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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Balak

And Balak ben Tzipor saw. (22:2)

Horav Ze'ev Weinberger, Shlita, writes that he once heard stated in the name of Horav Moshe M'Rozvandov, zl, an ambiguous statement regarding the relationship among Parshios Korach, Chukas, and Balak. He said that the letter "Kuf," "e" is found in all three parshios. Kuf begins one, is in the middle of the next, and ends the third parsha. Korach, begins with a kuf; Chukas has the letter kuf in the middle, and Balak has it at the end. Needless to say, this statement is enigmatic. What lesson is to be derived from the position of the kuf in the names of the three parshios?

This question was presented to Horav Gedalyah Shorr, zl. After thinking for a few moments, he said, "The letter kuf alludes to kedushah, holiness, which begins with the letter kuf. Korach had kedushah in the beginning. His ancestors were great people. He descended from Shevet Levi. Parshas Chukas, which discusses the laws concerning the Parah Adumah, has a kuf in the middle, since the red cow is burned in the present. The kedushah is here and now. Balak has the kedushah in the end, in the future. Rus, a future Moavite descendant, after converting became the mother of royalty, the House of David Ha'Melech.

We infer from this idea a valuable lesson. Kedushah is present at some point, either in the beginning, the middle, or the end. Holiness must be present in order to sustain the inherent value of a situation. This kedushah will not, however, protect the individuals involved. We see that Korach met a tragic end, despite his noble pedigree. Balak was a rasha until his demise, despite his virtuous descendants. What do we learn from here? We see that kedushah must be consistent; in the beginning, the middle, and the end. One cannot be inclined to holiness at his convenience. Selective virtue has no place in living a Jewish life.

"And Balak the son of Tzippor saw all that Yisrael had done to the Emorites...Behold a people has come out of Egypt, see, they cover the face of the earth." (22:2, 5)

This is a paradigm of the sad tale of history, notes Horav Moshe Swiftz, zl. The gentiles acknowledge only that which the Jews have done to the Emorites. Did Balak also notice the violence which the Emorites perpetrated upon us? The gentiles see the Jew through their unique spectacles. They stand ready to condemn any Jewish action committed rightly or wrongly, without consideration and without empathy. Their eyes are closed; their senses are numbed with indifference to the plight of the Jew.

Balak said, "Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth." The gentile vision was distorted. The face that they saw, this handful of broken desert-worn ex-slaves as rulers who dominated the face of the earth, was reflective of selfish aims! The vast world provides space for everyone, but the Jew covers the earth. There is no room to move, no place to live, because the world is inundated with Jews! This is gentile hypocrisy, an anti-Semitic view of reality. We have lived with this superficially innocuous -- but realistically vicious -- diatribe throughout our sojourn in exile. If we reflect upon the source of these statements, we will be able to give them their due recognition: total disregard!

"Behold, a man of Bnei Yisrael came and brought a Midyanite woman near to his brothers." (25:6)

During a meeting of rabbonim held in Yerushalayim, an individual raised a question to the august assemblage. Suddenly an older man arose and addressed the group, "My friends, I am beyond the age of seventy, and I can, therefore, assure you that I am beyond being tainted by the pursuit of honor. I suggest that we render the following decision..." He went on to state his "humble" opinion. Upon hearing this, Horav Leib Chasman, zl, who was one of the attendees at the meeting, stood up and emphatically said, "With all due respect, I must disagree with my colleague. It is a well-known premise that when one organ or sense of the body becomes weakened, the slack is picked up by the rest of the body. For this reason, when one advances with age, as his physical desires lessen, his desire for honor and importance grows commensurately. We must therefore, be concerned with the yetzer hora for kavod, especially for one who has grown old.

Horav Chaim Shmulevitz, zl, cited this incident to support this idea, using Zimri as proof. Maharsha proves that Zimri was at least two hundred and fifty years old when he publicly ridiculed Moshe Rabbeinu. One would wonder how such a distinguished and aged leader would act so foolishly. What would provoke Zimri to behave in such a destructive manner?

The answer, claims Rav Chaim, is to be inferred from Chazal in the Talmud Sanhedrin 82b, who relate how it all happened. When Moshe instituted the judges to execute all those who had worshipped the idol Peor, the members of the tribe of Shimon came to Zimri and complained,. "Look what our young leaders are doing. Are you going to just sit back while people much younger than you render decisions involving capitol punishment?" As soon as Zimri heard this, he gathered together twenty four thousand Jews and publicly impugned Moshe's authority.

This occurred as the result of the yearning for a little kavod. Zimri could not tolerate the idea that he would be viewed as inadequate in comparison to the "younger" Moshe. The downfall of an aged and distinguished scholar, one who had survived so much, resulted from an overactive ego. How tragic is the quest for kavod.

"Behold! A man of Bnei Yisrael came and brought a midyanite woman near to his brothers...And they were weeping at the entrance to the tent." (25:6)

The Midrash states that when Zimri brazenly brought the pagan woman before Moshe, he asked him, "Ben Amram, is this woman permitted to me -- or forbidden?" "She is forbidden," replied Moshe. Zimri countered, "If she is forbidden, who permitted you to marry your wife, since she is the daughter of a Midyanite priest?" Moshe did not respond. This caused the people around him to begin weeping. Moshe did nothing to counter Zimri's brazenness. Surprisingly, he did not even implore Hashem to put a stop to Zimri's insurgence. The Midrash adds that Hashem inquired of Moshe, "Where is the wisdom you demonstrated when Korach rebelled against you? Your response to him brought about his death, as the earth swallowed him up. Then you acted, and now you seem lethargic!"

