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

For sponsorships and advertising opportunities, send e-mail to:

Back to This Week's Parsha Previous Issues

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Vol. 9   No. 37

This issue is sponsored, with gratitude to Hashem,
on the birth of Aharon Dovid Katzman n.y.
May he be a source of great nachas
to the Ribono Shel Olom and to all of Klal Yisrael

Parshat Bolok

Bil'am's Three Sins
(adapted from the Or ha'Chayim)

G-d's response to Bil'am left no doubt as to His intentions. "Do not go with them", He said, "and do not curse the people, because they are blessed (and do even require your blessing either - Rashi)".

Yet that is not the message that Bil'am passed on to Balak's messengers. All he told them was that G-d would not allow him to go with them (because they were not dignified enough for him). Rashi comments on this, that Bil'am was conceited. The fact of the matter is that G-d had actually implied that, when He said 'Don't go with them!' Perhaps, the Or ha'Chayim suggests, it was as a reward for his initial statement that he would inform the messengers whatever G-d would tell him. Clearly then, G-d's basic message concerned His love of Yisrael, and included a brief commendation of Bil'am. But, by totally omitting any mention of the prohibition to curse Yisrael, Bil'am twisted the thrust of that message, conveying the impression that G-d's only concern was to safeguard his (Bil'am's) dignity.

Consequently, it was not so much what he did say that prompts Rashi's comment, as what he did not. In fact, Bil'am indicated that it was not G-d's words that he was out to pass on to the messengers, but his own importance in the eyes of G-d.


When the second set of messengers came to him with the same request, it is interesting to note that he did not even take the trouble to tell them what G-d had said. "He arose in the morning", the Torah records, "saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Mo'av" - without a word of explanation.

To understand the significance of this rather glaring omission, let us first take a look at what transpired prior to that. When G-d came to Bil'am the night before, He neither refused him permission to accompany the messengers, nor did He give him a straight 'Yes'. He told him "If the men came to call you, get up and go with them". What a seemingly strange thing to say. Is it feasible that G-d had doubts as to the motivation of Balak's messengers?


It therefore seems, explains the Or ha'Chayim, that from the outset, G-d (Kevayachol) was in a quandary. If He were to simply grant Bil'am permission to go, then the messengers would think that Bil'am was his own master, free to come and go as he pleased. And He wanted to teach the nations of the world, that Bil'am was no better than a dog on a leash, who was bound to his master's whim. On the other hand, were He to refuse that permission outright, they would accuse Him of actually being afraid of Bil'am's curses.

So what did He do? He made a compromise. The first time round, He refused to let him go, thereby proving to the world that Bil'am was not his own master. Then, the second time, he granted him permission to go, but on condition, for "If the men came to call you" was a condition, not a doubt. That is what Rashi means when he explains 'If the call is for your benefit and you think you will gain something from it, get up and go with them'.

After the initial prohibition to curse or even to bless Yisrael, coupled with the conclusive words here "But you will do whatever I will tell you", it is obvious that Bil'am stood to gain nothing from his visit to Balak. Moreover, the condition was aimed at saving Bil'am from self-destruction, as he should have realized himself that he had nothing to go for, and he should have had the common sense to desist. Yet so great was his hatred of the Jewish people, that he failed to take the hint.


Now we can understand why Bil'am said nothing to the messengers. He saddled his ass and left with them on his own initiative, not (bearing in mind G-d's condition) with G-d's consent. That is why the Torah concludes "And G-d was angry that He went (Ki holech Hu)!, also implying that he went with his own plan of action, a plan that would not necessarily conform with G-d's final instructions "But you will do whatever I will tell you".


And with this, the Or ha'Chayim concludes, we can understand why G-d sent three angels to hinder him on his way to Mo'ov. The first, forced him to turn off the path, just as he had deviated from the path that G-d had set for him, when he failed to inform Balak's messengers that G-d had forbidden him to curse Yisrael.

The second angel, in response to his refusal to take to heart G-d's message that the journey was to his acute disadvantage, reminded him sharply of this, when it caused him to squeeze his leg against the stone wall.

And to remind him of his third sin where he chose to ignore G-d's directive and to go his own way, the angel demonstrated to him that without G-d's consent, he could turn neither right nor left, and that there was nowhere for him to go. So the ass crouched in its place.


