Vol. 14 No. 37
This issue is sponsored in honour of Rabbi Chaim Wilschanski shlita
on the occasion of his siyum HaShas
and Mrs. Eva Wilschanski n"y
on the occasion of the printing of her book
"The Road to Jerusalem".
od yenuvun beseiva deshainim v'raninim yeh'yu
The Rosh cites the Medrash Tanchuma, which lists the four merits upon which Yisrael earned the right to leave Egypt: 1. They did not change their Jewish names (Reuven and Shimon went down to Egypt, and Reuven and Shimon left Egypt); 2. They did not change their language (like we find with regard to Yosef, who pointed out to his brothers that he was speaking to them in Lashon ha'Kodesh); 3. They knew how to hold their tongues (Moshe informed them an entire year in advance that they would 'borrow' the Egyptians' vessels when they left, yet not one Jew revealed the secret); 4. They did not indulge in adultery (in spite of their living among a highly immoral nation, [and the Pasuk in Shir ha'Shirim, 4:12, praises them for that. Indeed, the Torah publicizes the one and only immoral woman in the whole of K'lal Yisrael, whose sin was to greet everybody - even Egyptian men - Emor 24:10]).
Remarkably, throughout the forty years that Yisrael traveled in the Desert, the various major sins that they committed did not include adultery, comments the Rosh - until they arrived in Shitim, which by virtue of its very name (rooted in the word 'Sh'tus' - stupidity), hints at the sin of adultery, which is also the root of the word "Sotah' (a woman who goes astray from her husband).
Perhaps the most surprising element about the sin of Shitim is that it was instigated by Bil'am (24:4). That in itself, may not appear particularly striking, when we consider his aggressive history vis-?-vis K'lal Yisrael. Already as Lavan (whom Chazal equate with Bil'am [perhaps in the form of a reincarnation]) he tried to wipe out K'lal Yisrael, even before the nation had been formed (notwithstanding the fact that it was destined to descend from his own daughters), as we relate in the Hagadah.
Later in Egypt, it was Bil'am who encouraged Paroh to enslave Yisrael, on another occasion to kill the Jewish babies and bathe in their blood, in order to cure his leprosy, and to throw all male Jewish babies that were born into the Nile, on yet a third occasion.
In light of such a history, it would hardly have elicited much surprise when Bil'am accepted Balak's call to curse Yisrael, whose existence they found threatening (a 'sound' reason that nations have emulated ever since). At least, it wouldn't have, had it not been for one incident that occurred after the Exodus from Egypt. Chazal describe how the nations of the world, terrified out of their wits by the Divinely inspired thunder and lightning at Har Sinai, sent a delegation to Bil'am to determine the cause of these strange happenings. In reply to their question about whether G-d was about to send another Flood on the world, Bil'am responded that "G-d was giving the Torah to His people".
This means that Bil'am, in his profound wisdom, grasped the essence of the eternal bond between G-d, Yisrael, and the Torah. In short, he understood that Yisrael are the chosen people, and that Matan Torah was the greatest event to take place since the creation of the world.
And it is in light of that knowledge that his advice to Balak to send the Moabite and Midionite women to induce Yisrael to sin is incomprehensible.
What makes Bil'am's advice even more puzzling is that it follows a. his clear instructions from G-d, that Yisrael may under no circumstances, be cursed, and b. his own lavish portrayal of Yisrael's virtues, covering the past, present and future. Beginning with Yisrael's roots, he states how Yisrael is unique among the nations, the intimate relationship between them and G-d. He repeats emphatically that he has no mandate to curse Yisrael, only to bless them, and points out how G-d favours them and tends to overlook their faults. He describes Yisrael's love of Mitzvos, and dwells on the strong bond that ties them to their Creator. Finally, Bil'am praises their Batei Medrash and Batei K'nesses, and even alludes to the victories of their kings over their enemies. He has more to say, but it is shortly after this that he offers his 'good advice' to Balak, before informing him what Yisrael's kings will do to the nation of Mo'av in due course.