Chazal teach us that Moshe forgot the halachah regarding one who publicly violates the Torah prohibition against cohabitation with a gentile. Hashem made him forget, so that Pinchas would act accordingly and be worthy of reward. Why did Moshe not pray to Hashem for help? Why did he just stand there? Second, what connection is there between Moshe's reaction to Korach and his non-reaction to Zimri? Did his reaction to Korach represent the zenith of Moshe's career as leader? What about the Egyptian that he killed in Egypt before he became leader of Klal Yisrael?

Horav Betzalel Ha'kohen, zl, M'Vilna, explains that under normal circumstances, Moshe would have ignored Korach. He responded only after Korach ridiculed halachah and said, "You, Moshe, were not commanded by Hashem to transmit these laws--you made them up!" This statement compelled Moshe to respond. We may tolerate the foolishness that comes forth from those who have alienated themselves from the Torah way of life. When they ridicule Torah, when they spout forth heresy and deny the origin of Torah, no room for forgiveness exists. Kefirah, heresy, is not something we can ignore. This is what Moshe taught us. Korach went too far; he passed the point of no return.

We understand now what Hashem was asking Moshe. Was Zimri any less of an apikores than Korach? He also was denying the integrity of halachah. So, why did Moshe fail to respond? We suggest what might be a pragmatic reason for Moshe's inaction. When Zimri posed the question directly to Moshe "Who permitted you to marry your wife?" -- Moshe was in a quandary. There was no question that his case was different, since he had married Tzipporah before the Torah had been given. Moreover, she had converted to Judaism. Yet, was he acting out of religious zealousness or because he was personally affected? Furthermore, what would the people think? They might say that he was covering up his own error. This enigma prevented Moshe from taking decisive action. Perhaps this is why Hashem turned to Pinchas to take charge.

"Hashem's wrath flowed because he was going. And an angel of Hashem stood on the road to impede him....The angel of Hashem stood in the path of the vineyards." (22:22,24)

The Torah does not consistently use Hashem's Name. In the beginning, when it states that Hashem's wrath flared, the Torah uses the Name Elokim, which implies the attribute of din, justice. Afterwards, it says that Hashem dispatched an angel to save Bilaam from sin. The Torah now employs the Name Hashem which implies the attribute of rachamim, compassion. Why is there a change in Hashem's relationship to the situation?

The Chofetz Chaim, zl, explains that Bilaam was ostensibly endowed with a special neshama, soul. He had the ability to attain very high levels of spiritual achievement. Alas, he used his G-d-given gift for the wrong purpose. Yet, Hashem attempted to reach him, to avail him of the opportunity to be saved from sin. Bilaam either did not see -- or did not care. At first Hashem was angry. This explains the use of the Name Elokim, referring to the attribute of justice. Due to His awareness of Bilaam's lofty spiritual potential, Hashem compassionately sent an angel to dissuade him from sin. Hashem even altered the course of nature in order to prevent Bilaam from sinning. Bilaam regrettably saw what he wanted to see, and he heard only what he chose to hear.

Hashem sends us "little" messages. If we are cognizant, if we open our eyes, we will take note and realize the purpose of these communiqués. The Chofetz Chaim claims that it was such a subtle message that motivated Rav Chaim Volozhiner, zl, to make his famous "yeshivah". The story goes that Rav Chaim, who was a businessman at the time, came to the city on the major market day to conduct business. Another merchant recognized Rav Chaim and came over to ask him, "Why are you here today, Reb Chaim? What business are you involved in here?" At the time, Rav Chaim responded that he was present as a money-changer. Later on, however, it dawned on him that perhaps there was a deeper meaning to the questions. The question's focus placed upon "you" -- "Why are you here today? What business are you involved in today?"--glared down at him. Really, what was he doing there? Sure, he was "exchanging." Was it only money or Olam Habbah -- the eternal world -- for Olam Ha'zeh, this temporary world? Was he right in devoting his life to business when he could be devoting himself to Torah? Rav Chaim heard; he took note--and he founded what became the great Volozhiner Yeshivah.

How did it all begin? It started with a simple question--but it was one directed to a person who did not take anything for granted. He felt that this question carried with it a message that was directed to him. He took immediate action. The results of that action are with us until this very day. We must realize that Hashem is always sending us little messages, encouraging us to live our lives in a more meaningful manner, intimating to us that we should be doing things differently on changing our focus in life. We just have to begin listening.

1. What made the Moavites seek advice from the Midyanites, who were their enemies?
2. From where did Balak, king of Moav, originate?
3. a) Where do we see Bilaam's alacrity in cursing Bnei Yisrael?
b) Who did something similar which later served as a merit for Bnei Yisrael?
4. Why did Bilaam use both names, Yaakov and Yisrael, in reference to the Jewish People?
5. How does Bilaam refer to the Avos in his curses?
6. Who was a greater sorcerer--Balak or Bilaam?

1. They realized that Bnei Yisrael's success was supernatural. They figured that since their leader, Moshe, spent time in Midyan, they would swallow their pride and turn to the Midyanites from whom he derived his power. When they were told that Moshe's greatest asset was his mouth, employing the vehicle of tefillah, they sought one of their own whose power was in his "mouth." Hence, they enlisted Bilaam to curse the Jews.
2. Midyan
3. a) Bilaam arose early in the morning to saddle his own donkey--by himself.
b) Avraham Avinu, as he prepared to go to the Akeidah.
4. He was not sure which was their real name, and he wanted to be sure that his curses would be effective.
5. Tzurim, rocks, which imply firmness and strong commitment.
6. Balak

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