Vol. 8 No. 36
This issue is sponsored anonymously
in honour of all Yidden who do Teshuvah this week
and thereby hasten our final redemption
(Adapted from the K'li Yakar)
Rashi, citing the Tanchuma, explains that, when the Angel hampered Bil'am three times, he was showing him the signs of the Fathers. The K'li Yakar links this with each of their respective sets of children. The angel first stood on the path, leaving Bil'am's ass space to wander off on either side. This was an indication that if he wished to curse the descendents of Avraham, he stood a chance of succeeding via the descendents of the B'nei Keturah on the one side, and via the descendents of Yishmael on the other.
He then stood on the path in a place where there was room to pass only on one side, indicating that if he wished to curse the descendents of Yitzchak, his chances of success were limited to the descendents of Eisav. And finally, the Angel stood on a narrow path, where there was no room to pass at all - because Ya'akov's descendents were all tzadikim, and therefore any attempt at cursing them was doomed to failure.
The same commentary offers an alternative explanation based on a second comment of Rashi, where, explaining the words "sholosh regolim" (22:28), he says that G-d was admonishing him for making the journey to uproot a nation that would later make the journey thrice annually, to celebrate the three foot-festivals. He first forced the ass to stray into the fields, he explains, a hint that he was going to curse a nation that celebrated Sukos (the first Yom-tov in the year), by which the Torah writes in Re'ei "when you gather your produce from the field".
Then he stood on a path leading through the vineyards, a hint to Pesach, when Yisrael drink four cups of wine, corresponding to the cup of salvation for Yisrael on the one hand, and for the poison cup that the nations that enslaved them would be made to drink, on the other.
And finally, the Angel stood on a narrow path, which did not allow the ass to pass at all, to hint to Bil'am, that when he came to curse the nation that received the Torah on Shavu'os, he would be forced to abandon his efforts.
Although the K'li Yakar does not say so explicitly, it appears to me that this explanation does not clash with his original one (that he was showing him the signs of the Fathers). On the contrary, it complements it, inasmuch as the three Regalim also represent the three Avos (Pesach - Avraham; Shavu'os - Yitzchak, and Sukos - Ya'akov).
And as a third alternative, connecting the "shalosh Regalim" to the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos, which describes the three legs on which the world stands, he explains the Angel's message like this. "The field" signified 'gemilus chasodim', which was generally connected with the field, in the form of T'rumos and Ma'asros, Leket, Shikchah and Pei'ah. "The vineyard" signified the Beis Hamikdash, as we find in Shir Hashirim, where the Pasuk writes "He brought me to the house of wine", on which Rashi comments 'This is the Ohel Mo'ed'.
And it is in connection with these two that the Pasuk writes in Shir Hashirim (7:12/13) "Come My Friend (Hashem), let us go to the field, let us make our way early to the vineyards."
And "the narrow place where there was no room to pass to the right or to the left" (signifying Torah, in the manner that we explained earlier), was a hint that when it came to cursing the nation that received the Torah, he would find his way blocked.
And here too, it is easy to interpret this explanation as an extention of the original one, by linking Avraham with gemilus chasodim, Yitzchak with the Avodah in the Beis Hamikdash, and Ya'akov, with Torah.
the Ba'al ha'Turim)
A Slip of the Tongue
"L'choh oroh li Ya'akov" (22:6).
The Ba'al ha'Turim comments that "L'choh oroh li", which means 'Go and curse on my behalf', also has connotations of 'Go and curse me'.
Little did Balak realize that that is precisely what would happen. Because by the time Bil'om had finished, he had blessed Yisrael and cursed Mo'av. Later, as a result of that curse, it would seem, Balak's daughter would be killed and so would he.
Later, when Balak hears Bil'am's prediction that "Those who bless you (Yisrael) are themselves blessed, and those who curse you are themselves cursed", Balak had heard enough, the Ba'al ha'Turim comments further. Effectively, Bil'am was announcing that his mission (which had not fared too well until now, as far as Balak was concerned), was doomed to failure, since any curse that he might succeed in pronouncing ('behind his G-d's back') would only boomerang on himself.
