Parshat Balak תשע”ט
Imagine you are driving along in your car one day, and you are a bit apprehensive about the meeting you are about to have, so you are gripping the steering wheel very tightly. Suddenly, out of the speakers of your car you hear, “Hey! Why are you squeezing the steering wheel so hard!? Let up, you’re killing me!” Would you answer back, “Sorry, I’m a bit nervous about the meeting I am going to?” Or would you jump out of your seat in surprise?
This very story happened with Bilam in our Parsha this week (Numbers 22:28-30). Bilam, the non-Jewish prophet, was on his way to curse the Jewish people, and after hitting his donkey three times, the donkey says to him. “Hey! Why did you hit me three times?
Bilam answered, “What do you mean ‘why did I hit you?’ Because you messed with me! You scraped my foot against the wall! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you!”
The donkey responded, “I’m the donkey you rode on since you were a little boy, have I ever done this to you before?” And Bilam said, “No.”
What happened here? How could Bilam just respond to the donkey as if nothing unusual was going on? How could he not be taken aback by the talking, accusing donkey?
The Sages explain that Bilam’s hatred for the Jewish people was so intense and his desire to curse them so strong that nothing could phase him in his mission. He tuned everything else out, even as bizarre an occurrence as a talking donkey. Nothing would stop him in his mission.
This lesson applies to us also. Sometimes we are so intent on doing something, nothing will stop us. Warning lights are going off everywhere, but we are oblivious to them, completely focused on our mission and tuning everything else out. Nothing will stop us from accomplishing our mission! It is good to be focused, but we must be alert to warning signs that indicate we are on the wrong path, and that something needs to be changed.
Here is the background information.
The name of this week’s Torah portion is Balak. Balak is the name of the king of Moab who became petrified of the Jewish nation after seeing how they decimated the two most powerful kings, Sichon the king of Emori, and Og the king of Bashan. These two nations were the vanguard for the entire region, and if they could not stand up to the Jewish nation, Moav certainly wouldn’t stand a chance. Balak had to think out of the box if he was going to defeat these people.
Balak sought to figure out the secret sauce of the Jewish people. What gives them the strength to overtake even the most powerful of nations? His research revealed that the secret weapon of the Jewish People is their mouths. This is a reference to the power of prayer, our direct line to Hashem, which saves us from any enemy.
With this discovery, Balak thought he would fight fire with fire, by using the power of the mouth to defeat the Jews, but in the opposite way. He would have the Jewish People cursed by the master of curses, Bilam. Bilam was a non-Jewish prophet who had a sterling reputation. Every curse he ever placed on someone, was completely effective. Once you paid his price, he would curse your enemy, and that would be the end of him.
Long story short, Balak sent messengers to secure the services of Bilam, to curse the Jewish people. His plan was to beat them at their own game.
The messengers came to Bilam and presented Balak’s request that he come and curse the Jewish people. Bilam told them they must wait overnight, because he must ask Hashem if he may go. Hashem would only appear to him in a dream, the lowest level of prophesy, so he had to wait until morning for the answer.
Hashem responded (Numbers 22:12).
יב) וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹקִים אֶל בִּלְעָם לֹא תֵלֵךְ עִמָּהֶם לֹא תָאֹר אֶת הָעָם כִּי בָרוּךְ הוּא
12) And Hashem said to Bilam, “Don’t go with them, and do not curse the nation because it is blessed.”
Bilam woke up the next morning and told Balak’s messengers that Hashem wouldn’t let him go with them. With this answer, he misled them to think that they were the problem; they were not important enough.
When they reported this to Balak, he sent a more prestigious group to Bilam. They asked Bilam to please accompany them to curse the Jewish nation, and Balak will make him very wealthy, and give him much honor.
Bilam told Balak’s messengers that even if Balak would give him all the money in the world, he would not be able to go against the word of Hashem. Nevertheless, stay overnight and I will see if Hashem has new instructions for me.
כ) וַיָּבֹא אֱלֹקִים אֶל בִּלְעָם לַיְלָה וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אִם לִקְרֹא לְךָ בָּאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים קוּם לֵךְ אִתָּם וְאַךְ אֶת הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אֲדַבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ אֹתוֹ תַעֲשֶׂה
20) And Hashem came to Bilam in the middle of the night and said to him, “If these people came to call you, get up and go with them, but only the matters which I speak to you shall you do.”
What happened here? Why did Hashem change his mind and allow Bilam to go with Balak’s men?
The Talmud (Makot 10b) learns a very important and relevant lesson from this story.
אמר רבה בר רב הונא אמר רב הונא ואמרי לה אמר רב הונא א”ר אלעזר מן התורה ומן הנביאים ומן הכתובים בדרך שאדם רוצה לילך בה מוליכין אותו מן התורה דכתיב לא תלך עמהם וכתיב קום לך אתם מן הנביאים דכתיב אני ה’ אלקיך מלמדך להועיל מדריכך בדרך (זו) תלך מן הכתובים דכתיב אם ללצים הוא יליץ ולענוים יתן חן
Rav Huna’s son Rabbah quoted his father Rav Huna, and some say that it was Rav Huna who quoted Rabbi Elazar who said: “From the Torah, from the Prophets and from the Holy Writings we can derive the following principle: “ The path that one wishes to follow, is the path that they (Hashem) will lead him down.”
The Torah: First Hashem told Bilam not to go with them, and then Hashem told him to get up and go with them.