Parshah Pearls

(adapted from the P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro)

In Body and Spirit

"And G-d said to Bilam 'Don't go with them (Lo Seilech imohem) don't curse the people ... " (22:12).

Later, in Pasuk 20, G-d told him "If the men came to call you, get up and go with them (kum lech itom)". And immediately after that, the Torah continues "And he went with the princes of Mo'av (va'Yeilech im sorei Mo'av. va'Yichar af Hashem ki holech hu) And G-d was angry that he went".

The commentaries ask how it is that having warning Bilam not to go with the men of Moav, He immediately relents and grants him permission to go; particularly, as later in the Parshah, Bilam himself will refer to G-d's quality of consistence? And not only that, but then,when Bilam avails himself of the offer and goes, G-d is angry with him for going?

To answer these questions, the G'ro explains the difference between the word 'im' and the word 'es' (in the context of 'with'), inasmuch as the former implies 1. independence and 2. equality (meaning that Reuven shares Shimon's motive, but goes with him independently, not because he is bound to the person going); whereas the latter implies that Reuven accompanies Shimon, either because he is dependent upon him, or for a different motive than him.

And with this all the above Pesukim become clear. Initially, G-d forbade Bilam to go with the men "imohem", with both its implications. When Bilam insisted, He permitted him to go with them, but 'es ho'anoshim', secondary to them or with different motives. However, that is not what Bilam did. He went 'im sorei Mo'av', independently, and with the intention of cursing Yisrael. That is why G-d was angry with him "ki holech Hu".

And this also explains why, later in the Parshah (Pasuk 35), the Angel of G-d said to him "Go with the men (Lech im ha'anashim)", even with the same motives and even if you go independently. For as Rashi explains 'One leads a person on the path that he chooses' - in this case, the path of destruction, Bil'am insisted on accompanying the men of Mo'av on their terms, he would suffer the same fate as they were destined to suffer. However, G-d concluded, in spite of his intentions, he would have no choice in the matter. He would be forced to say what Hashem put in his mouth (this was not a command, but a statement of fact).


The P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro quoting various commentaries, explains a number of Pesukim in light of the G'ro's distinction between 'im' and 'es':

The Pasuk in Mishlei (1:15) "My son, do not go on the way with them (be'derech itom)". Don't go in the ways of the gentiles, even if your motives are different than their's (because copying their lifestyle in itself is damaging, irrespective of the motive).

The Pasuk in Vayeira (22:3) in connection with the Akeidah "And he took his boys (Yishmael and Eliezer) with him (ito)", whereas just two Pesukim later, he told them "Remain here with the donkey (im ha'chamor)". On the one hand, he explains, his 'boys' knew nothing of the impending Akeidah, and merely accompanied him out of duty, without any independent motive at all. On the other hand, Avraham compared them to donkeys, for so Chazal derive from this Pasuk 'Am ha'domeh la'chamor', that a slave has no yichus, just like a donkey.


And he also explains in this manner, the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (6:9), where Rebbi Yossi ben Kisma declined to move to the town of the man who offered a veritable fortune to come and live with them and become their Rav. Why, the commentaries ask, did he not accept the offer, move to that town, and use the money to set-up an educational system that would bring them closer to Torah?

What the man had said, he explains, was 'Would you like to come and live with us (imonu)? This implies that he expected Rebbi Yossi ben Kisma to come and be like them (rather than vice-versa). This caused him to realize that there was little chance of implementing the sort of changes that would have made the move worthwhile. And so he declined.

It is up to the people to aspire to reach the level of their Rav, not to bring the Rav down to their's.


Something Small or Big

"And Bil'am replied and said ... I will not be able to transgress the word of Hashem ... to do something small or big" (22:18).

If Bil'am was unable to do something small without G-d's consent, then surely it goes without saying that he could not do something big? So what did he mean when he said 'to do something small or big'? Why did he add the words "or big"?


To explain this, the G'ro refers to a Medrash. Commenting on the Pasuk (23:5) "And Hashem placed a word (something) in his mouth", the Medrash cites two opinions as to whether He placed a fishhook in his mouth or whether he extracted words from it. The first opinion cites the Pasuk "Moh ekov Lo kaboh Keil", the second, "Mah zo'am Lo zo'am Hashem" (both Pasuk 23:8). Needless to say, the Medrash, a Medrash P'li'ah, requires elaboration.


The G'ro therefore elaborates.

