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   by Jacob Solomon

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QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND COMMENTARIES ON PARASHAT BALAK - 5764


1. Why did Balak, the King of Moab fear the Israelites (22:3), in view of their being forbidden by the Torah to attack Moab in the first place (Deut. 2:9,19) - according to (a) the Ramban and (b) the implication Rashi to 21:27 (on Parashat Chukat)?

2. Why was G-d angry with Balaam (22:22) for accompanying Balak's officials, when He expressly did give him permission to do so (22:20) - according to (a) Rashi and (b) the Ramban?

3. Why did G-d give Balaam's ass the power of speech (2228), according to the Kli Yakar?

4. G-d's giving Balaam permission to work together with Balak's plans was on the condition that he would do as G-d commanded (22:20). How was Balaam allowed to build the seven altars (23:1) that G-d did not command, according to the Ohr Hachayim?

5. What is the meaning of Balaam's statement that the Israelites are 'a people that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations', (23:9) according to (a) Rashi and (b) the Midrash Hagadol?

6. What is the meaning and context of the words 'How good are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places O Israel' (24:5), according to Rashi?

7. The Talmud (Avot 5:22) states that a disciple of Balaam the Wicked has the following three traits: ill-will towards others, arrogance, and greed. Where may these be inferred from the text of the Parasha, according to Rashi?

8. To crown the sin of Baal Peor, Zimri the Prince of the tribe of Simeon endorsed it by 'bringing' (understood by the Rabbis as publicly cohabiting) Kozbi the Princess of one of the Midianite tribes before Moses and the assembly. Why were they stated to have been 'weeping' at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting (25:6) according to (a) Rashi and (b) Ibn Ezra?

ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND COMMENTARIES ON PARASHAT BALAK

1. Balak, the King of Moab feared the Israelites (a) according to the Ramban, because they seemed likely to conquer the surrounding city-states and force Moab to pay tribute to them, and (b) according Rashi (to 21:27 - on Parashat Chukat), because some of the lands ruled by Moab did not come under the Torah's ban, as they took them from the Amorites in battle.

2. G-d's giving Balaam permission to accompany Balaam was: (a) According to Rashi, because He acknowledged that the call came under the heading of 'for you' (22:20) - that Balaam stood to gain financially, and He did not wish to deprive him of a good business opportunity. He made it clear, however, that he was to do just and exactly as G-d instructed him (ibid). It was Balaam's enthusiasm and zeal to curse the Israelites - expressed by he himself carrying the menial journey preparations that he would normally leave to his servants, that provoked His wrath. (b) According to the Ramban, when the second delegation cane, Balaam said that he had to consult G-d - which was the correct thing to do. G-d told Balaam that he could go, but only on His terms - that he was to do precisely what He instructed. For G-d wanted Balaam to bless Israel, so that the nations would know that even their own prophet had to add his blessing to G-d's Chosen Nation. But Balaam left that detail out - he did not relate it to the delegation. He thus let them think that G-d had allowed him to curse the Israelites. Therefore Balaam desecrated G-d's Name, for let them believe He had gone back on His word, and later, when G-d commanded him to bless, Balak and his people would be sure that G-d, not Balaam, had deceived them.

3. G-d give Balaam's ass the power of speech, according to the Kli Yakar, to teach the following lesson. The ass had been enabled to speak only for the honor of Israel, and he, Balaam, had been granted prophecy on the same terms as that ass. He was not worthy of being a prophet, but he was, like the ass, a mere tool of G-d to let the Israelites receive His Blessings.

4. Balaam built the seven altars that G-d did not command, according to the Ohr Hachayim, because he reasoned that although he was prohibited to invoke the impure powers of sorcery, he was permitted to serve G-d in the traditional manner.

5. The Israelites are 'a people that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations', means, according to (a) Rashi, that they will never suffer the ultimate destruction that will be the long term of empires and civilizations and (b) that they are destined to be a nation that is separate and distinct from all other nations.

6. 'How good are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places O Israel' (24:5), according to Rashi, is referring to Balaam's drawing G-d's attention to the Israelites' merits - to their high standards of privacy and family life. For the tents were arranged so that their entrances did not face one another, which showed respect to the privacy and personal dignity of the individual families.

7. According to Rashi, his: (a) ill-will (literally - 'evil eye') towards others (in this case, the Israelites) is learnt from the tradition of 'Balaam lifted up his eyes' (24:2), meaning that he wished to invoke the evil eye (ill-will) on the Israelites (b) arrogance is implied in the way he dismissed Balak's first group of messengers. In saying that G-d refused him permission to go 'with you' (22:13), he arrogantly wished to convey the meaning that they were not of high enough rank - G-d might well change His mind if more important people were put on the job (c) greed is suggested by the words of 'would Balak give me his house full of silver and gold' (22:17) - that he longed for that extraordinary sum of wealth…

8. (a) According to Rashi, the Torah had been openly and willfully transgressed in the flagrant manner of publicly cohabiting with a Midianite idolatress. They were weeping because they could not remember whether 'the zealous might slay him' - whether they might be killed without due process of Torah law. (G-d caused Moses to forget so that Phineas might act out of zeal and be worthy of His blessing and entry into the priesthood.)

(b) According to Ibn Ezra, Moses and the elders has assembled to tearfully pray that G-d might be compassionate and avert the plague that they knew was to come their way.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: jacobsol@netvision.net.il for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Also by Jacob Solomon:
Between the Fish and the Soup

From the Prophets on the Haftara

e-mail: jacobsol@netvision.net.il

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