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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Balak

When You Give, You Will Receive

And he took up his declaration, and said, "From Aram, Balak the king of Moav led me out of the mountains of the east, saying, 'Come, curse for me Yaakov and blaspheme Israel.'"

Ashidduch was made between the Maharal and Pereleh, the daughter of Reb Shmelke Reich. Since the Maharal was only fifteen at that time, and boys generally were married at the age of eighteen, Reb Shmelke sent him to learn in the yeshivah of the famous Maharshal, in the city of Permasly.

Unfortunately, Reb Shmelke lost his wealth before the marriage could take place, and did not have the money for his daughter's dowry . He therefore sent a letter to the Maharal saying, "You are now eighteen, and the mishnah says that one should marry at the age of eighteen.1 However, I am unable to give you the dowry I promised, and I will not make you wait for years until you will be able to marry my daughter. Therefore, I am cancelling our agreement and you are free to marry anyone you wish."

In response, the Maharal wrote back, "I do not wish to change anything, and I am waiting for G-d's help. If however you do not wish to cause your daughter to sit and wait unmarried, I give you permission to make another shidduch for her. If this happens, I shall know that I am free from my promise to marry her."

As time went on, Pereleh's father saw no improvement in his financial status. In order to contribute to the family's income, Pereleh opened a small store in which she sold baked goods. This situation continued, and Pereleh did not marry, but rather everyone waited for G-d to help. Neither did the Maharal seek another shidduch, but rather continued to learn Torah with great intensity. He was given the nickname "Reb Leib Bochur." The Ramah wrote about the Maharal that the verse, "I have elevated a young man above others in his nation"2 could be applied to him, and the Ramah believed that the young man possessed a spark from the soul of David Hamelech.

Ten years after Pereleh opened her store, there was a war and a great army passed through the city where Reb Shmelke Reich lived. After the infantry had passed by, a lone soldier rode through on a horse. When the soldier passed the store of Pereleh, he saw a large loaf of bread in her window and he pierced it with his spear. Pereleh ran after him crying, and begged him not to steal her bread, since she was poor and was supporting her weak, elderly parents.

The soldier shouted back at her, "What can I do? I have no money to pay, and I am terribly hungry. But there is one thing I can do for you. I am sitting on two saddle cushions, and will give you one of them in exchange for the loaf of bread." With that he pulled out one of the cushions from underneath him and threw it towards her with great strength as he rode away.

When Pereleh went over to pick up the saddle, she was astonished to see that it had torn open on one side, and gold coins were pouring out of it. The soldier had obviously been unaware of the treasure hidden inside the cushion. Pereleh ran to tell her parents the good news of their sudden prosperity.

Reb Shmelke Reich immediately sent a letter to the Maharal requesting that he come at once, for he could now marry, since through a miracle he was now able to pay the dowry. As a result of this experience, when the Maharal became a judge, he was always careful not to allow a shidduch to be broken due to lack of funds, but rather he tried in every way possible to hold the shidduch together.

We see from this story how the Maharal had infinite patience and gave his future in-laws all the time they needed to solve their financial problems. This virtue of patience is crucial in raising children as well.

"From Aram, Balak the king of Moav led me."3 Bilam said, "I was among the elevated people, and Balak pulled me down to the pit of destruction." This explanation is based on the Hebrew word which means "the nation of Aram," and alludes to the Hebrew word "ram," meaning high or elevated, indicating that Balak caused Bilam's destruction. Another explanation is that "From Aram" means I was a "high nation" [am ram], indicating that I [Bilam] was elevated and Balak pulled me down from my place of honor.

This is comparable to a man who went for a walk with the king. Suddenly he saw robbers coming. As soon as he saw them, he left the king and began to walk with the robbers. When he returned the king said to him, "Go back to those with whom you were walking, since it is impossible for you to walk with me anymore." So too did Bilam communicate with G-d, but when he became a partner with Balak, he lost that power of communication, and he returned to being a magician, as he had been in the beginning; as it is written, "And Bilam the son of Beor, the magician."(4) Therefore he cried, "I was elevated, and Balak caused me to descend." Another explanation of "From Aram he led me," is that Bilam said to Balak, "You have caused both of us to deny the favors we have received. Were it not for Avraham Avinu there would never have been a Balak, as it is written, 'And it was when G-d destroyed the cities of the plain, and G-d remembered Avraham and sent out Lot from the destruction.'(5) Were it not for Avraham, Lot would not have been saved from Sedom, and you are from the descendants of Lot. And were it not for Yaakov their father, I would not have been in the world [for Bilam was a descendant of Lavan], since Lavan had sons only in the merit of Yaakov. This can be seen from the fact that in the beginning it was written, "And Rachel came with her father's sheep."(6) If there had been sons, would Rachel have been the one tending the sheep? But once Yaakov arrived there, Lavan was given sons, as it is written, "And he heard the words of the sons of Lavan."(7) And it is written, "I have divined that G-d has blessed me because of you."(8) Therefore without their ancestors, both of us would not have been in the world."
(YALKUT 765, par. "Min Aram")

Why did Bilam feel that Balak had caused him to fall from a state of elevation into the pit of destruction? What is the meaning of the second explanation, which refers to Bilam as a part of an elevated nation, and how does this explanation differ from the first? What can we learn from the parable of the king who went for a walk? Why could the man in the parable no longer escort the king once he had walked with the robbers? What does the midrash mean when it says that Bilam returned to being a magician? Why should Balak have remembered the favors of Avraham, and thus not have attempted to harm the Jewish people? Why should Bilam have remembered the favors of Yaakov and thus not have attempted to curse the Jewish people?

Bilam's Downfall

Bilam said, "I was among the elevated people, and Balak pulled me down to the pit of destruction."

Our Sages say that Bilam was such a great prophet that he was comparable to Moshe.9 This means that he had reached high levels of spirituality and was very close to G-d. But the bribery which Balak offered him turned him into a wicked person, and thus he was willing to try to destroy the Jewish people. In this way he also brought about his own destruction, since he was going against G-d's will. But because he felt he would never have done such a thing on his own volition, he blamed Balak for his downfall.

Our Sages tell us10 that Bilam had relations with his donkey, and this act takes him out of the category of the great prophets. We can explain this act in the following ways. Some say that Bilam began to behave in this way once he decided to curse Israel, and that signified the beginning of his downfall. Others maintain that he had always engaged in such behavior, but he was nevertheless given prophecy as a gift from G-d. But once he became an adversary of the Jewish people, he lost that gift.

It is only partially true that Balak was to blame, since although Bilam was enticed by Balak, no one compelled him to accept the bribe. This was his own choice, and therefore he alone was responsible for his decision. Yet he tried to blame others instead of accepting responsibility for his own deliberate actions.

According to another explanation, which refers to Bilam as part of an elevated nation, Bilam says that his downfall resulted not only from his status as an elevated individual, but also from his position as part of an elevated nation. This is a greater disgrace, since it means that the entire nation was on a high level, and he himself fell from that exalted national standard. This showed him up before his nation as being below standard, which was a great cause for embarrassment.

Show Me Your Friends

As soon as he saw them [the robbers], he left the king and began to walk with the robbers.
...When he [Bilam] became a partner with Balak, he lost that power of communication, and he returned to being a magician...

The parable of the king who went for a walk shows us that when a person associates with someone as important as a king, he must be careful not to associate with people of dubious character, such as the robbers in the parable, since a king judges a person according to his friends. One's friends show a great deal about one's own character. When the king saw that the person with whom he had been walking had friends who were robbers, he understood that his walking companion too must have been a man of similar character, and therefore he wished to have no further association with him.

This parable can be applied to Bilam. Prior to his association with Balak, Bilam was on such a high spiritual level that he was considered as if he had walked with G-d. Being on such a high level, he should not have associated with people of dubious character, and when he did so he forfeited his high spiritual standing and could never return to it, just as the person in the parable could no longer maintain his connection with the king. This serves as a lesson for us, that we must choose our friends carefully. The mishnah warns us that serious consequences result from our choice of friends. "Which is the correct path that a person should chose? A good friend."11 A friend can lead us to gan eden, or, G-d forbid, to gehinnom.

When our Sages say that Bilam returned to being a magician, they are telling us that the high level Bilam had reached was now lost to him. Instead of being a real prophet who was close to G-d, he had to resort to being quick-handed, as a magician must be in order for his tricks to succeed. The difference between a magician and a prophet is that the prophet is real and the magician a fake. Bilam could not tolerate losing his ability to perform supernatural acts, and therefore he used magic tricks to try to convince others that he had not lost that capability.

The midrash can also be interpreted to mean that he became a magician and now received his powers from the Satan. The Egyptians also had these magical powers and used them when Moshe turned his stick into a snake.12 Before Bilam's sin he had Divine powers, but afterwards these powers came from the source of tumah.

Repaying Good With Bad

Bilam said to Balak, "You have caused both of us to deny the favors we have received..."
Balak should have remembered the favors of Avraham and thus should not have tried to harm the Jewish people. Here we can see to what extent a person is obligated to appreciate favors. These favors that Balak received were not given directly to him, but rather to his ancestors, hundreds of years earlier, by Avraham. This obligated him to be thankful to Avraham's descendants and not to act the way he did. When you receive a favor it obligates you forever.

Our Sages are actually telling us that if a persom learns to utilize the middah of being thankful, he will be able to avoid many sins. When a person wishes to sin, he should first think of how much gratitude he owes to G-d for giving him life and health and sustenance. This will stop him from sinning, since it will make him realize the contradiction in his deeds. If Balak would have made use of this valuable method, he would not have committed his sin.

