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

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Vol. 12   No. 42

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Parshas Balak

The B & B Personality Clash
(Adapted from the Chochmas Chayim)

Cursing Yisrael

Rashi comments that the word "mi'muli" (in Pasuk 22:5 [which is written without a 'Vav']) can mean 'to cut down' (as we find in Tehilim, 118 "ki Amilam"). Balak was complaining that Yisrael was too close for comfort and was threatening to cut them down.

R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld agrees with Rashi's translation of "mi'muli", but in a completely different context, to explain the current dialogue between Balak and Bil'am. According to him, the word hints at the B'ris Milah ('cutting off'), which Yisrael had not performed on their children virtually since leaving Egypt. This was because, due to the sin of the Meraglim, some thirty-eight years earlier, the north wind had ceased to blow, rendering it dangerous to circumcise (as was accepted in those days), leaving Yisrael with an ongoing mark of shame.

In the current Pasuk, Balak was hinting to Bil'am that this was an opportunity that was too good to miss. Here was something he could exploit when pronouncing a curse on Yisrael.

And R. Yosef Chayim bases this a. on the Gemara in Menachos (41a), which explains that at a time of anger, Hashem punishes in this world even for failure to perform an Asei, and b. on the Pasuk in Michah (6:5), which, as the Gemara in B'rachos (7a) explains, reminds us of G-d's kindness in controlling His anger for the entire period that Bil'am attempted to curse Yisrael. It is clear from the latter that Balak advised Bil'am on ways of evoking G-d's anger. And indeed he did. Based on the former, he suggested that since Bil'am knew the exact moment when, each morning (as the kings who would remove their crowns and prostrate themselves before the sun), Hashem's anger was aroused, he would be able to curse Yisrael via the Mitzvah of Milah, which that entire generation of Jews had not kept.

In that case, where did Balak go wrong? Why did Hashem then suppress His anger, when there was such good reason to give vent to it?


The answer lies in the very words of Bil'am "Because I see them from the tops of the mountains ('me'rosh tzurim'), and from the hills (u'mi'ge'vo'os) I spy them" (23:9). This is a reference to the sharp flint-rock (which the Pasuk in Yehoshua calls "charvos tzurim") that Yehoshua used to circumcise Yisrael, and "Giv'as Arolos" ('the hill of foreskins', where this took place). They may not have performed the B'ris Milah up to then, but G-d foresaw that in the immediate future, the moment they entered Eretz Yisrael and the north-wind would begin to blow once more, they would all condescend to being circumcised. Once Bil'am became aware of that, he knew that the opportunity of cursing Yisrael on that score was no longer viable, and that was his response to Balak's suggestion.

Now the Pasuk in Michah (to which we referred earlier) fits like a glove ... "My people, remember now what Balak King of Moav plotted (that Bil'am should base his curse on the B'ris Milah), and what Bil'am ... answered him (as we shall now see) from Shitim (the location where Yisrael committed the last sin with the daughters of Mo'av, and up to which time they had not performed the Milah) up until Gilgal (where Yehoshua circumcised them all, and which was called Gilgal, as Yehoshua himself explains in his Seifer [5:9], "Today I have rolled away ['Galosi'] the shame of Egypt from you, and he called the place 'Gilgal' until this day" (with reference to the shame of the B'ris Milah that was removed there, according to this interpretation).


Afraid of the Eirev Rav

Another problem connected with the opening Pesukim of the Parshah concerns Bil'am's request to go and curse Yisrael. What, did Bilam honestly believe that G-d would grant him permission to curse the nation that He had just taken out of Egypt with great strength and a strong Hand, the Akeidas Yitzchak wonders? What sort of fool asks the king for permission to kill his only son, on the sole grounds that someone who hates the Prince promised him a lot of money, a houseful of silver and gold, if he would do it.