It is hard to believe that anyone can in one and the same breath, speak about a nation is such glowing terms, and shamelessly plot a public immoral exhibition, in order to cause their downfall.
It can only be understood in light of what Chazal say (see Rashi 22:21) "Hatred causes people to behave irrationally." And it is the extent of Bil'am's hatred towards Yisrael, and the extent of the irrational behaviour that that hatred causes that we see here in play.
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The Leader Reflects the People
"And he (Balak) sent emissaries to Bil'am ben Be'or … " (22:5).
Perhaps you will ask why Hakodosh-Baruch-Hu rested His Shechinah on a wicked Goy, says Rashi?
The answer is to preempt the complaint on the part of the nations of the world, who would otherwise justifiably be able to claim that if they had only been given prophets (like Yisrael), they would have encouraged them to do Teshuvah. So He gave them a prophet, and what did he do? He broke the universally accepted code of morality!
The question arises, why G-d gave them a prophet like Bil'am? Had He given them a prophet like Moshe (like He gave us), then the situation might have been entirely different. But with a prophet the likes of Bil'am, what were they expected to achieve? It would seem that their initial complaint remains in full force!
The answer, says the Ma'ayanah shel Torah, lies in the fact that a leader is not someone who is appointed by G-d for his independent qualities, but rather by virtue of the combined spiritual qualities of the people he is destined to lead. Consequently, he says, quoting what he heard, Yisrael, who had inherited their Midos from the Avos, produced a leader of the caliber of Moshe Rabeinu. The nations of the world, on the other hand, whose combined spiritual characteristics did not amount to much, produced Bil'am.
In short, a nation receives the leader that it molded, and that it therefore deserves. If the nations had aspired to attain the levels of Moshe Rabeinu, they too, would have been blessed with a leader like Moshe Rabeinu.
To Go or Not to Go?
"If the men came in order to call you, then get up and go with them … " (22:20).
Why is it, asks the Or ha'Chayim, that when Bil'am asked Hashem for permission to accompany Balak's emissaries, Hashem first refused before granting him his request?
(Suggesting that G-d changed His mind is not on the cards, seeing as Bil'am himself discounted such a possibility [see 23:19].)
The Or ha'Chayim therefore explains that had Hashem forbidden Bil'am to go outright, this would have merely encouraged him to believe that so important was he in Heaven, that they were afraid of his curses there. This in turn, would have caused him to become even more conceited than he already was.
If, on the other hand, Hashem had allowed him to go immediately, he would have concluded that he was not bound by any restraints, free to go his own way and to do as he pleased. By first declining to let him go, Hashem showed Bil'am (and the world) that he was not free at all, but strictly under His (Hashem's) jurisdiction. And by finally granting him permission to proceed, He made it clear that He was not afraid of Bil'am's curses.
If Avraham Didn't Succeed … !
"And Bilam arose in the morning and he saddled his ass … " (22:21).
Based on the dictum 'Hatred causes people to act irrationally', Bilam saddled his own ass, Rashi explains, despite the fact that he had many servants. But G-d reminded him that Avraham Avinu had already beaten him to the draw, when before setting out to the Akeidah, to slaughter his own son, on His (G-d's) behalf, he too, arose early and saddled his own ass.
Simply understood, this means that Avraham too, acted irrationally by saddling his own ass, in spite of his many servants, but he did it out of love, rather than out of hatred. That act, earned his children G-d's eternal Divine protection, so Bilam's attempts at cursing them were bound to fail.
The Kotzker Rebbe however, offers a more profound explanation. Avraham Avinu, he explains, set out on that fateful journey, to Shecht his son Yitzchak. Had he succeeded in his mission, Yisrael would not have existed (and there would have been nobody for Bilam to curse).
G-d intervened on that occasion, in spite of Avraham's love-based intentions, because He wanted K'lal Yisrael to exist in His world. Consequently, He now wanted Bilam to know that he was wasting his time in trying to destroy Yisrael with his hate-filled plans, since He (G-d) still wanted K'lal Yisrael in the world, and would most certainly put a spoke in his wheel.
