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

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Vol. 19   No. 39

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Parshas Balak

'Come, Let Me Advise You!'

"And now, I am going back to my people. Come, let me advise you (I'otzcho) as to what this people will do to your people at the end of days" (24:14).

The word "I'otzcho" is out of place. 'Agidcho' (I will tell you) would have been more appropriate. We can safely assume that this is what prompted Rashi to comment 'This is a short Pasuk (which really means to say) - "I will advise you how to cause them to sin, and I will tell you about the destruction that they will wreak on Mo'av at the end of days" '.


Bil'am asks 'his G-d' for permission to curse Yisrael and is told in no uncertain terms that they cannot be cursed because they are blessed. Not satisfied with the answer, he repeats his request and eventually, obtains permission to go, but on no account, to curse Yisrael. Even as he travels (with the express intention of cursing Yisrael, when his G-d [Kevayachol] 'is not looking'), he receives a series of indirect warnings that he is contravening G-d's wishes. But that does not deter him from calmly continuing on his journey.

Arriving at his destination, he immediately informs Balak that he can do nothing without G-d's consent. Yet he persists, looking for the flaw that will gain that illusive agreement to curse the nation that is blessed.

He also understood well the greatness of Yisrael, as Chazal relate, how when, at Matan Torah, the terrified nations of the world approached him asking whether the awesome thunder and lightning heralded another major flood, he informed them that G-d was giving the Torah to His people, eliciting the response from the nations 'May G-d bless His people with peace!"


Despite his efforts to curse, he finds himself forced to bless them again and again. He has praised their past, starting with their illustrious ancestors, and their current adherence to the Mitzvos. Moreover, he has informed Balak in no uncertain terms that there is no hope of cursing them, because they are blessed, and that his hands are tied because G-d will only allow him to say what He personally tells him to say.

After heaping praise upon praise on Yisrael, he has come to the realization that G-d will never change His mind and that all attempts at cursing Yisrael are doomed to failure.

So he changes tactics. He tries placing an Ayin-ha'Ra on them. But that too proves ineffective, as Yisrael's decent lifestyle prevents Ayin ha'Ra from having any effect on them.

At this point, he begins to discuss Yisrael's future destiny. He acknowledges the eternal role that they are destined to play until the coming of Mashi'ach, including their defeat of his host nation Mo'av and ultimately of Yisrael's arch-enemy Eisav.

Bil'am has failed in his efforts to curse Yisrael, and he has failed in efforts to place an Ayin ha'Ra on them, yet remarkably, even as he describes their glorious future, how they will destroy and outlive all their enemies, he pauses in mid-sentence as it were, and decides that if he cannot hit them above the belt, he will get them below the belt by causing them to sin.

Whether he acted for money (Rashi will later point out that Bil'am returned to Mo'av to collect his fee for the twenty-four thousand that fell on account of his 'good advice') or whether he was prompted by pure hatred of Yisrael (he was after all, one of Par'oh's three advisors responsible for enslaving Yisrael in Egypt), is not certain. Presumably the two played a joint role in planning the disgusting scenario described at the end of the Parshah. One thing is certain however. Whatever close relationship Bil'am had with Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu, he bore Him a deep hatred, even though he may well not even have realized it.

Firstly, Chazal have said that anyone who hates Yisrael hates the Creator (See Rashi in Parshas Beha'aloscha, 10:35). And secondly, David Hamelech writes in Tehilim that "those who love G-d hate evil!" (the inference is obvious) and that surely incorporates anybody capable of initiating as sinful a plot as that of Ba'al Pe'or, causing so many people to sin and so many lives to be lost!

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Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Riva)

When G-d Spoke to Bil'am

"And He said to him (Bil'am) 'Return to Balak and thus (koh) you shall speak!" (23:5).

Strange, comments the Riva, the Torah does not record what G-d instructed Bil'am to say (in the way that it does whenever this expression is used in connection with Moshe or any of the other prophets)!

And, citing R, Ezriel from Rottenberg, he answers that it would have been below G-d's dignity to present the details of what He told Bil'am ha'Rasha in the form of prophecy (as if the latter was worthy of such an honour). So He cut it short, leaving the exact contents of the prophecy to our imagination.

So what did G-d tell him?

