subjects. From here we see that a King's security lies with the people, since his glory and eminence grow with the size of the population and wane when it decreases.


This explains why G-d did not want us to have a king - because the people trust in the King and the King in the people. And we, who received the Torah at Har Sinai, are commanded there to fear G-d, and we are commanded not to be afraid of the Cana'anim. The Torah has also forbidden us to place our trust in human beings, but that each and every one of us trusts in G-d above. Were we to abide by that, we would not need the assistance of any human-being; we would be even more secure than a King.

But, because G-d knew that Yisroel would follow in the footsteps of the other nations, who were governed by Kings and rulers, He pre-empted there sinful request for a king. He saw to it that when they would ask, it would become a positive mitzvah to appoint a king, as the Torah writes in Shoftim "And you will say 'Let us appoint a King like all the nations that surround us' - then you shall appoint a King over you ... "


Yisroel's request for a King is considered sinful, and justifiably so, because G-d performed so many wonders with them when they left Egypt - something that He did not do with all the other nations - and He raised their lot above that of every race and tongue, to rule over them personally. And what need does Yisroel have of a human King? Yisrael, over whom the Master of the World rules and whose Divine Presence rests! That is why G-d was angry when they asked for one, and that is why the end of their first King (Sha'ul ha'Melech) showed up the futility of his beginning - when he perished at the hand of his enemies.


That is why Shlomoh wrote here "The King's glory lies with a multitude of people", to teach us that a tzadik who trusts in G-d is more secure than a King, because a King trusts mainly in his people, and someone who trusts in G-d is certainly more assured than someone who trusts in the people. This is true even if it is only because it happens sometimes that the King, who places his faith in his people, falls into the hands of his enemies, and all his armies are unable to help or to save him.


And so we find by Sichon and Og, who trusted in their powerful armies and came to attack Moshe and Yisroel. Yet they failed, because deliverance in the face of defeat depends not on the size of one's army, but on what G-d decrees. Sometimes one is saved even without a large army, as Dovid ha'Melech wrote in Tehilim (33:47), and sometimes one falls even with one.

It is well-known that Sichon and Og were mighty kings, who lived in strong, fortified cities, and whose armies were as numerous as the sand by the sea-shore. And when they were defeated, falling into the hands of Moshe, Bolok, King of Mo'ov became afraid, when he saw how these mighty Kings, in whom he had placed his trust, had been defeated by Yisroel, as the opening possuk in this parshah describes.


Parshah Pearls


The Not So Merciful Angel of Mercy

"And G-d was angry that he (Bil'om) went, and an angel of Hashem stood on the way to hinder him ... " (22:22).

Rashi, commenting no doubt on the use of the Name Hashem (even though the possuk begins with "Elokim"), points out that it was an angel of mercy who stood in his path. Yet the Torah writes "to hinder him".


Rabeinu Bachye explains that G-d was merely paying Bil'om measure for measure. Bil'om set out to curse Yisroel with his mouth, the weapon with which Yisroel was blessed by their father Yitzchok, so G-d responded by sending an angel of mercy to perform a job that was not traditionally his; namely, to hinder Bil'om (i.e. to prosecute him).


It is not at first clear however, in what way the angel hindered Bil'om . On the contrary, he made every effort to prevent him from sinning - the job of an angel of mercy, which he was.


It seems to me that this will become clear after we have resolved another problem. Seeing as Bil'om was bent on going to curse the Jewish people - and we have a principle (which Rashi himself cites here (in possuk 35) that one leads a man along whatever path he chooses to go - why, in the first place, did G-d send an angel of mercy to try and stop him from going?

The answer to this is that in fact, so eager was Bil'om to curse Yisroel, that nothing, short of a command from Hashem, would have stopped him going (see Rabeinu Bachye, possuk 23). This Hashem of course knew, so He sent him an angel of mercy, ostensibly to stop him from going. However, due to Bil'om's stubborn insistence on proceeding nonetheless, it transpired that, in effect, the angel was not one of mercy at all, but of prosecution. Why is that? Because the more one warns a person and the more blatant the warning, the heavier the punishment when he one fails to pay heed to it. In this way, all of our difficulties are resolved. He was indeed an angel of mercy, but his task was not a merciful one at all; it was to highlight Bil'om's stubbornness, and to make sure that he received his punishment in full.


Speaking of Angels

Rabeinu Bachye also explains that the reason the ass did not tell Bil'om about the angel standing in his path, was because it did not really understand that it was an angel, seeing as it cannot perceive what an angel is.

This answer is however unclear, since the angel, when it did speak, was not expressing its own mind, but was saying what G-d placed in its mouth. In that case, why could He not place in the mouth of the ass the information that there was an angel standing in front of him?