"Let my soul die the death of the righteous and may my end be like theirs" (23:10).
Now surely, asks the Ma'ayanah shel Torah, citing the Imrei Emes of Gur, the Pasuk should have ended with the word 'like them', with reference to the Avos (to which "the righteous" refers), and not "like him"?
The word for "like him" is actually "komohu", and when we bear in mind that Gerrer Chasidim (among many) pronounce this as 'komohi', the answer he gives, based on the Gemara in Nedarim (10), which, in the realm of Nedarim, equates the word 'Mohi' with Moshe Rabeinu, is a classic.
What Bilam was in fact, saying, was that he wished in his death, to attain the level of the Avos on the one hand and of Moshe Rabeinu, on the other.
The Chutzpah of Bilam; he lived the evil life of Bilam, but he aspired to die like a saint!
Looking at Yisrael as a Whole
" ... but you will see its edge, but not all of it" (23:13).
Indeed, says the Kotzker, if one looks at a detail of K'lal Yisrael, one will be able to find faults; But if one looks at them as a whole, one will find that, compared to the other nations of the world, Yisrael are flawless.
When Said Is Done
"G-d is not a man who lies, or a human who changes His mind. He (a man) says but does not do, speaks but does not carry out his word" (23:19).
What sort of praise is that when speaking about Hashem, asks the Dubner Maggid? Why, saying even about a human being that he does not steal and he does not lie is hardly considered praiseworthy, let alone about G-d!
It seems, he explains, that what the Pasuk is saying is this: A person can promise to do something, having not the least intention of doing it; and what's more, even if he does intend to do it, it is very likely that in the end, he fails to deliver, because for a variety of reasons, he is unable to abide by his word.
Not so, G-d! Not only is He beyond lying (Kevayachol), but it is impossible for Him to promise and not to keep His word, since nothing can prevent Him from carrying it out. In effect, G-d's promise and its fulfillment are one and the same, as opposed to that of a human-being, whose word is one thing and its fulfillment, something quite different. For so the Pasuk says in Tehilim "With the word of Hashem the Heaven was made".
And this is how the Dubner Maggid explains the end of the Pasuk: "He (Hashem) says and does not need to do (since His word is synonymous with its fulfillment); He speaks and does not need to fulfill His word (since His promise is automatically self-fulfilled)".
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"And the Mo'avim said to the elders of Midian (for up until that time, they had been one nation and one kingdom), the congregation (of Yisrael) are now destroying the surrounding areas, just as an ox destroys the grass of the field; and Balak the son of Tzipor the Midianite was King of Mo'av at that time (but not at any other, for the agreement between them was that they would choose a king to rule over both countries jointly, first from one of them, and then from the other)" [22:4]).
" … he sent envoys to Lavan ha'Arami, alias Bil'am (so-called because he wished to swallow up the people of Beis Yisrael), the son of Be'or, so-called because he (Lavan) lost his abundant wisdom and became stupid, and he did not take pity on his own daughter's descendents, who resided in Padan (Aram), also known as Posor after him (because he was a dream interpreter), which was built in Aram on the River P'ras, a land where the people worshipped and bowed down to him. They called on him for assistance, since the people who had left Egypt was covering the expanse of land, and was now encamped opposite them" (22:5).
"And G-d was angry with him, because he went with the intention of cursing them; and the angel of Hashem stood … and he was riding his ass, and his two servants, Yeinis and Yeimris, were accompanying him" (22:21).
" … the angel of Hashem stood in a narrow path that ran through the vineyards, the location where Ya'akov and Lavan erected a pile of stones and a monument on one side and a watch-tower on the other, and they swore that neither would pass this border to harm the other" (22:24).
