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Vol. 7 No. 41
Blind, Lame and In Disgrace
When Bil'om eventually arrived in Mo'ov, Bolok greeted him with the words "Am I not able to honour you?" Earlier, he had told Bolok's messengers "If Bolok were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not transgress the command of my G-d".
We can safely assume that, if not for the prestige and the hefty fee that Bil'om envisaged would crown his efforts, he would not have taken the trouble to make the journey to Mo'ov. Indeed, Chazal have described Bil'om as being, as well as licentious, both conceited and avaricious.
At the end of the day, not only did Bil'om gain not a trace of either fame or fortune, quite to the contrary, he came out of the ordeal blind in one eye, lame in one leg and to cap it all, in total disgrace. His self-esteem was shattered, when Bokok told him to run away, because G-d had withheld glory from him. He became lame when he passed the stone wall which his ancestor Lovon had erected, with intent to harm Yisrael, in breach of the peace-treaty between him and Ya'akov that the wall symblolised (see Ba'al ha'Turim 23:3 on "va'yeilech shefi" and Targum Yonoson ben Uzi'el 21:24). And he became blind because he mocked G-d's participation in the birth of all Jewish babies (see Rashi 24:3).
We might well attribute Bil'om's blindness and lameness to other causes however. Rashi (22:28) points out that Bil'om's leg was squeezed against the wall because Hashem was hinting to him "You want to uproot a nation who celebrates three foot-festivals annually" (And you are travelling on foot all this way to curse them!). That is why the Torah wrote "And G-d was angry that he went" (22:22); the mere fact that Bil'om set out to travel so far, on a hate trip, to destroy a nation who would make regular trips to demonstrate their love of Hashem, was sufficient to spark off the Divine wrath.
And as for his turning blind, Bil'om's blindness (24:3) is hinted immediately after the Torah writes "And Bil'om raised his eyes" (24:2) and which Rashi explains to mean that, based on the sin of the Golden Calf, he intended to place an ayin ho'ra on them. But what did he see? He saw how the tents of the Jewish people were placed in such a way that one person could not see what was happening in the tent of another, as he immediately goes on to testify. Bil'om realized the difference between himself, whose eye was evil, and Klal Yisroel, who knew how to restrain their eyes from seeing evil, and use them for the good.
So G-d taught Bil'om a lesson - Bil'om who used his legs and his eyes for destructive purposes; Bil'om who had the chutzpah to set out on a mission to destroy with his legs and with his eyes a nation who used their legs and their eyes in sanctifying G-d's holy Name, became blind in one eye and lame in one leg.
No doubt, had he had two mouths, as Rebbi Yochonon suggests we ought to have, one of those mouths would have become dumb too - after all, his main objective was to curse Klal Yisroel, the nation that does not go to sleep before reciting the Shema (Rashi 23:24). But he possessed only one mouth, and G-d wanted that mouth intact, so that the world should hear testimony as to the greatness of Klal Yisroel from the mouth of our arch-enemy himself. That is why the Novi writes "Because G-d changed the curses into blessings". That is why Bil'om did not become dumb.
And his self-esteem was shattered (as we explained earlier). This too, was the result of Bil'om's chutzpah. Bil'om, whose narrow concept of kovod was self-aggrandisement, and yet here he was on his way to destroy Yisroel, whose greatest ambition was to glorify G-d's Name, as Bil'om himself repeated over and over again. To cite one novel example from the Or ha'Chayim, who explains the posuk "and he did not see hard work in Yisroel" (23:21) like this: Bil'om noticed that nothing was too difficult for Yisroel to accomplish. Not only did the most arduous mitzvos not wear them down, but, quite to the contrary, they seemed to give them strength and fortify them, because the fulfillment of mitzvos was their most treasured prize.
That is why G-d stripped him of his self-esteem, and he left Bolok's presence in disgrace.
Bil'om took on Moshe Rabeinu, Klal Yisroel and G-d Himself, pitting his own strength against theirs. Like Korach before him, he bit off somewhat more than he could chew. And like Korach, he paid for that with his life - and they killed him with his own weapon - by the sword.
the P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro
With Magic in Their Hands
"And the elders of Mo'ov and the elders of Midyon went with magic in their hands" (22:7).