It appears therefore that the tactics of the ass here, followed the tactics used by a good pedagogue. It is well-known that the most effective method of teaching is by getting the student to arrive at the required conclusion on his own, much in the same way as the prophet Noson got Dovi ha'Melech to declare "I sinned". And that is precisely what the ass was trying to do here. Without actually informing Bil'om that there was an angel standing there, it tried to get Bil'om to admit, of his own volition, that he was going on the wrong path.

The fact that Bil'om refused to read the signs until they were told to him in black and white, only served as an indictment against him, and would later serve to increase his punishment.


What's Afoot?

The second time that the angel stood in Bil'om's path, the ass squeezed past him, pressing Bil'om's leg against a brick-wall. It was to remind him, says the Chofetz Chayim, that he had been forbidden to go to curse Yisrael. In similar vein, Rashi comments that when the ass asked Bil'om what she had done to him to deserve being struck these three times, she used the term "zeh sholosh regolim", hinting to him that he was wasting his time travelling to curse a nation who would later travel to Yerusholayim three times a year. Their collective merit would outweigh his individual act (much in the same way as Yisroel's collective donation of half-shekolim outweighed Homon's individual donation of 10,000 kikar of silver).


To Live Like a Jew, Too

"Let my soul die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like theirs" (23:10). The life of a Jew is not easy. It is certainly no bed of roses, said the Chofetz Chayim. This he may do, and this he may not. This he may eat, and this he may not. Not so, death. A believing Jew knows that death is only a transition between this world and the next. He believes that the soul lives on and he believes in reward and punishment, which explains why death does not terrify him to such an extent.

That is why Bil'om wanted to die like the righteous among them (and it certainly explains why he wanted an end like theirs). But it is no big deal to die like a Jew, says the Chofetz Chayim. The chochmah is to live like one. And what's more, one may add, it is only someone who lives like a Jew who can expect to die like a Jew and to experience the end (the World to Come) like one.




The Shema

Parshas Tzitzis

The Gemoro in B'rochos (12a) explains that it is not only in order to fulfill the mitzvah of remembering Yetzi'as Mitzrayim, that Chazal inserted Parshas Tzitzis here. For that, there are other possibilities - the Parshah of ribis (the prohibition of taking interest), or that of weights and measures - both of which make mention of Yetzi'as Mitzrayim. And besides, one could fulfill one's obligation with the recital of 'Emes ve'yatziv' in the morning or 'Emes ve'emunah' in the evening.

The reason that Chazal chose to insert Parshas Tzitzis in the Shema is on account of the five important concepts that it contains (over and above that of Tzitzis itself): Yetzi'as Mitzrayim, the yoke of mitzvos, not to go astray after one's heart (heresy), not to go astray after one's eyes (immorality), and not to go astray after idolatry.


And It shall be for You as Tzitzis

The mitzvah of Tzitzis is in itself dispensible, inasmuch as someone who chooses not to wear a garment of four corners is exempt from fulfilling it. In effect, the mitzvah is that someone who wears a four-cornered garment must place tzitzis on the four corners.


Nevertheless, so important is this mitzvah, that the Torah places it in juxtaposition with the two mitzvos of idolatry and Shabbos, to form a triumvirate of the three most prominent mitzvos in the Torah, in the sense that each of them is compared to the entire Torah. The mitzvah of Tzitzis is the only positive mitzvah among them, since the other two are negative mitzvos. In other words, the mitzvah of tzitzis is the only positive mitzvah which the Torah compares to all the other mitzvos.


The Ramban ascribes the Halachic principle that a Mitzvas Asei overrides a Mitzvas Lo Sa'aseh, to his contention that every Mitzvas Asei is based on Ahavas Hashem (the love of G-d), and every Mitzvas Lo Sa'aseh (fearing Him), on Yir'as Hashem, and love, he says, is greater than fear.

Based on this Ramban, ha'Rav Boruch Horowitz shlita points out that it is no coincidence that the source of this principle is the fact that Tzitzis overrides Sha'atnez (all the more striking when we consider that Tzitzis is not obligatory in the first place).

As a matter of fact, he goes on to explain, it is that aspect of free-choice that portrays the essence of the mitzvah and its uniqueness, and which explains why the Torah chooses the mitzvah of Tzitzis to teach us this principle. Strictly speaking, love cannot be forced on a person. It can only be volunteered. And that is why the Torah left this mitzvah voluntary, as a role-model for all mitzvos asei - that one should perform them because one wants to, not because one has to. So Tzitzis, by virtue of the fact that it is voluntary, portrays the love of Hashem that is the hallmark of all mitzvos asei, and which is the reason that they override mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh.


Presumably, it is due to the voluntary nature of the mitzvah, that the Torah opens the Parshah with the word "Va'yomer Hashem", (instead of the more common "Va'yedaber Hashem"), since "Va'yomer" has a connotation of mercy (whereas "Va'yedaber" denotes judgement), and is therefore more conducive to a mitzvah that is not obligatory. The Torah nevertheless continues with "Daber el B'nei Yisroel", because of the obligation to attach Tzitzis, once one is wearing a garment of four corners.


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