That explains why Balak's patience snapped and, with the rather demeaning command "And now, run away to your place", he declared his mission closed.
Not Even a Little Bit
"Now, go and curse them for me" (22:11), Bil'am quotes Balak (to Hashem) as having said. Only he quoted him as having used the expression "Lechoh kovoh li", when what he actually said was "Lechoh oroh li", as we saw earlier.
Rashi comments that 'kovoh' is a stronger form of curse, as it it is more specific, a sure sign that Bil'am hated Yisrael far more than Balak did (particularly, considering that Balak's concern was the protection of his nation, whereas Bil'am's only motive was the hatred of K'lal Yisrael). See also the following Rashi here.
The Ba'al ha'Turim comments on the next Pasuk ("Lo so'or es ho'om") - But didn't Bil'am use the term 'kovoh'?
Hashem's response to Bil'am was that not only would he not curse Yisrael to the extent that Bil'am hoped for, but that he would not even curse them a little, as Balak had requested.
The Word and the Sword
"If only I had a sword in my hand I would kill you" (22:29), said Bil'am to his ass.
This was most demeaning in the eyes of the Balak's officers, comments Rashi. Here was a man on his way to curse an entire nation, yet to kill an ass he required a sword!
The question arises, why indeed did Bil'am require a sword? Why could he not kill his ass with the same curses that he intended to utter against Yisrael?
The Ba'al ha'Turim resolves this problem in Pasuk 23, where, commenting on the words "and Bil'am struck the ass with his stick", explains that he did not curse it because he had in mind to curse Yisrael that day, and two curses cannot take effect on the same day.
And besides, he adds, we know that Bil'am's ability to curse was confined to the one split second each morning, when the comb of the rooster turns white, as Chazal have taught us. And presumably, that was not the time of day on which this episode took place.
The second explanation would certainly explain the officers' disgust. It would certainly cast grave doubts on Bil'am's cursing powers, if they were indeed so limited.
"Build for me here seven altars, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams" (23:1).
The Ba'al ha'Turim observes that Iyov too, brought seven bulls and seven rams. It was the way of the gentiles to do this, he points out, corresponding to their seven Mitzvos (see also Rashi).
Through the Back Door
"And he raised his (voice to say a) parable ... " (23:7).
He raised his voice deliberately, so that all the nations of the world should hear his blessings.
What, do you really think that he was singing the praises of K'lal Yisrael?
Not at all, explains the Ba'al ha'Turim! He wanted them all to hear Yisrael's praises, in order to arouse their jealousy. If you can't get in through the front door, he figured, then get in through the back!
And this is what the Pasuk in Mishlei refers to when it says "He blesses his friend in a loud voice, and in the morning it turns out to be a curse".
Mountains of Old
"Balak the King of Mo'av led me from Aram, from the mountains of old" (ibid).
"The mountains of old" refers to the two piles of stones that Ya'akov and Lavan set up, as a sign of the covenant that they made between them that neither one would pass them to do harm to the other. And he himself, who was a descendent of Lavan, had just passed that landmark, to curse the descendents of Ya'akov.
" From Aram Balak led me ... saying Go and curse for me Ya'akov and go and conjure Divine wrath against Yisrael. How can I curse ... ?" (23:7/8).
If not for them, Bil'am hinted to Balak, neither of us would be here. Because he himself descended from Aram, whose founding parents were Besuel and Milkah. Now Besuel and Milkah could have no children, and their lineage began miraculously, as a result of the Akeidah, on the merit of Yitzchak (so that his furture mate Rifkah would be born).
As for Balak King of Mo'av, it was on the merit of Avraham that Lot was saved from S'dom (as the Torah specifically writes there), as a result of which Mo'av was subsequently born.
And then again, when Ya'akov arrived in Charan (capital of Aram), Lavan had daughters, but no sons, and it was on the merit of Ya'akov, that sons were later born to him.
And it was their benefactors' descendents whom they were now joining forces to curse!
Stuck at Either End
"From Aram Balak led me ... " (ibid.).