Bilam should have remembered the favors of Yaakov and thus should not have tried to curse the Jewish people, because Bilam had an even greater obligation than Balak to remember the favors of his ancestors. Bilam's, entire existence was due to Yaakov, on whose account Lavan had sons. His debt of gratitude is greater than that of Balak, whose ancestor's life was saved through Avraham, yet his ancestor did not owe to Avrahom his original existence in the world. Bilam should not have let himself be enticed by the bribery Balak was offering him. He should rather have considered the favors that his ancestors received, and should have refused to help Balak.

Reinforce the Feeling of Love

When our Sages say that Bilam and Balak would not have sinned had they remembered the favors that they had received, they are teaching us an important lesson which can be applied to our educating of our children. Our children will not stray from the path on which we are trying to lead them if they feel the love and favors they receive from us.

Obviously all parents give a great deal to their children. But a child tends to take all this for granted. Of course his parents give him food. They would never starve their own child. Giving your children the basic necessities, or even buying them luxuries, will not guarantee that they will not stray. They might take for granted that their parents have given them so much, because they feel that this is what their parents had to do.

But love is something which emanates from the heart and enters into the heart. When a child feels that love and support from his parents, then he feels that he cannot let them down. This obligates him to stay in line. The strong emotion of love will overcome any desires he might have to do wrong. Therefore we cannot allow ourselves to be lax in giving love to our children.

Your Actions Prove Your Love

It is not enough to tell your children that you love them. Rather your actions will prove if this is really true. If you are willing to listen to their problems, to go for a walk with them, to help them through their difficulties in school, then you are proving that you truly love them. You cannot demonstrate love without investing time. Otherwise, the love you claim to feel is a hollow expression. It is like a check written by someone who has no money in the bank to back it up.

It is much easier to give your child some money than to give him some time. Whether you are a father who has many duties, or a mother who works and/or has many other children, you must find the time to give each child the love and attention that he or she needs. Just as you cannot deny air or food or water to your child, in the same way you simply cannot deny your child the love he needs. For a parent's love is a basic necessity and is not a luxury.

Imagine love as the water that gives the flower life. Without water the flower withers, since it loses its basic nourishment. So is it with your children. They must have love shown to them. Without it, their connection with you, their parents, begins to wither. It is the love that you offer them which gives them the will to live and to be strong.

Seize Opportunities to Show Love

An important moment is when the child comes home from school or from other activities. The child wants to tell his parents about his experiences and it is very important for the parents to listen. Listening to your child shows that you care about him and are willing to give him some of your precious time. The parents' attentiveness makes a child willing to ask for advice and to obey his parents. But if his parents are unwilling to listen, how can they expect him to obey them?

Some parents are truly very busy. The father or mother may be a public personality, or the head of a large business. They may have people calling or knocking at their door constantly. But no matter how busy they are, they cannot afford to lose the opportunity to spend time with and show love to their children. Nothing in the world can compensate for the loss of this kind of close contact with your children. If you lose it because you are busy, it may be lost forever, since it is not an easy thing to regain once it is gone. Be careful to guard it well.

Is Your Child Lacking Your Attention?

Be alert for signs that your child is looking for your attention. A child may indicate this by frequent glances in your direction, by clearing his throat, or just by cuddling up close to you. Try to encourage the child in conversation. For instance, you can say, "Well, how was your day in school today?" "Did you have any arguments with the boys in your class today?" "What was the most difficult moment of your day?" All these questions are good openers to get your child to begin conversing and sharing his experiences with you.

It is vital that you find time for each child to have his or her time alone with you, without the other members of the family present. These are the most precious moments, when the child knows that you are entirely his or hers. This could be accomplished by doing some homework together, or by going to shop together, or even doing some household task together. The idea is that this is a time devoted especially to that child, to show him how special he is to you and that he deserves special attention.

Love cannot come on demand. It will do no good to say to your child, "I want you to give me a kiss when you come home." Love must come from the heart. When the child receives the love he needs, he will automatically return that love. There is no button that you can press. It is entirely dependent upon how much time and effort you are willing to invest.

Some parents think that they can buy their children by giving them money or presents instead of time and attention. But the child has an inner sense of truth. He will not accept such "bribery," since he has a keen understanding of what is going on, and he knows if he is getting what he needs or not.

When we fail to provide our children with their most basic needs, it is so devastating that regret will hound us all our lives, while showing and giving love to our children is so rewarding that we will continually benefit from it.

1. Pirkei Avos 5:26
2. Tehillim 89:20
3. Bamidbar 23:7
4. Yehoshua 13:22
5. Bereshis 19:29
6. Ibid., 29:9
7. Ibid., 31:1
8. Ibid., 30:27
9. Bamidbar Rabbah, parashah 14, par. 20
10. Sanhedrin 105b
11. Pirkei Avos 2:13
12. Shemos 7:11

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