The elders of Midyon took with them this 'trick': should he (Bil'om) come with us this time (immediately), then he will be of real value (yesh bo mamash), but if he postpones accompanying us, then he is of no immediate value (ein bo to'eles).
That is why, when he told them to wait overnight, they concluded that there was no hope in him (ein bo tikvoh). So they left him and went home.
Why does Rashi switch from one expression to another, asks the Gro? First 'yesh bo mamash', then 'ein bo to'eles', and then 'ein bo tikvoh'; particularly as the last two expressions seem to contradict one another, since 'ein bo to'eles' suggests no immediate use, but as for the future, who knows; whereas 'ein bo tikvoh' rules out even that possibility?
However, explains the Gro, the reason that Mo'ov called specifically for Bil'om was because he was purported to be greater than Moshe (Yisroel's leader whom they wished to contain). Bil'om's strength after all, like Moshe's, lay in his mouth. Only in addition, Bil'om claimed he 'knew the mind of the Highest One,' in which case, he did not even need to communicate, placing him on a level higher than that of Moshe. And that is what they meant when they said that if Bil'om went with them immediately, he would be of real value. But if he would postpone accompanying them - until he had consulted with Hashem - then he was of no immediate value. This was because that would put him on a par with Moshe - and who could know that he would succeed in putting Moshe in his place.
But when he told them to wait until the morning, because G-d would speak with him during the night, they realised that Bil'om was in fact, inferior to Moshe Rabeinu. Moshe after all, had immediate access to Hashem at any time, even during the day. That was when the elders of Midyon came to the conclusion that Bil'om was of no use to them, so they went home.
When Nothing Seems to Work
"Because no black-magic is effective against Ya'akov, and no occult powers against Yisroel! At the time there will be said to Ya'akov and Yisroel ... " (23:23)
Why does the posuk first change from the name 'Ya'akov' to the name 'Yisroel' and then go on to mention them both together? the Gro is purported to have asked.
He explains this based on a ruling of the Mogen Avrohom (in Siman 119:1), that one person who is praying for the well-being of a friend is obligated to mention his friend's name when not in his presence, and the same applies to cursing one's enemy.
Consequently, it was imperative that Bil'om, who wished to curse the whole of Klal Yisroel, but who could only see some of them (as the posuk specifically writes), should mention their name. And it is equally important that when one does mention the name of the person or persons concerned, one gets the name right.
Before cursing the Jewish people, Bil'om knew that he had to mention them by name. Mentioning each and every name was, of course, impossible (and unnecessary), so he went back to their roots, discarding'Avrohom' and 'Yitzchok', and picking 'Ya'akov' who was, after all, the chosen of the Ovos. That is why Bil'om, quoting Bolok, said on that occasion "Go and curse for me Ya'akov ... ".
But nothing happened! His curses did not materialise. So what does a man do when he turns on the master switch and his newly installed machinery fails to react? He finds the faulty part and replaces it.
Bil'om too, decided that he must have used the wrong name, so the next time he tried cursing them with the name 'Yisroel'. When that too, proved to be ineffective, that is when he said "Because no black magic is effective against Ya'akov (referring to his first unsuccessful attempt at cursing Yisroel), and no occult powers against Yisroel" (referring to the second attempt). And he continued "At the time (meaning 'next time') it will be said to Ya'akov and Yisroel," meaning that on the next occasion, he would try again using both names, 'Ya'akov' and 'Yisroel'. Perhaps that was the way to get them.
Should that fail, he mused, there remained only one name by which he might call them - that of 'Keil' (a name which the Gemoro in Megilah 18a, commenting on the posuk "And the G-d of Yisroel called him [Ya'akov] 'Keil' " legitimizes). But such a curse could not possibly have any effect, Bil'om concluded, since that is also a Name of G-d Himself. That is why the posuk ends with the words "What can 'Keil' possibly achieve?"
Direct from the Source
The above explanation, for all its charm, is very difficult to understand. We quoted there "That is why Bil'om, citing Bolok, said on that occasion "Go and curse for me Ya'akov", as if that set of curses was uttered only with the name Ya'akov. But it ignores Bil'om's very next words "and conjure the Divine wrath against Yisroel".
As a matter of fact, in Bil'om's second attempt to curse Yisroel, he also used both names, Ya'akov and Yisroel (see posuk 21).