We know that the Name 'Elokim' denotes G-d's Midas ha'Din, whereas that of 'Keil' (although a derivative of Elokim) denotes His Midas Rachamim (as we find in Tehilim [52:3] "Chesed Keil kol ha'yom").

On the other hand, the Name 'Havayah' denotes Midas Rachamim, whereas that of 'Koh' (although a derivative of Havayah) denotes Midas Rachamim.

With this introduction, says the G'ro, everything becomes crystal clear.

At first, Bil'am wanted to curse Yisrael using the Name Elokim, since that is the Midas ha'Din. So what did G-d do? He placed a fishhook in his mouth, cutting him short after he had uttered the first syllable Keil (the Midas Rachmim).

Then he tried to curse them with the other Name that denotes Midas ha'Din -Koh. But again, G-d intervened. Only this time, He 'drew words from his mouth', an extra 'Vav' 'Hey', turning Koh into the full Name Havayah, which again, denotes Midas Rachamim.

When Bil'am said that he was not able to do a small thing, he meant that he could not turn Havayah into Koh, and when he said that he could not do a big thing, he meant that he was also unable to turn Keil into Elokim.



"lo'kov oyvai lekachticho, ve'hinei berachto borech ... " (23:11).

The numerical value of "lo'kov" (to curse [132]) is equivalent to the number of days on which Tachanun is not said. That of "borech" (222) on the other hand, is equivalent to the number of days on which it is.

Balak was complaining to Bil'am that he had called him to turn the days on which Tachanun is not said into a curse. And what did he do? He turned the days on which it is into a B'rachah instead.



The Amidah
(based largely on the Siddur "Otzar ha'Tefillos")
(Part XXIV)

The B'rachah of Teka be'Shofor

The tenth B'rachah, writes the Levush, is that of 'Teka be'Shofor ... ', which corresponds to the angels' proclamation 'Baruch Atoh Hashem, Mekabetz nidchei amo Yisrael', when Ya'akov arrived in Egypt, and the brothers were reunited with Yosef after a separation of twenty-two years. Interestingly, they recited the B'rachah over a reunion that took place in Egypt where they gathered from Eretz Yisrael .

The reason that this B'rachah follows that of Birkas ha'Shonim is based on a Pasuk in Yechezkel, which links the ingathering of the exiles with the blessing of the years.

The B'rachah begins with 'T'ka be'Shofar godol le'cheiruseinu', because the ingathering of the exiles will indeed commence with the blowing of the Shofar, as the Navi Yeshayah writes (27:13) "And it will be on that day a big Shofar will be blown ... ".

The commentary to the Machzor writes that this B'rachah contains twenty words, to hint that we will merit to witness the ingathering of the exiles on the merit of Avraham Avinu, who aroused faith in G-d in the twentieth generation.


T'ka be'Shofar Godol

'The big Shofar' refers to the Shofar of the ram of the Akeidah that Avraham sacrificed in place of Yitzchak. G-d blew on the left horn at Har Sinai, say Chazal, and He will blow on the right one, which is larger than the left one, to announce the ingathering of the exiles. Hence 'T'ka be'Shofar godol', as hinted by Yeshayah in the Pasuk that we quoted earlier.


'For our freedom'. The Eitz Yosef citing the Sidur Sha'arei Shamayim explains that the redemption to which we referred in the seventh B'rachah is that of the body, whereas the freedom expressed here is that of the Soul, which will take place only after that of the body. Nevertheless, since we pray for the freedom of the Soul, we allude also to the redemption of the body again when we continue 'And gather us together ... '. However, he adds, it also hints to the redemption of the Shechinah, who as Chazal have taught us, is in exile together with us.

The Eitz Yosef suggests that this B'rachah concerns the redemption of the ten tribes. Indeed, he says, Rebbi Eliezer (as opposed to Rebbi Akiva who maintains that the ten tribes will not return) learns that they will return from the Pasuk in Yeshayah that we quoted, which continues "And those who are lost in the land of Ashur will return".

The Dover Sholom, based on the Pesukim and the Medrashim, comments that the redemption will take place in three phases.

First the yoke of slavery will be removed, then they will be gathered one by one to one location, and finally, they will go upright to their land.

And the text of this B'rachah, he says, hints to these three phases -

1. Blow a big Shofar for our freedom;
2. And hoist a flag to gather our exiles;
3. And gather us (when we are) together from the four corners of the earth, to our land.

For sponsorships and adverts call 651 9502

Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel