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Haftarah: Michah 5:6-6:8

JULY 6-7, 2012 17 TAMUZ 5772

The fast of the Seventeenth of Tamuz will be on Sunday, July 8. The period of the Three Weeks begins on this day. During this time, no weddings or parties with music are permitted.


"I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing opposite me on the road." (Bemidbar 22:34)

Our perashah contains the famous story of Bilam's donkey that spoke. Three separate times Hashem caused the donkey of Bilam to see the angel of Hashem. All three times the donkey saw the sword-wielding angel, got frightened, and tried her best to avoid the angel. All three times Bilam beat his donkey because he didn't see the angel. Finally Hashem "opened the mouth" of the donkey and she confronted him over what had just transpired. After an amazing dialogue with his donkey, Bilam at last merited to see the angel for himself. The angel rebuked Bilam, "Why have you beaten your donkey these three times?"

The angel's question is difficult to understand. Since Bilam did not know about the angel, why was he being reprimanded for his handling of his donkey? Furthermore, Bilam's answer to the angel is also puzzling. "I have sinned for I did not know that you were standing on the road before me. Now if it displeases you, I will return." To the contrary, the fact that he didn't know about the angel was a reason for it not being a sin!

The answer is that Bilam should have gotten the message. Granted, Hashem gave him permission to accompany the Moabites. But Hashem had only given him permission to reveal what the future will bring. He had not received permission to curse the Israelites, which is what he wanted to do. Bilam should have realized that his donkey's behavior was a message that Hashem was displeased. This failure to connect the dots and draw the right conclusion was his sin.

All of us are constantly receiving messages. When we set out to do something and find obstacles in our way, they are there for a reason. We must stop and think. Are my plans in line with the will of Hashem? If you can comfortably answer yes, then the obstacles are simply proof that your plan is very important in heaven. It is so important that the evil inclination is doing all it can to stop it. But, if you can't answer yes, then these obstacles may very well be a message that this is not what you should be doing. Sometimes it's not so black and white and guidance is needed.

Listen to the messages. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

When we read in the perashah about the talking donkey we can't help but wonder why this miracle had to occur, and to none other than to Bil'am, the prophet of the nations. Indeed, this was one of the phenomenon created at the end of the six days of creation, which makes it even more amazing why such a great event was necessary, and to Bil'am of all people.

The Rabbis tell us that the lesson here is very simple and yet very important. Bil'am, the greatest prophet of all the nations, was intending to curse the Jewish people. He wanted to use his G-d given gift of speech to do harm to our nation. Hashem wanted to show him that the gift of speech is divine and should be used properly. Even a donkey could speak if Hashem wills it so, and therefore Bil'am should not be arrogant about his ability to bless or curse because it is only from G-d that a person can say anything.

We have to appreciate our ability to speak and communicate. We should understand that it was given to us to be able to pray and bless Hashem and bring benefit to ourselves and to our fellow man. Yet when we abuse the power of speech by speaking evil about others or cursing other people, we are misusing one of the greatest gifts to mankind.

One great Rabbi once said that we should have been created with two mouths, one to pray to Hashem and the other to use for everyday talk. Then he reconsidered and said that if we would use both our mouths the wrong way, imagine how terrible it would be. We hear of small children using foul language that they pick up from the street (or from the home!) Could this be why our prayers are not being answered the way we would like them to be, since our mouths are being used to hurt rather than to help? Imagine the benefit to everyone if words of praise, compliments, constructive criticism, consolation and encouragement would be the bulk of what came out of our mouths? After we say something good to others, let's try to pray to Hashem and see what happens. We will be pleasantly surprised! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


It seems that our days pass too quickly to allow for careful consideration of our actions. We live our lives from moment to moment, and don't have time to make changes.

The quality of our lives can be improved by making a series of little changes to create a better environment for ourselves.

For example, one of the great inventions of all time is the cup holder, which enables drivers or passengers to put down a drink while traveling, rather than fumble with the container until they finish downing the beverage. It's not a headline-grabbing invention, but it really does make life more pleasant.

Similarly, there are many simple ways we can rearrange our lives to improve our quality of life. At home, at work, or in our cars, little changes can make a big difference.

Midrash Rabba, on Shir Hashirim, quotes the phrase, kevutsotav taltalim (5:11). The Midrash explains that taltalim refers to mounds, and kevutsotav refers to cutting them apart.

If one has to remove a huge mound of earth, one does so by "cutting it apart" and removing a small amount at a time.

A friend of mine was consistently five minutes behind schedule for everything. One morning he was awakened early by some noises outside his bedroom window. He got up, got dressed, had a quick hit of caffeine, and went to the synagogue to pray. It was the first time he ever found convenient parking nearby and actually had to wait for the services to begin. It was also the first time he was able to concentrate on the fact that he was talking to Hashem about the priorities of his life and asking Hashem to improve his situation. He decided to change his wake-up time by five minutes from then on.

When you find yourself rushing to do something that you do daily, stop and ask yourself, "Is there a better way?" Constantly looking for the better way - even by making a small change - can lead to permanent improvements in your quality of life. (One Minute With Yourself - Rabbi Raymond Beyda)

* * * * *

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.

Call to 646-279-8712 or email (Privacy of email limited by the email address)

Please pass this message along. Tizku L'misvot.

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