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

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Vol. 11   No. 37

This issue is sponsored by the Freishtat Family n.y.
in honour of the engagement of
their daughter Suri n.y. to Moshe Gelbtuch n.y.
and in honour of the Bat Mitzvah of
their daughter Tovah Brochoh n.y

Parshas Balak

The Three Failed Attempts

Balak made three attempts at getting Bilam to curse Yisrael, and three times he failed. The Torah goes out of its way to stress the three different vantage points to which he took him, and even describes what Bilam saw from each vantage point. What they all had in common was that they enabled Bilam to see Yisrael (at least partially), because, as the Ramban points out, a curse can only be effective if the curser actually sees the object of his curse - and he bears this out with various examples from Shas.

This explains why, on each occasion, Balak took Bilam up onto a high place, from which he was able to look down at K'lal Yisrael (either in their entirety or in part) see also Ramban. It does not explain however, the change of location, and the different expressions that the Torah uses (or doesn't use) to describe what he saw from each one.

The first time, the Torah writes, "he took him up to Bamos Ba'al, from where he saw some of the people"; the second time, he took him to a high place called the look-out field, from where he was able "to see some of them, but not all of them". Whereas the third time, he took Bilam to the top of Pe'or, a name and an area which we are destined to hear more about before the Parshah ends. And this time there are no restrictions on how much of Yisrael he was be able to see.

It looks very much as if Balak and Bilam were searching for the ideal location and circumstances that would enable Bilam's curse to take effect, and that when one attempt failed, they tried a new approach. And that is indeed how the K'li Yakar explains it. Rashi and Targum Yonasan already convey good reasons as to why Balak chose at least two of the locations that he did. But the K'li Yakar runs through the entire Parshah, fitting each detail contained in the three sets of blessings, into his interpretation of what Balak and Bilam set out to achieve with each change. Here is a brief summary of his explanation.

"And he saw from there some of the people". The Torah does not add 'but not all of them', as it does the second time, because in fact, he had in mind a section of the people, but a section that incorporated all of them. This refers to the Avos, the root that incorporated the whole. Balak called Bilam "from Aram", because he thought that K'lal Yisrael began with Terach, who was an idolater, and so he hoped that Bilam would be able to curse them on that score (in keeping perhaps, with the Ba'al Hagadah, who also begins with the words 'Initially, our fathers were idolaters', with reference to Terach). Indeed, the Torah itself writes in Ki Savo "Cursed be the one who makes an image ... ").

And Bilam complied with Balak, and took up his position on Bamos Ba'al. But no sooner did he begin prophesying, than he realized their joint mistake. The father of K'lal Yisrael was Avraham, not Terach (in spite of the Ba'al Hagadah's words). That is why he said "Ki me'Rosh Tzurim Er'enu ... ", for it is the Avos, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, who are called 'Tzurim', not Terach.

So Balak, who was a greater sorcerer than Bilam, changed his tactics. He took him to S'dei Tzofim, from where he would see "part of the people, but not all of them". This time, he thought he could evoke the sin of the Golden Calf, of which some of B'nei Yisrael were guilty (for the tribe of Levi did not participate). "Not all of them", because the Avos played no role in it.

So he took him to "the Look-out Field, from where you will see them", for, as the Torah writes in Ki Sisa, when they sinned by the Eigel, they became revealed to the world (who all saw that G-d's Name had departed from them).

Bilam soon realized however, that once again, they had erred. Because even if Yisrael had in some way participated in the Chet ha'Eigel, it was not they who had worshipped it, but the Eirev Rav. The Eirev Rav made it, using black magic, and they then worshipped it. As is evident from G-d's instructions to Moshe "Go down, because your people have sinned". Because had Yisrael been guilty of such a sin, Hashem would never have forgiven them. Indeed, Bilam goes on to state "Because there is no 'magic' in Ya'akov". That was the domain of the Eirev Rav.

What did Balak do next? This time, he took him to Ba'al Pe'or, which overlooked the entire Camp of Yisrael.

