June 26, 1999 12 Tamuz 5759
The Fast of Shib'ah Asar B'Tamuz will be observed on Thursday, July 1.
by Rabbi Reuven Semah
"Pray to Hashem and have Him take away the snakes from us; and Moshe prayed for the people" (Bemidbar 21:7) In our perashah the Jewish people spoke out against Hashem and Moshe.
Hashem sent a plague of poisonous serpents that bit and killed the people. Rabbi S. R. Hirsch brings to our attention an interesting use of a word that tells us a world of information. The word shalah means "to send." If Hashem sent the serpents to attack our people, the right word would be "vayishlah Hashem, and Hashem sent." However, the pasuk says (21:6) "vayshalah Hashem - and Hashem let loose." It implies the concept of letting something go, to leave it to its natural way, not to hold back. This tells us that the environment of the desert was filled with hurtful creatures and Hashem's protection was needed to protect them constantly. Our Sages teach us that the desert situation was a model for our lives today. Physically, we are surrounded by germs and viruses, and Hashem's protection keeps us healthy.
During the plague the people thought that the snakes were killing them. They asked Moshe Rabenu to pray for the removal of the snakes. Moshe, on the other hand, knew full well that it was not the snakes, but their sins that brought about the death and destruction, so he prayed "b'ad ha'am, for the people," that they should repent and then the snakes would stop taking their death toll.
As I write these words, there are many people who are very sick and need _our_ prayers. How much more powerful would our prayers be if it were joined with _our_ repentance. Shabbat Shalom.
by Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
As Bilaam was on his way to curse the Jewish people, his donkey began to give him trouble, so he hit the donkey with his stick. The donkey opened its mouth and began to speak to him. This should have shocked Bilaam and caused him to tremble, but he just kept on going his normal way. Why did Bilaam merit to see this miracle? Hashem was sending him a lesson: "You, Bilaam, think you are using your mouth to harm the Jews - the mouth is a gift from G-d, and even an animal can speak when Hashem wills it so.
Don't use the gift of speech to go against Hashem and His people."
We take our speaking abilities for granted until one day we have laryngitis and then we can't say a word. A few months ago, when I was unable to speak or sing, I looked at others who could speak, with longing and yearning, hoping to be able to be like them. Let us not wait for when we don't have the gift of words to appreciate what we have. Let us think about speech as a great gift from G-d to be used to bring happiness and blessing to others, and to pray to Hashem with. Shabbat Shalom.
"Make for yourself the image of a snake and place it on a pole, and it will be that everyone who was bitten shall see it and will live" (Bemidbar 21:8)
Commentators note that the snakes bit the people and the image of the snake was the cure. Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz explained that when a person hits someone, it comes from anger and hatred, but when he helps another person, it comes from compassion and love. With Hashem, however, even when He causes a person to suffer, it comes from His compassion and love.
In the overall scheme of things a person gains from that suffering. It is either atonement, it serves a lesson to teach a person to improve, or it elevates a person. Therefore, the smiting and the cure can be from the same thing because both come from the attribute of love. (Growth through Torah)
"Bilaam arose in the morning and saddled his she-donkey" (Bemidbar 22:21)
Rashi writes that when Bilaam personally saddled his she-donkey, Hashem said to him, "Wicked one, Abraham already preceded you, as it is stated, 'Abraham woke up early in the morning and saddled his donkey'" (Beresheet 22:3). How does Abraham's saddling his donkey affect Bilaam?
Abraham interpreted Hashem's request to bring up his son as an offering to mean that he should literally slaughter him. Consequently, he woke up early in the morning and saddled his donkey in order to fulfill Hashem's will, although simultaneously the continuity of the Jewish people would cease. After binding Yitzhak on the altar, he stretched out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son, but suddenly an angel from Heaven stopped him and explained that Hashem never told him to slaughter his son, but only to bring him and prepare him for a burnt-offering.
Bilaam, on the other hand, permeated with evil intentions, wanted to curse the Jewish people, and thus end their existence. Upon noticing the alacrity with which Bilaam approached to destroy the Jewish people, Hashem said to him, "You wicked fool! Had I wanted to destroy the Jewish people I could have done it years ago through my faithful servant, Abraham. If I did not do it then through him, I will surely not permit a wicked person like you to destroy them." (Vedibarta Bam)
"[Bilaam said to the donkey], 'If only there were a sword in my hand I would now have killed you'" (Bemidbar 22:29)
The Midrash Tanhuma tells that the donkey responded to Bilaam, "If you can't even kill me without a sword, how do you expect to wipe out an entire nation by cursing them?" Bilaam had no answer and was silent.
The Oznayim laTorah seeks an answer to the donkey's remark. In addition, he asks how a blessing or curse could have any effect on a person if, as we know, blessing and curse are solely dependent on the merits or sins of a person. Of what benefit is the blessing of a saddik, and how can the curse of a rasha do any damage?
A person has inside himself forces of good and evil. When a person blesses someone, his intention is to arouse the good forces inside the other person so that he will deserve blessing from Hashem. On the other hand, when a person curses another, he is arousing the evil forces in the other person so that he should deserve punishment.
This, however, applies only to man, who has free choice. This cannot have any effect on an animal, because an animal does not choose to do good or bad, and therefore cannot bring blessing or punishment upon itself. For this reason, Bilaam was not able to kill his donkey without a sword.
This also explains why Bilaam intended to curse B'nei Yisrael instead of blessing the nation of Moab. Bilaam knew that even if Moab did teshubah and deserved blessing, they would still never reach the level of B'nei Yisrael. Only by bringing B'nei Yisrael to sin could Bilaam's mission be successful. (Lekah Tob)
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