And how stupid one would have to be to ask a Rav for a Heter to serve idols or commit adultery with a married woman. Such a She'eilah is not only absurd, it is a mockery of all that is dear and holy, and all the more so when it is asked by one who held the title 'prophet', who boasted that he 'knew the mind of the One on High'!

Another blatant question queries the opening Pasuk, which describes Balak's fear of Yisrael. Knowing that G-d had warned Yisrael not to attack Mo'av (as the Pasuk records in Devarim 2:9), what was he afraid of?


The answer to these questions (see also Rashi in Devarim) lies in the word 'Am'. Balak did not complain about B'nei Yisrael sitting at their doorstep, but about "Am" (the people), which we know generally applies to the Eirev Rav, the mixed multitude of gentiles who joined them when they left Egypt (see Rashi Ki Sisa, 32:7). Yisrael were commanded not to destroy Mo'av, says the Chochmas Chayim (citing his grandfather R. Ya'akov Meir), but not the Eirev Rav (and even if they were, Balak may well not have trusted their integrity and the self-control that was needed to fulfill it). In other words, it was the Eirev Rav of whom Balak was afraid, not Yisrael. That explains why he said "Behold the people who came out of Egypt" (a clear reference to the Eirev Rav, as opposed to K'lal Yisrael, who did not leave under their own steam, but were taken out by G-d).

And the Pasuk hints at this further when it writes that Mo'av was afraid of the people "ki Rav hu" (an obvious allusion to the Eirev Rav). In fact, the continuation of the Pasuk says it all, when it adds that they were sick of Yisrael. Indeed, they were sick of Yisrael, whom they hated with a passion (as history proved), but it was the Eirev Rav of whom they were afraid!

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Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the P'ninei Torah and the Ma'ayanah shel Torah)

It Depends Who the Messengers Are

"If the men came to call you get up and go with them" (20:22).

R. Shlomoh Kluger answers Rashi's question as to why Hashem now permitted Bilam to go, after having refused him the first time, by pointing to the difference between the two sets of messengers. The Pasuk writes in connection with the current messengers " ... and they said 'So says Balak' ", as opposed to the first ones, where the Torah wrote "And they spoke with him the words of Balak". This implies that the first set of messengers actually concurred with Balak in his wish to curse Yisrael, whereas the second set merely quoted him, without any personal bias in the matter. And this, one may add, despite the fact that they were of a higher status than their predecessors, as Rashi points out.

G-d did not allow Bil'am to accompany the first Sheluchim, it seems, because he did not want him to be in the company of such wicked men. The reason for this objection fell away however, when the second set of innocent Sheluchim arrived.


Bil'am's Disqualification

" ... because you smote me (the ass said to Bil'am) these three times (zeh Shalosh Regalim)" (22:28).

The ass's choice of words was a hint, Rashi explains, that his mission to destroy a nation that celebrated three Yamim Tovim each year was doomed to failure.

The Binyan Ariel cites a Medrash that when Hakadosh Baruch Hu asked Bil'am who would observe the Torah, if he cursed Yisrael, he replied that he would (what our enemies will only do to get rid of us!)

Therefore, he explains, the Torah mentioned the merit of the Shalosh Regalim, when Yisrael were destined to perform the Mitzvah of Aliyah le'Regel, going on foot to Yerushalayim to appear before G-d in the Beis-Hamikdash. Now this was a Mitzvah that Bil'am could not possibly fulfill, since he was blind in one eye and lame in one leg, two impediments which exempt Yisrael from performing it. Too bad for Bil'am. G-d would have to make do with K'lal Yisrael, and leave him out of the picture.


You Can't Ride a Dead Horse

When the messengers asked Bil'am why he rode on an ass, and not on a horse, says Rashi, he replied that he had left it in the field.

What sort of an answer was that, asks the Yalkut ha'Urim?

