kindertorah.JPG (19131 bytes)
Simcha Groffman

Previous Issues Back to this week's Parsha

Kinder Torah

Parshas Balak

For parents to give over to the children at the Shabbos table

Who is Your Teacher, Avraham or Bilaam?

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (5:19) writes that one who has the three character traits of "a good eye", "low spirit", and "low physical desires" is a student of Avraham Avinu. "A good eye" means that the person looks favorably on another's possessions. He is not jealous. "A low spirit" characterizes a humble person. One who has "low physical desires" is happy with his standard of living. One who has the opposite character traits of jealousy, craving for honor, and lust for pleasures is a student of Bilaam Harasha. Rashi writes that Bilaam wanted to put an ayin hora (evil eye) on the Jewish people. His craving for honor is exhibited by the fact that he wanted to travel in grand style, with the most prestigious officers that Balak could send. His allusion to a house filled with silver and gold shows his desire for physical pleasures. The students of Avraham Avinu have a good life in this world and in the next world. The students of Bilaam suffer in the next world. Some say that they do not enjoy this world either. The Mishna is telling us the great reward that we will receive if we are like Avraham Avinu.

"Children . . .
When our brother or our friend receives a gift, who are we going to be like? Are we going to be like Bilaam and be jealous, or be like Avraham Avinu and be happy for him. Are we going to be like Bilaam and do things just for recognition, so others will notice? Or, are we going to be like Avraham and do what is right and not worry about the honor. When Imma says no more treats are we going to complain that we want more like Bilaam? Or are we going to be happy with what we have, like Avraham?"

Many Facets of Modesty

One of the blessings that Bilaam gave the Jewish people was (Bamidbar 24:5), "How good are your tents, Jacob, your dwellings, Israel." Rashi writes that Bilaam saw that the openings of their tents were not facing each other. The gemora in Bava Basra (80a) says that he saw the Scheinah (Divine Presence) upon them. The Torah Temima comments that their tents were arranged in such a way that they could not see into each other's homes. This is the character trait of tznius (modesty). Tznius is so important that it caused the Divine Presence to shine upon them. Modesty is the source of the kedusha (holiness) of the Jewish People. The last line of this week's Haftorah (Micah 5:8) speaks of modesty. "He has told you, O man, what is good! What does Hashem require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk modestly with your God." We also see in Megillas Ruth that Boaz noticed Ruth's modesty in the way that she bent down to pick up grain from the floor. Tznius is much more than the way we dress. It is a whole attitude of a Jew, not to boast, be loud, or flamboyant. We do not attract attention to ourselves; rather we try to draw honor to Hashem and the Torah.

"Children . . .
Who can think of different ways to be tznius? We usually think tznius refers to the way we dress. What about the way we speak? A tznius person converses in a soft tone of voice. Similarly, we do not need to boast about our accomplishments, let them speak for themselves. What about the way we walk? Ruth was tznius even when she picked up grain from the floor. We do not look into other people's homes, or ask prying questions about their private matters."

The Power of the Spoken Word

Balak was terrified of the Jewish People. He saw how they defeated Sichon and Og. Rashi tells us that their strength was not with weapons, rather with their mouth. Balak hired Bilaam Harasha, who would fight them on their own terms, and curse them with his mouth. How do we understand the idea of a nation whose strength is their mouths? Listen to the following parable. There was once a big tree with deep roots, a very strong trunk, and beautiful leaves. Along came a big strong elephant that tried to knock down the tree. He banged his head into the tree. The tree did not budge. He tried again with more strength. The tree stood firm. The elephant took a running start and slammed into the tree full force. All he got was a big headache. Along came a little worm. He ate the bark all around the tree, thereby killing it and causing it to dry out and fall down. The elephant, who used his mighty body, is like Eisav ([Bereshis 27:22], "The hands are the hands of Eisav") and the worm, who used just his mouth, is like Yaakov ("The voice is the voice of Yaakov").

"Children . . .
The might of the Jewish People is in our mouths that utter words of tefillah (prayer) and speak words of Torah, and blessings. Our holy mouths do not speak loshon hora, hurt people's feelings, or embarrass them. They are our true strength in this world."

Enjoy your Shabbos table !

For subscription information or to dedicate an issue of Kinder Torah please contact Rabbi Groffman at

Kinder Torah Copyright 1998
All rights reserved to the author
Simcha Groffman

Back to this week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Jerusalem, Israel