"Ten things were created after the world was established, on Erev Shabbos at dusk; the Mon, the Well, Moshe's Staff, the Shamir-worm, the Rainbow, the Clouds of Glory, the Mouth of the earth, the Writing of the Luchos, the Mazikin (i.e. the Sheidim - the Demons) and the mouth of Bilam's Ass. At that moment, at Hashem's Command, it opened its mouth, and it gained the power of speech, and it said to Bil'am … " (22:28).
"And the ass said to Bilam 'Woe unto you Bil'am; you are a demented fool, for if you are unable to curse me, a Tamei animal, who will die in this world and will not live in the next, how do you expect to curse the sons of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, in whose merit the world was created? So why are you traveling to curse them? And why did you lie to these people and tell them that I am an ass that you borrowed, and that you left your horse in the meadow, when the truth is that I am the ass on which you have ridden ever since you were a child, and what's more, you derived other pleasures from me? Have I ever attempted to do such things to you before? And he replied 'No!' " (22:30).
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What was Moshe's Sin?
To explain Moshe's sin, eliminating the problems that we presented last week, the Or ha'Chayim cites a Medrash. Commenting on the Pesukim both in Chukas and in Ha'azinu, the Yalkut points out that all in all, the Torah uses four expressions to describe what Moshe did wrong (all in the plural, to include Aharon): "You did not believe in me" (or cause others to believe in me); "You did not sanctify Me"; "You trespassed against Me" and "You rebelled against Me". "You did not believe in me" - by striking the rock, when I commanded you to speak to it; "You did not sanctify Me" - by producing water from whichever rock the people chose; "You trespassed against Me" - when you said "Shall we produce water from this rock?" and "You rebelled against Me" - because I told you to learn a Perek in front of it, and you failed to do that.
With this Medrash, says the Or ha'Chayim, we can better understand the Pasuk "Take the stick, and speak to the rock … and you shall produce water from the rock", and resolve two problems connected with it. 1. Having said that the rock will produce its water, why does the Pasuk see fit to add "And you shall produce for them water"? 2. Why does the Pasuk find it necessary to mention twice the fact that they would extract water from the rock?
Both of these repetitions can be attributed to the fact that G-d had in fact, given Moshe and Aharon the mandate to employ any rock that they chose. He was ordering him to produce water initially, from the rock of Miriam, but, from any other rock, should Yisrael so choose. Two different ways of producing water! Two different rocks!
The question why Moshe needed to take the stick at all, if he was meant to talk to the rock (as we cited last week from the Ramban) we can answer simply by defining its elevated function as being to serve as a symbol of Divine authority. Indeed, the fact that Moshe's stick is listed among the ten things that were created at dusk on Erev Shabbos, as well as the miraculous manner in which Moshe came by his stick are adequate proof of the stick's supernatural qualities.
Nor did G-d (Kevayachol) foresee any danger that Moshe, having been instructed to take the stick, may strike the rock, says the Or ha'Chayim, seeing as He had specifically said "And you (plural) shall speak to the rock", and the blame for the error lay entirely on the shoulders of Moshe and Aharon. And this was the first sin referred to by the Medrash.
Their second sin was their failure to learn a Perek in front of it, as this was what G-d meant when He said "And you shall speak to the rock".
Their third sin lies in the words "And you shall produce for them water from the rock", with specific reference to any rock that the people chose, implied by the repetition of both the phrase and the word "the rock" (as we explained).
And proof of the difference of opinion between Moshe and Aharon and the people lies in Moshe's rebuke "Listen now, you rebels!", which as Rashi explains, means 'People who try teach their teachers'. Evidently, the people were trying to instruct Moshe and Aharon to do something with which they did not agree, as can be seen from Moshe's next words "Shall we bring forth water from this rock!" (a rock which is not fit to produce water?).
And these words incorporate the fourth sin listed by the Medrash. For not only did Moshe and Aharon fail to produce water from the rock of the people's choice, but they also determined that it was not possible to produce water from that rock (thereby limiting as it were, G-d's ability to do as He pleases).
The Or ha'Chayim goes on to explain what exactly caused Moshe to perpetrate each of these mistakes.
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