Perhaps the hint lies in the word "koh" - with reference to what G-d said to Avraham "So (as numerous as the stars and the dust of the ground) will be your children. And that is precisely what Bil'am said (in Pasuk 10) "Who can count the dust of Ya'akov ?" Effectively, he was informing Balak that his efforts to diminish the numbers of Yisrael were doomed to failure.

Or perhaps it refers to the entire prophecy that follows (See Pesukim 7-10), and "koh" means simply 'the following'. And you will find this pattern repeated on the number of occasions when Bil'am received instructions to return to Balak with the following prophecy.


Amalek & Yisro

" He (Bil'am) saw Amalek and he saw the Keini (Yisro)" (24:20 & 21).

Bil'am mentioned these two nations one after the other, the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos explains, because they were both firsts - the one the first to hate (attacking Yisrael as soon as they left Egypt),the other, the first to love (in helping Yisrael to initiate the appointment of officers of thousands and of hundreds ).

That is why Bil'am explained how each one got what he deserved - "Amalek will be destroyed forever"; while the Keini will become firmly established as part of K'lal Yisrael.

Note that the two are also juxtaposed at the end of Beshalach and the beginning of Yisro - in order to display the same striking contrast between them.


What a Difference!

"Come, let me advise you as to what this people (Yisrael) will do to your people " (24:24).

Chazal explain that Bil'am was referring here to the sin of Ba'al Pe'or. He was advising Balak that, G-d hated adultery, and that consequently, if he wanted to fight Yisrael, he would cause havoc by inducing the men to sin with the daughters of Midyan, as described at the end of the Parshah.

And it is in this connection that the Medrash Tanchuma, commenting on the Pasuk in Ha'azinu (32:4) "The Rock whose work is perfect, for all His ways are just" - G-d did not leave an opening for the nations of the world to come to claim that He distanced them, without giving them the Torah and prophets like He did to Yisrael. What did Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu do?

Just as He set up kings, sages and prophets for Yisrael, so did He do for the nations: He set up Sh'lomoh as king over the entire world, and likewise He set up Nevuchadnetzar - yet the one built the Beis-Hamikdash and sang many praises and exultations before G-d, whilst the other destroyed it, cursing G-d and insulting Him in the process!

He gave David wealth, which the latter used to purchase the future location of the Beis-Hamikdash, and so He did to Haman, who used it in an attempt to slaughter an entire nation!

He appointed over Yisrael, Moshe who proceeded to lead them through the desert, and He appointed Bil'am over the nations of the world. Now come and see the difference between the Yisrael and their prophets on the one hand and the nations of the world and their prophets on the other. The prophets of Yisrael warn Yisrael against sinning, whereas the prophets of the nations set the people up to sin, just as Bil'am did!

* * *


" for I know that whoever you bless is blessed (es asher tevorech mevoroch) and whoever you curse is cursed (va'asher to'or yu'or)" (22:6).

The Gematriyah of "va'asher to'or yu'or" is equivalent to that of "she'kilalto es Mo'ov" (because you cursed Mo'ov), says the Ba'al ha'Turim. Interestingly, he did not find a corresponding Gematriyah for "es asher tevorech mevoroch".

This is not the least surprising, according to the Seforno, who explains that Bil'am's strength lay in his ability to curse, Indeed, Chazal in B'rochos point out that he knew the exact moment early in the morning when curses are the most effective. They say nothing about his power of blessing. That, says the S'forno, explains why Balak called Bil'am to curse Yisrael rather than to bless him.

And the reason that he referred to his ability to bless, was in order not to offend him, to create the impression that he had a positive side to him too, even though this was not true.


Bil'am quoting Balak,, told G-d how he had asked him to curse Yisrael, using the word ""l'cho Kovoh li oso". To which G-d responded ' Do not curse the people,' changing from "kovoh" to "oroh" (22:11/12)

Rashi comments that "kovoh" is worse than "oroh". And this explains the Ba'al ha'Turim, who explains that that Bil'am asked permission to curse Yisrael in a big way. So Hakadosh-Barush-Hu told him that he would not receive permission even to utter a small curse against them.

Interestingly, when Balak himself sent for Bil'am (in Pasuk 6) he too, like G-d, used the expression "oroh li".

Here we have another proof that Bil'am's hated of Yisrael exceeded that of Balak (See Rashi on Pasuk 11), and that, despite the fact that he had no reason to fear Yisrael, in the way that Balak did.

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