If they could find nothing wrong either with the roots or with the branches, they would change their tactics, by blessing Yisrael, and by placing an Ayin ha'Ra (an evil eye) on the blessing. That is why the Torah writes "And he turned his eye to the desert". Firstly, he thought that he would bless them in a loud voice, to arouse the nations of the world's jealousy, so that they would cast an Ayin ha'Ra on Yisrael. Then, when he saw that G-d wanted their blessing and not their curse, he turned to bless them. Most of the blessings that they earned in the desert, the K'li Yakar explains, were on account of their humility (hinted in the word 'Midbar' [see Parshah Pearls dh 'The Torah was Given in the Desert']). Bilam would mention those merits and accompany his thoughts with an evil eye, as he gazed down on K'lal Yisrael. But "G-d changed the (intended) curse into a pure blessing". That is why, in his final blessing he mentions "like a cedar on water", because water protects from the Ayin ha'Ra (see Rashi Vayechi 48:16).

And the reason that they failed again was because, as he succinctly said "Mah tovu oholecho Ya'akov", and if, as Rashi explains, Yisrael are so meticulously careful to avoid harming one another with an Ayin ha'Ra, how can the Ayin ha'Ra of an outsider possibly harm them.

That is why Balak and Bil'am failed three times.


Aside from the K'li Yakar's interpretation of the three blessings, it is interesting to note that the first blessing deals mainly with Yirael's past (as the K'li Yakar explains), the second to the present (even though both alluded to the past, the present and the future), whilst the third blessing refers predominantly to the future.

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Parshah Pearls

Let Me Die with the P'lishtim

"And now, curse for me this people" (22:6).

Why "for me", asks the Rosh? What would have been missing had he said "and now, curse this people"?

Balak knew, he answers, that whoever curses Yisrael is himself cursed , just as G-d promised Avraham (at the beginning of Lech-Lecha). Nevertheless, so afraid of Yisrael was he, that he applied the principle 'Let me die with the P'lishtim' . So long as Yisrael was cursed, he accepted the fact that he would be cursed, too. That explains why, each time he mentioned the curse, he always added the word "for me", though, according to this connotation of "li", it should rather be translated as just 'me' rather than as 'for me'. See also Ba'al ha'Turim.


Good Reason to be Angry

"And G-d was angry with him for going" (22:22).

Why was G-d angry? Had He not given him permission to go?

The problem with Bil'am was, that he deceived Balak's delegation by withholding from them the full text of G-d's message. He told them that G-d had given him permission to accompany them, but failed to add that this was only on condition that he would say only what G-d would instruct him to say. Having already informed the first delegation that he was forbidden to curse the people because they were blessed, had he conveyed the full message, they would never have agreed to take 'the wicked sorcerer' with them. Rosh quoting the Ramban. See also Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos.


The Three Avos

"And the angel of G-d moved to another place" (22:26).

He stood in three different places, Rashi comments, quoting the Tanchuma, representing the signs of the Ovos (see Sifsei Chachomim).

The Rosh explains the Medrash in the following way. The first time, the angel stood in a field, where the ass could pass on two sides, representing the merit of Avraham Avinu, which could be circumvented on two sides, because he had two sets of evil descendents, the B'nei Yishmael and the B'nei Keturah (See also Da'as Zekeinim M.T.).

Then he stood on a narrow path that ran through a vineyard, leaving room on one side for the donkey to pass. This represents the merit of Yitzchak Avinu, which could be circumvented only on one side, because of the B'nei Eisav who descended from him.

Finally, however, the angel stood in a narrow spot, where there was no room for the donkey to pass on either side. This stood for the merit of Ya'akov, whose children were all Tzadikim, and whose offspring were therefore unassailable.


The Lingering Curse

"And Balak took Bil'am and he brought him to Bamos Ba'al" (22:41). Later, he took him up to S'dei Tzofim, and after that to the top of Pe'or. What did Balak see to take him to three places, and to build in each place seven altars, on each of which he brought a bull and a ram (forty-two sacrifices, all in all)?