Bil'am mentioned Yisrael by both their names, points out the Ba'al ha'Turim, to convey the message that whichever name he chose to curse, he would not succeed, since Hashem blessed their ancestor both when his name was Ya'akov, and when it was Yisrael.
On the other hand, even when G-d threatened them with curses, He did not attach His Name to those curses, writing only "And all these curses will come upon you", as opposed to the B'rochos, where He wrote "Hashem will command with you the b'rochoh ... ".
How futile then, to even attempt to curse them!
Bil'am and The Rooster
"And so says the man whose eyes are closed" (24:3).
The word for 'man' that the Torah uses here is "Gever", which often refers to a rooster, the Ba'al ha'Turim observes.
Indeed, he points out, there are a number of similarities between Bil'am and a rooster: firstly, because Bil'am, just like the rooster, which is the most promiscuous of all the animals, was the most promiscuous of all men (even going so far as having relations with his ass). Secondly, he had the ability to discern the exact fraction of a second when G-d was angry each morning - just like a rooster (whose comb turns white at that exact moment). And thirdly, Bil'am, just like a rooster, stood on one leg (because he was lame in the other one).
The Five Calamities of the 17th Tamuz
The Mishnah in Ta'anis (26b) lists five calamities that took place on Shiv'ah-asar be'Tamuz. The Luchos were smashed, the Korban Tamid was stopped (six years before the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash), the walls of Yerushalayim were breached, Apostumus burned the Torah and Menasheh placed an image in the Heichal (the Sanctuary of the Beis Hamikdash).
The Gemoro there (28b), citing a Pasuk in Daniel, states that in fact, Menasheh put up, not just one, but two images in the Heichal. And it describes how one of them fell on the other and broke his hand, and they found written on the unbroken image 'You wanted to destroy the House (of G-d), and now you have paid for it with your hand'.
The Maharsha writes that it was befitting for Apostumus to burn the Torah on this day, because it was the same day on which the Luchos (symbolical of the Torah), were destroyed.
And the K'li Yakar says the same about the breaching of the walls of Yerushalayim, inasmuch as the holy stones of Yerushalayim resembled the stone Luchos.
And Five on Tish'ah-be'Av
The Mishnah also lists the five calamities that took place on Tish'ah be'Av; the decree that they would not enter Eretz Yisrael, the Destruction of both the first and the second Batei Mikdash, the Fall of Beitar and the Plowing over of Yerushalayim.
It seems to me that the five calamities of Shivah-Asar be'Tamuz and the five of Tish'ah be'Av followed specific, parallel patterns (the relinquishing of the their ties with G-d on the one hand, and the weakening of their ties with Eretz Yisrael on the other).
Indeed, they followed the pattern set by the respective opening punishments, which in turn, followed the respective sins that sparked off the series of punishments in the first place. Hence, with the smashing of the Luchos, Yisrael's strong bond with Hashem was severely weakened, a direct result of their having relinquished their ties with Him when they served the Golden Calf.
And their rejection of Eretz Yisrael resulted, most appropriately, in the decree that they would not enter Eretz Yisrael.
And the stopping of the Korban Tamid, the breaching of the walls of Yerushalayim, the burning of the Seifer-Torah and the placing of the image in the Heichal all follow the same pattern. They all represent a severance or a lessening of the spiritual bond between K'lal Yisrael and G-d.
And by the same token, the Destruction of both the first and the second Batei Mikdash, the Fall of Beitar and the plowing over of Yerushalayim represent our severance with the land and the weakening of the close bond that we have with it.
This sequence is repeated on numerous occasions throughout the Torah, where the Torah stresses repeatedly that our attachment to Eretz Yisrael depends upon our attachment to G-d. See for example the second Parshah of the Shema, where it becomes clear that the one is inextricably linked with the other. Consequently, as Yisrael's bond with Hashem grew weaker and weaker, the forfeiting of their rights to the land became inevitable. That is why only three weeks after the walls of Yerushalayim (symbolizing their bond with Hashem) were breached, the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed and they were banished from the land.
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