This is how Kaplan translates the posuk in question: 'No black magic can be effective against Jacob and no occult powers against Israel. How is G-d acting is the only question pertinent to Jacob and Israel'? According to his explanation, the posuk is not differentiating between the two names at all. It uses both names to complement each other in poetic fashion. Or, as the Orach Chayim explains, Bil'om constantly refers to the two levels of the Jewish people: Ya'acov (the lower level) and Yisroel (the higher level).
About the Mitzvos
Adapted from Seifer No'am ha'Mitzvos
1. To run after mitzvos - as Dovid ha'Melech wrote "The way of Your mitzvos I will run".
2. To perform them with alacrity and not give them a chance to 'turn sour' - as Dovid ha'Melech wrote "I hurried and did not linger, to perform your mitzvos".
3. To await eagerly the arrival of a mitzvah and to look forward to putting it into practice - as the Torah writes "And you shall guard them to do them" - (an expression of waiting in anticipation), as Dovid ha'Melech wrote "My soul thirsts for G-d - when will I be able tocome ... ".
4. To perform the mitzvah joyfully, as it is written " ... because you did not serve Hashem with joy (therefore you will serve your enemies)". And it is written "Serve Hashem with joy".
5. To try, whenever possible, to perform a mitzvah communally - as Dovid ha'Melech wrote "I am a participant with all those who follow You", and as Chazal have said 'One cannot compare few who perform the mitzvos to many who perform them'.
6. To perform mitzvos beautifully and with as good-quality tools and accessories as one can afford, as it is written "Fat burnt offerings I will offer to You".
7. To perform mitzvos in a dignified manner - as it is written "Ascribe honour to G-d", as Chazal have instructed 'Do not cover the blood (of shechitah) with one's foot'.
8. To perform mitzvos with the positive intention of doing so - according to the principle "Mitzvos require Kavonoh' (they must be performed intentionally).
THE MITZVOS OF TODAY
Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer
of the Chofetz Chayim.
The Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh
83. Not to perform an injustice in weights and measures - as the Torah writes in Kedoshim (19:35) "Do not commit an injustice in judgement, in measures, in weights or in volume of liquid".
Chazal explained in Toras Cohanim: "in judgement" refers to the judgement of measurements; "in measures and in weights" - that these should meet with the locally accepted figures (and not one iota less). And, they add, one's land-measures should be no less meticulous; and "in volume of liquid" actually refers to the small fraction of one thirty-sixth of a lug (the equivalent of a sixth of an egg-volume) - even such small amounts, the Torah considers cheating.
Someone who trangresses this la'av has also transgressed the asei of 'Righteous scales ... and righteous liquid measures you shall have (Kedoshim 19:36).
Even if one short-measures or short-weighs a gentile, one has transgressed and is obligated to refund the customer or make up the loss. In any event, it is forbidden to cheat a gentile when reckoning with him, and it is about people who do such things that the Torah writes "because whoever does any of these things is the abomination of G-d".
Beis-din are obligated to appoint inspectors to visit all the shops to inspect and to sanction all their scales, weights and measures and to regulate the prices. Whatever they find faulty, they must confiscate and the owner must be fined. In addition, should they find someone charging more than the fixed market-price, they must force him to drop his prices to the standard ones.
The punishment for dishonest business-dealings is heavier than that of adultery. Someone who practises such dealings is considered as if he had denied the Exodus from Egypt.
This mitzvah applies to men and women everywhere and at all times.
84. Not (even) to retain in one's house faulty weights and measures - as the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei (25:13-14) "Do not have in your money-bag different weights (of the same weight-bracket) ... or different flour measures ...", even though one has no intention of using them for weighing or measuring.
This mitzvah applies to men and women everywhere and at all times.
85. Not to shift the borders of one's fellow-Jew - as the Torah writes in Shoftim (19:14) "Do not shift the border of your friend in your inheritance (Eretz Yisroel) that you will inherit", meaning that one may not take away his land.
Should one extend one's own borders, entering into his neighbour's by as little as one finger-breadth, he has transgressed this la'av (in addition to the la'av of stealing - "Lo sigzol" if he does so by force, and "Lo signov" should he do it on the quiet). Although "Lo sigzol" and "Lo signov" apply equally to a landowner in Chutz lo'Oretz, "Lo sasig" is confined to Eretz Yisroel.
This mitzvah applies to men and women everywhere and at all times.
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