By the plague of darkness, he reminds us, the Pasuk relates how all those of Paroh's servants who feared G-d, took their cattle into the house, whereas those who did not, left them outside in the field - where they were all smitten by the hail and died. And Targum Yonasan explains there that 'those who feared G-d' refers to Iyov, and those who did not, to Bil'am. And it is that occasion, forty years earlier, that Bil'am had in mind when he told the messengers that he left his horses in the field and they all died. Since then, he told them, he had had to make do with his faithful ass.

The facts may well have been correct, only the ass in reply, added some not too flattering details of its own, giving the story a new ring (and us a rather different impression of Bil'am's 'refined' character), which probably explains why he did not bother to replace his horses - the 40 intervening years notwithstanding.


To Live Like a Jew

"Let my soul die like the righteous among them" (23:10).

When a certain Chasid asked the Rebbe, R.Yehoshua from Belz for a B'rachah that he die like a Jew, he replied that even the Goyim want to die like a Jew, as we find by Bi'lam. But that is no Chochmah. The Chochmah is to live like a Jew (something that a goy, even the 'great' Bil'am would not dream of doing [unless of course, it was to get rid of the Jews]).


Worse than Bil'am

A Maggid once came to Ostro and began to say D'rashos. When he did not receive the remuneration for his services that he expected, he began cursing the people.

'You are worse than Bil'am' the Rav rebuked him. 'Bil'am wanted money to curse Yisrael, but when it came to blessing them, he blessed them free of charge. You apparently, wanted money to bless them, but here you are cursing them free of charge!'


Don't Look at them All

"Only some of them you will see, but not all of them" (23:13).

The Ba'al Hagadah teaches us that Lavan made the mistake of attempting to kill all of Ya'akov's family, a feat that was doomed to failure, before it even gets off the ground, since G-d swore to the Avos that their descendents would never be wiped out. Par'oh, he explains, did not make the same mistake. He decreed on the males only. It seems to me that he too erred, in that the Yichus of Yisrael goes after the males (and not the females), in which case his efforts were no less futile than those of Lavan.

Balak, says the Rach from Otini, realized that he would never achieve his goal if he followed in the footsteps of his predecessors. So he was careful to instruct Bil'am to curse only some of the people (the males), and not all of them. And that's why he ultimately succeeded - twenty-four thousand died in the ensuing plague.


It'll Have to be a Blessing

"Behold I have undertaken to bless, and I will not go back on it" (23:20).

Nor could he, explains the K'sav Sofer, having just a short while earlier, asked to die like a Jew, and for his end to be like a Jew. That being the case, he had no choice but to pray for their wellbeing; for if they would suffer an unhappy ending, so would he.

G-d of course, did not fulfill Bil'am's request. He died by the sword, soon afterwards - but he could not have known that.


be'Chasdei Shamayim

"And those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand" (25:9).

Twenty-four thousand people had to die in the plague, says R. Yisrael Salanter, and (presumably because the Torah writes 'va'Yih'yu ha'meisim ba'mageifah ... ", implying that it was dead men who died, rather than ' ... meisu ba'mageifah'), he points to the Chesed of Hashem, who included people who were destined to die anyway in the twenty-four thousand.


From the Haftarah

"And I will cut down your images and your altars from your midst" (Michah 5:12).

Chazal describe certain forms of idolatry that exist within a person. For example, they have said that when someone gets angry, it is as if he is serving idols, and that if someone performs a Mitzvah for the monetary gains involved, he is guilty of the god called 'money-lust'.

In similar vein, the Gemara in Shabbos (105), commenting on the Pasuk in Tehilim "There shall not be within you a foreign god", explains that this refers to the Yeitzer-ha'Ra (the foreign god that resides within every person).

When the Navi writes here that 'He will destroy the idols within us', he means that when Mashi'ach comes, Hashem will destroy, not just the gods from without, but also the gods from within (the Yeitzer ha'Ra together with our bad Midos).

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(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch and are not necessarily Halachah.

Mitzvah 395:
The Mitzvah of Giving Ma'aser Rishon to a Levi

A Yisrael is obligated to give one tenth of what grows from his fields to the Levi'im, as the Torah writes in Korach (18:24) "Because the Ma'aser of B'nei Yisrael which they separate as a gift for Hashem, I have given to the Levi'im"; and it also says in Bechukosai (27:30) "And all the Ma'aser of the land ... belongs to Hashem". This refers to Ma'aser Rishon. A reason for the Mitzvah is because G-d chose the tribe of Levi from among their brothers to serve Him perpetually in the Beis-Hamikdash. Consequently, He compensated them by granting them their sustenance in an honourable way, for so is befitting for the king's servants to receive their meals already prepared by others, leaving them free to serve the king at all times. But surely, one may well ask, there are *twelve* tribes, in which case, all things being equal, they ought to receive, (not a tenth but) a twelfth of the produce? This excess too, is a mark of honour, because seeing as they work in the King's palace, it is only correct that those who minister to the King receive a larger portion than everyone else, free of obligation (notwithstanding the one tenth Terumas Ma'aser that they are obligated to give to the Kohanim from their Ma'aser Rishon). And what's more, whoever sustains the king's servants from his own pocket will himself find that everything that he owns will be blessed with a Divine blessing. That is what Chazal mean when they say in Pirkei Avos (3:13) 'Ma'asros are an entree to wealth'.

Furthermore, The Gemara in Ta'anis (9a) forbids a person to say in his heart 'I will test G-d to see whether He will do good to me for performing His Mitzvos', for so the Torah writes in Eikev (6:16) "Do not test G-d". The one exception is with regard to the Mitzvah of Tzedakah (incorporating that of Ma'asros), where the Torah permits giving Tzedakah and then seeing whether Divine blessing does not follow in return for having performed it diligently, as the Navi Mal'achi writes (3:10) "And test Me now", says Hashem, "and see if I don't open the skylights of heaven ... ".

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... The Gemara in Yevamos (85b) explains that the Ma'aser that one gives to the Levi'im is Chulin, and may be eaten by anybody, whether he is a Levi or a Yisrael, even if he is Tamei, as the Torah writes "and your Terumah (i.e. what has been separated from the Terumah of the Yisrael) shall be reckoned for you like corn from the barn and like wine from the winepress", and Chazal explain this to mean that just as the barn and the winepress are Chulin in all regards, also Ma'aser Rishon, whose Terumah has been taken from it and given to the Kohen (i.e. Terumas Ma'aser) is Chulin, too. And wherever one finds the term 'Kodesh' or 'redemption' with regard to Ma'aser, it refers to Ma'aser Sheini (not Ma'aser Rishon) ... The Sifri states that whatever is edible, guarded and grows from the ground is subject to Terumah and Ma'aser. And they learn it from the Pasuk (in connection with Terumah) "the first of your corn, your wine and your oil ... ", which teaches us that just as corn, wine and oil a. are edible, b. grow from the ground, and c. have an owner, so too, is only fruit that fulfils these three specifications subject to Ma'asros. Vegetables however, even though they may fit the three specifications, are not subject to Ma'asros, because the Pasuk writes in Re'ei (14:22, in connection with Ma'asros) " ... all the produce of your field", and vegetables are not called 'produce'.

However, we follow the ruling of the Gemara, which appears to hold that the Ma'asering of all fruit, with the exception of "corn wine and oil" (i.e. the five species of grain, grapes and olives) is only mi'de'Rabbanan, and the Pasuk cited by the Sifri is merely an Asmachta (a Rabbinical ruling which is hinted in the Torah). This is how the Gemara concludes in 'ha'Socher es ha'Po'alim (88a), regarding a fig-tree which is growing in a garden, but its branches hang over the courtyard. Only the Rambam opts for the opinion of the Sifri, in favor of the above Gemara. (Cont.)

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