JULY 15-16, 2005 9 TAMUZ 5765
We are all familiar with the donkey of Bilam which spoke to him after Bilam hit it. This was an extraordinary miracle done for the benefit of the Jewish people to show Bilam that the power of speech belongs to Hashem, so that Bilam should not be connected with his ability to bless or curse people, since even a donkey could talk by will of Hashem.
The amazing thing is that G-d had this donkey killed so that people shouldn't point to it and say, "This donkey talked back to Bilam the prophet." Imagine what a kidush Hashem, sanctification of G-d's name, it would be if we could see this donkey and what a great lesson it would teach people. But for the sake of Bilam's honor, even though he was wicked, Hashem caused this animal to die. We see from here how important is the honor of a human being, which can override the lessons to be had with this amazing talking donkey. We would do well to remember this whenever a question comes up which involves the dignity and respect of someone else. Be it with words or deeds, how careful should we be to preserve the honor of any human being, especially a friend or a loved one! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"Take all the leaders of the people and hang them facing the sun"
Bilaam was hired to curse the people. Ultimately he was unable to do so. For a parting shot he advised our enemy, Balak, to tempt our young men with immorality, causing them to sin. This would in turn ignite the anger of Hashem. Where Bilaam couldn't succeed in cursing us he did succeed in causing us to sin. Hashem tells Moshe that the sinners must be punished. As Rashi explains our verse quoted above, the leaders were called upon to put the sinners on trial and punish them. The Midrash Tanhuma differs and explains that the leaders were called upon, but not to punish, rather to be punished. Since they didn't rebuke and admonish the nation, they were to be hanged. A leader who is able to rebuke and fails to do so is held responsible for the sin committed. The Meiri on the Talmud (Shabbat 55a) states that this rule applies to leaders and to anyone of influence that can rebuke and admonish.
Rabbi Menashe Klein (quoted in Ish Lere'ehu) makes an interesting point. We are well aware of the statement in Pirkei Abot that we must always give the benefit of the doubt. In our perashah (23:21) the verse states, "He perceived no iniquity in Israel...Hashem his G-d is with him." This means that if a person sees no iniquity in his fellow Jew, that is, instead of finding fault in others he always focuses on the good and gives the benefit of the doubt, then Hashem, his G-d, will be with him and he will enjoy Hashem's "friendship." Because such a person looks for the good in others, Hashem will focus on his good qualities. Rabbi Klein explains that this principle does not contradict the directive to reprove our fellow Jews when necessary. It should be understood that giving people the benefit of the doubt does not mean interpreting their sins as permissible acts. Rather, it is upon the observer to judge the sinner in the most positive light possible. One can never know the circumstances behind the sin or the sinner; therefore we shouldn't assume the person is wicked. It might be due to error or circumstances. Still, this does not eliminate the need to correct the person. One can say, "I understand that you did not know..." or, "I understand that the challenge is extremely difficult for you..." This way one can see the best in his friend and still fulfill the obligation to reprove.
All of this can help increase harmony and unity in our community. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah
"Let me die the death of the righteous and let my end be like his" (Bemidbar 23:10)
We see from this statement of Bilaam that he realized the truth that one should lead a righteous life. Why then did he himself not live righteously and only wished that he could die and be rewarded as the righteous? Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm explained that although Bilaam had an intellectual awareness of the proper way to live, in his own life he found this too difficult. Because he had faulty character traits, he was not able to live according to the ideals and principles he knew were true.
We see from here the importance of correcting one's character traits. Without an awareness of what is proper and what is improper one cannot live righteously. But even after one has studied and knows what is good and what is evil, he must be able to follow through in his daily behavior. A person needs to be in control of his impulses. Having this mastery over one's natural tendencies will enable a person to live according to his ideals. Lacking this, one will do all kinds of improper actions. The problem is not one of knowledge, but of self-discipline. For this reason we must work on improving our character traits for only then will we be able to act righteously. It is just wishful thinking to believe that one can do all kinds of evil and still die as a righteous person. The only way to die as a righteous person is to live as one, and to do this takes much self-discipline. But when a person has a strong will to live a certain way, he will be successful. By building up a strong will to live righteously your entire behavior will be elevated. (Growth through Torah)
How goodly are your tents, O Ya'akob, your dwelling places, O Israel" (Bemidbar 24:5)
Rashi comments that Bilaam was amazed when "he saw that the openings [of their tents] were not lined up one with the other." Why did he focus on their "openings"?
The Midrash Rabbah says that Hashem urges the Jewish people to do teshubah, saying: Pitchu li petach kechuda shel machat veAni poteach lachem petachim shetiheyu agalot nichnasot bo - Make a small opening like that of the head of a needle and I will open for you an opening through which caravans can enter." In other words, the Jew merely has to begin the teshubah process and Hashem will help him to attain the most lofty goals. Thus, the "openings" that Jews have to make and Hashem's reciprocal "opening" are not comparable.
Therefore, in praise and envy Bilaam said, "You Jews are so lucky; your opening and Hashem's opening are not 'lined up' - identical - to each other. You only have to put in a little effort and Hashem opens for you the vast gates of teshubah. If your G-d loves you so much, how can my cursing possibly have an effect?" (Vedibarta Bam)
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.
A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.
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