In keeping with the adage that G-d does not withhold the reward from any creature, the Rosh heard the following - As a result of these sacrifices, G-d decreed that forty-two people from Yisrael had to die. Only Moshe prayed that it should not take place during his lifetime. This was granted, and Moshe handed the tradition over to Pinchas, who handed it to Eli, from whose hands it was passed down to Shmuel, then to David, to Eliyahu and to Elisha, Eliyahu's disciple.

Elisha once went to Yericho, where the source of water was infected, causing childlessness. So he brought a flask containing water and salt, which he poured into the infected water source, which immediately became sweet (a miracle within a miracle).

Now, there were a number of youths in the vicinity who earned their Parnasah by transporting water from other areas for the inhabitants of Yericho. And when they saw how Elisha had repaired the local source of water, depriving them of their income, they followed him out of town, shouting 'Get out, baldie, get out baldie! Because you turned the place into a bald patch (leaving us without Parnasah)'.

Elisha turned round, and saw at a glance, that they were devoid of the smallest Mitzvah, and what's more, their mothers became pregnant with them on Yom-Kipur. And it occurred to him that this was a golden opportunity for the ancient decree to be fulfilled. So he prayed to G-d to fulfill it. Immediately, two bears emerged from the forest nearby, and killed the youths, all forty-two of them!


Quick, Curse Whilst the Going's Good

"And will I evoke anger, when G-d is not angry" (23:8).

The Gemara in B'rachos (7a) explains that (as a rule) G-d is angry every day (see Avodah-Zarah 4a). And how long does His anger last? A fraction of a second, at the precise moment when the idol-worshipping kings remove their crowns and prostrate themselves to the sun. And therein, the Gemara explains, lay Bil'am's greatness, in that he was able to gauge that moment and curse whoever he wished to curse.

The question arises, asks the Rosh, what sort of curse can one possibly issue in such a short moment?

And he replies that it is possible to say 'K'leim', which means 'finish them off'. This explains why Bil'am subsequently said "u's'ru'as Melech bo" (and they enjoy the friendship of the King - Hashem), since "Melech" contains the same letters as 'K'leim'. And does the Pasuk not testify in Devarim (23:6) "And G-d transformed the curses into blessings"?

The Da'as Zekeinim M.T. however, queries this explanation from an episode concerning Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi which the Gemara there relates, and he therefore concludes that as long as one begins to curse at that given moment, it will take effect, irrespective of how long one continues cursing.



"Come, let me advise you on what this people will do to your people at the end of days" (24:14).

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (106) comments that the Torah ought really to have inverted the phrase, and written 'What your people will do to this people'.

Bil'am may well have been referring here to events that were destined to take place at the end of time, yet the words "Come let me advise you", hint at the sinful advice that Bilam gave Balak, that referred rather to what Mo'av, through the good services of its womenfolk, was about to do to Yisrael. And this is the plan that the great prophet Bilam devised Shops suddenly sprung up outside the camp of Yisrael. Outside sat an old woman selling high-quality linen garments at exorbitant prices. Whilst inside the shop sat a beautiful young woman, with a flask of good Amoni wine beside her (gentile wine had not yet been forbidden). No sooner did the young woman inside the shop hear the voice of the ben Yisrael, than she appeared outside the tent, bedecked with make-up and jewelry, and offered him the same wares at a cheaper price. Then she called him over to her, and began embracing him and kissing him, and asked him why Yisrael hated the Mo'avim, when the Mo'avim loved them. After all, she explained, were they not all descendents of Terach, father of Avraham and Nachor. Then she produced an image of Pe'or, and before allowing the Yisrael to give vent to his desires, she forced him to eat from her sacrifice, and to acknowledge her god. Many from Yisrael sinned at Pe'or, and many fell.

This was the advice of our arch-enemy, the world leader and prophet, the lecherous Bilam. (Rosh).

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(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Mitzvah 356:
Not to Switch One Korban for Another

One may not switch Korbanos from one to another e.g. to change a Shelamim into an Asham, or an Asham into a Chatas, as the Torah writes in Bechukosai (in connection with a Bechor) "a man shall not declare it Hekdesh", meaning that it is forbidden to declare a Bechor, an Olah, a Shelamim or any other Korban. And we have a tradition that this pertains not only to a Bechor, but also to all Kodshei Mizbei'ach, as the Sifra learns from the preceding word "bi'veheimah", implying any animal of Hekdesh, both Kodshei Mizbei'ach and Kodshei Bedek ha'Bayis.

The author already wrote a reason for this Mitzvah in the Mitzvah of Temurah (Mitzvah 352)

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... If someone declares something Hekdesh for Bedek ha'Bayis (repairs of the Heichal), he may not switch it for Kodshei Mizbei'ach, and suchlike. One is not permitted to declare the unborn fetus of a Hekdesh animal, a different Kedushah than its mother, since Chazal have said that a fetus is automatically Kadosh from the moment it is formed, and cannot therefore be changed. The one exception to this is a Bechor, which the Torah specifically sanctifies only when it is born. Consequently, should the owner declare it an Olah prior to its birth, it must be brought as an Olah. This would not apply if he were to declare it a Shelamim, because the Kedushah of a Shelamim is inferior to that of a Bechor (seeing as it can be eaten by anyone, whereas a Bechor can only be eaten by Kohanim), and consequently, whereas it is possible to raise the Kedushah of a Bechor to the status of an Olah, one cannot lower it to that of the Shlomim ... together with all the other details, are explained in the 5th Perek of Temurah.

This Mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike, despite the fact that nowadays, it is forbidden (Lechatchilah) to declare anything Hekdesh. Someone who transgressed and did so, is forbidden to switch the Kedushah of the animal. If he does, he has contravened this La'av, but he does receive Malkos, because it is a La'av which does not involve an action.


Mitzvah 390:
That a Zar May not Serve in the Mikdash

It is forbidden for a Zar (anyone who is not a descendent of Aharon) to serve in the Beis-Hamikdash, as the Torah writes in Korach (18:4) " ... and a Zar shall not approach you". And this prohibition is repeated (in Pasuk 22) "And the B'nei Yisrael shall not approach the Ohel Mo'ed to carry their sin, to die").

A reason for this Mitzvah the author already wrote in the Mitzvah of Avodas ha'Mikdash (Mitzvah 394).

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzva ... Chazal have said that a Zar is only Chayav if he enters the Mikdash in order to perform an Avodah that is designated specifically for the Kohanim, beginning with the receiving of the blood in a basin, as the Gemara explains in B'rachos (31b).

And the list also includes Yetzikah (the pouring of the oil), Belilah (the mixing of the oil with the flour), Tenufah (the waving of the offering and of some of the limbs) and Hagashah (bringing the Minchah to the south-west corner of the Mizbei'ach), as well as many other Avodos that are exclusive to the Kohanim. Should a Zar perform any of these, he has transgressed a La'av and the Avodah is Pasul.

There are other Avodos however, from which a Zar is not precluded, such as Shechitah, which is permitted even Lechatchilah (even of Kodshei Kodshim Korbanos), carrying the wood to the Mizbei'ach and the kindling of the Menorah (should a Kohen move the Menorah from the Heichal to the Azarah after having prepared it) ... and there are four Avodos for which a Zar is Chayav Miysah should he perform them - Zerikah (sprinkling the blood), Haktarah (burning the Ketores), Hakravah (bringing the limbs on the Mizbei'ach) and Nisuch (pouring the wine [every day] and the water [on Sukos] on the Mizbei'ach). Because it is about these that the Torah writes " ... and the Zar who comes near shall die" (18:7) ... together with all the other Dinim are discussed in the second chapter of Yuma, in the last chapter of Zevachim and in the 3rd chapter of Biy'as Mikdash in the Rambam).

This Mitzvah applies to both men and women, even nowadays, when on account of our sins, the Beis Hamikdash is destroyed. Anyone who performs any of the Avodos that are designated for the Kohanim, has contravened a La'av; and should he perform any of the four major Avodos that we described above, he is Chayav Miysah (bi'Yedei Shamayim).

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