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JULY 2-3, 2004 14 TAMUZ 5764

The Fast of 17 Tamuz will be observed on Tuesday, July 6.

Pop Quiz: How many times did the angel appear to the donkey before Bil'am saw it?


As we read the story of Bil'am and how he wanted to curse the Jewish people, we can't help but be amazed at his determination. He first asked Hashem whether he could go with Balak's messengers, and Hashem told him no. Then he asked again, and although this time he was given permission, still his donkey stopped three times until the angel revealed himself that he was sent to prevent Bil'am from going. He still proceeded to try to curse the Jews, and every time he attempted it, it came out as a blessing but he still didn't give up.

From here we see the rule that if a person has a real will to do something, he will ultimately reach his goal. Bil'am persevered and would have succeeded had Hashem not turned his curses into blessings. Nothing stands in the way of a strong will. The reason we are not accomplishing what we want is that we don't want them strongly enough. This applies to business, to doing certain projects, and most certainly to spiritual endeavors. It is up to us to intensify our wills to accomplish. The stronger the will, the more we will succeed. Let's work on developing a strong desire for spiritual growth and we'll be amazed at the positive changes we will experience! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"I have sinned, for I did not know" (Bemidbar 22:34)

Whenever the Torah tells us a story, it is for practical application into our own lives. It is true that the Torah narratives are extremely interesting on their own, but we must take the time and reflect on the story and apply it. Our perashah tells about the wicked prophet Bil'am who sets out on a journey to go and curse the Jewish people. The donkey that he is riding stops in its tracks three times because an angel, unseen by Bil'am, is blocking the road. Finally the angel becomes visible to Bil'am and it is now obvious that the angel was trying to stop him on his mission. So Bil'am cries out that he sinned inadvertently because he didn't know that there was something wrong with his plan at the time. The Shlah Hakadosh asks, if Bil'am really didn't know at the time that his mission was wrong, but only knows now from the fact that a heavenly angel was trying to stop him, why is it called a sin? The answer is that Bil'am should have known. He should have detected from his donkey's unusual behavior, stopping three times for no reason, that Hashem was sending him a message. We are held accountable for things that we should know.

Rabbi David Goldwasser tells a story of Rabbi Gifter, who as a young boy, was accompanying his Rosh Yeshivah in a vacation area during the vacation weeks. The Rosh Yeshivah needed some rest to improve his health. The suggestion was made to take a boat ride in a nearby lake. At first the Rabbi agreed, but when he got on the boat something was bothering him, and he got off the boat before it left the dock. When he was asked why he got off he explained himself. There is a law to recite a prayer, tefillat haderech, when traveling on the water. However, since he really wasn't traveling to a specific destination, maybe the prayer doesn't apply. Since he couldn't resolve this dilemma, he decided not to take the ride in the boat.

Not knowing something is not really a license to do something if one should know. If one is in doubt of the correctness of one's action, one should either ask or perhaps temporarily refrain from doing anything until finding out the correct way to go. This is something practical to learn from Bil'am. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah


"Bil'am said to the angel of Hashem: I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing before me on the road; now if it is bad in your eyes I shall return." (Bemidbar 22:34)

The Midrash comments on Bil'am's saying that he had sinned: "Bil'am was a cunning evil person and realized that he had to admit he sinned in order to be saved."

That is, Bil'am was totally insincere in saying that he had made a mistake. True repentance is when a person sincerely regrets the wrong that he has done. But Bil'am cared not one bit about being a truly good person. He was full of negative traits and only cared about gratifying his desires. Therefore, he was even willing to say that he was sorry for what he did if that would get him off the hook. He had no interest in true self-improvement.

There are two ways that a person can admit that he was wrong. One is a sincere wish to do what is right and to avoid doing what is wrong. When a person with integrity sees that he has erred, he truly regrets what he has done wrong and resolves to improve in the future. But a person who just says that he realizes he has done wrong in order to save himself from punishment does not truly regret the wrongs that he has done, and he will not be resolved to stop doing wrong in the future. If he feels that he can get away with doing wrong, he will continue to do it. Do not just say that you are sorry when you have erred. Rather try to experience sincere regret and be resolved to actually improve your behavior. If you tell another person whom you have wronged that you are sorry and the person sees that you are just saying it so he will leave you alone, he will not accept your apology. Hashem is the same. Be sincere when you tell Him that you are sorry. (Growth through Torah)


Question: After habdalah is completed, some have the custom of dipping a finger in the wine, and placing it around the face and eyes. Why? Answer: This displays a love of misvot. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


"Bil'am hit the donkey to turn her to the road." (Bemidbar 22:23)

We can see from this situation how a person can have very little insight about his own actions. Bil'am was on his way to attempt to curse the Jewish nation even though, by doing so, he was going against the will of Hashem. Yet, when his donkey veered off the road, he beat it with his stick because it defied him. He couldn't tolerate the fact that his donkey wouldn't obey him, even though he himself refused to obey Hashem. It seems like a very selfish attitude, yet it is something that everyone has to some degree. A person should always try to keep things in perspective, and not demand from others what he himself is not prepared to do.

When a person gets aggravated by someone's actions, he should internalize it and consider whether he is also guilty of a similar misdeed. This will help him to understand and tolerate the other person actions, and it will also help him to improve his own ways. We must be careful not to have a double standard by demanding of others more than we demand of ourselves. Question: Are you careful not to criticize people in areas that you are also lacking? Do you use other people's flaws as opportunities for self-improvement?


This week's Haftarah: Micah 5:6 - 6:8

This week's entire perashah discusses the futile attempts of Balak and Bil'am to curse B'nei Yisrael in the desert. This haftarah recounts some of the miracles that Hashem did for the Jewish people in the desert. The episode of Balak and Bil'am is mentioned, adding that we should always remember how Hashem, in His righteousness, protected us from them.

Answer to Pop Quiz: Three.

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