The Prophets (Isaiah 48:17):
אֲנִי יְדֹוָד אֱלֹקֶיךָ מְלַמֶּדְךָ לְהוֹעִיל מַדְרִיכְךָ בְּדֶרֶךְ תֵּלֵךְ:
17) I am Hashem your G-d Who instructs you for your benefit, Who guides you in the way you wish to follow.” Hashem takes you down the path you have chosen. (Rashi)
The Holy Writings (Proverbs 3:34):
לד) אִם לַלֵּצִים הוּא יָלִיץ וְלַעֲנָוִים יִתֶּן חֵן:
34) If one is drawn to the scoffers, he will scoff, but if one is drawn to the humble, he will find favor. If you want to be a scoffer, they won’t stop you. (Rashi)
This lesson of the Talmud takes Bilam’s determination to curse the Jewish people to a new level. The Sages are teaching us that if a person has made up his mind to do something, good or bad, to the point that nothing will stop him, even his car talking to him, Hashem will not stop him from following the path he has chosen for himself, and He may even help him down that path.
When Hashem initially responded to Bilam, He was very elaborate.
12) And Hashem said to Bilam, “Don’t go with them, and do not curse the nation because it is blessed.”
What was the need for all the words? Rashi explains. When Hashem said, “Don’t go with them,” Bilam asked, “Should I curse them from here, then?” Hashem then said, “and do not curse the nation.” Bilam then said, “Should I bless them instead?” to which Hashem responded, “they don’t need a blessing from you, “because it is blessed.”
Hashem clearly told Bilam not to go with Balak’s people and not to curse the Jewish people. Yet, when Bilam persisted, ignored Hashem’s direct instructions, and asked again, Hashem said, “OK! You may go with them. If this is the path you wish to follow, I won’t stop you.”
After Bilam saddled up his donkey and got underway, the Torah tells us (Numbers 22:22):
כב) וַיִּחַר אַף אֱלֹקִים כִּי הוֹלֵךְ הוּא וַיִּתְיַצֵּב מַלְאַךְ יְדֹוָד בַּדֶּרֶךְ לְשָׂטָן לוֹ
22) And Hashem got angry because he was going, and an angel of Hashem stood on the road to impede him.
If Hashem gave Bilam permission to go with Balak’s messengers, why did Hashem get angry with him when he went?
The Vilna Gaon explains, that Bilam was playing games to get what he wanted. There are two words in Hebrew that seem to mean the same thing, but are very different. One isעמהם which translates as “with them” and the other is אתם which also translates as “with them.” The first “with them” means, with them in their goal and purpose. The second “with them” means to physically accompany them, but not to have the same mindset and goal. Hashem said, you may not go עמהם the first “with them,” you may goאתם – the second “with them.” You may only accompany them, but do not have the same intentions as they, to destroy the Jewish nation. When Hashem saw that Bilam was going עם – the first “with them,” He got upset at Bilam for not following His instructions.
Even though Hashem was angry at Bilam for going with the messengers of Balak, Hashem still tried to save Bilam from sinning by putting the angel in his way. Rashi tells us that this was a merciful angel whose job it was to stop Bilam. The angel appeared to Bilam’s donkey in three different places preventing him from progressing. These were three different warnings, and there were several others. But Bilam was so intent on cursing the Jewish people, he could not see the obvious warnings Hashem was putting right in front of his eyes.
The message here is a very scary one. If we decide we want to do something at all cost, even though it is the worst thing for us, Hashem will let us do it. We call the shots. And even if Hashem tries to stop us, by putting various hurdles in our way, we may ignore them and proceed as if nothing happened.
In the end, Hashem held Bilam captive and did not allow him to curse the Jewish people. On the contrary, every curse he wanted to give, Hashem made him turn it into a blessing for the Jewish people. Having done everything in his power to curse them, Bilam gets credit as if he did it, but Hashem would not allow him to fulfill his evil wishes.
Bilam was a scoundrel whose intentions were purely evil. Even such a person, Hashem just allows him to follow the path of his choice. When a person wants to do good, Hashem helps that person along the road.
The Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 104a) says:
בא ליטמא פותחין לו בא ליטהר מסייעים אותו
When a person comes to do something bad, they open the way for him. When a person comes to do something good, they help him along (from heaven).
Hashem’s attribute of kindness is always at least 500 times greater than His attribute of judgment. We can deduct from this that if a person is determined to do something good, Hashem will help him to accomplish his goal. Knowing that Hashem will help a person along his path, should give him the greatest inspiration to pursue the goal that he has chosen to bring him closer to Hashem. When it comes to pursuing such a goal a person needs to be like Bilam and ignore all the decoys that are bound to crop up and attempt to derail him from his goal. He must be steadfast and focused on his goal, and not let anything distract him from it and Hashem will help him to achieve it.
There is a startling example of this in the Torah.
The Jewish people brought the first Pascal offering in Egypt, the day before they left Egypt, the 14th of Nissan. The next year, when it was time to bring the Pascal offering once again, there were a few people who came in contact with a dead body, and were not permitted to bring it. These people approached Moshe and told him, “We are unclean from a dead body, and cannot bring the Pascal offering. Why should we be less than all the others, because we cannot bring it? We want to bring it also!”
On the surface, this looks like a ridiculous request. The reality is that they are טמא – ritually unclean and unfit to bring it. How was that fact going to change? Hashem couldn’t possibly change the law! But these people wanted to express their appreciation to Hashem for taking them out of Egypt, by bringing the Pascal offering. They felt, “How can we not bring this sacrifice?! It is impossible! Somehow, we must be able to do this!”
Moshe brought their request to Hashem, and when Hashem saw how much they sincerely wanted this mitzvah, He had to concede. He then created the law of Pesach Sheni, the Second Pesach offering on the 14th of Iyar, for all those who could not do the first one.
We see how far the idea of “the path which one wishes to pursue, they will lead him down that path” goes. Keeping this in mind, there is no limit to how far we can go in our quest to come closer to Hashem. I wish you all the greatest success!!!