Divrei Torah

PARSHAS BALAK 5778

In the beginning of this week’s Parsha, Balak – the King of Moav – was terrified of the Jewish people. They were a numerous people and they defeated other nations by supernatural means. Now they were at the doorstep of his country just after destroying the two greatest powers of the time and defenders of the region – Sichon and Og.

Balak figured that to defeat the Jewish people it would have to be accomplished through supernatural means. So, he sent a delegation to Bilaam – a great prophet who was known for the power of his blessings and curses – and asked him to come and curse the Jewish people.

Bilaam liked the idea. However, first he had to ask G-d permission to go. G-d told Bilaam, “Don’t go with them and don’t curse the Jewish people because it is blessed.” Bilaam’s response to Balak was that he could not go with this delegation. The implication was that Bilaam needed a greater group so Balak complied and sent a more honored group to Bilaam.

Once again Bilaam asked permission to go. G-d said, “Fine. But, you will only say what I tell you to say.” Bilaam was so anxious to curse the Jewish people that the next day he got up early and prepared his donkey on his own rather than through a servant as one would expect of an important official. On the way, Bilaam’s donkey tried stopping three times because an angel blocked its path. Finally, Bilaam and the donkey had a bit of a heated conversation. Then Bilaam saw the angel. The angel told Bilaam that he could go, however, he could only speak the words that G-d would put into his mouth.

Bilaam and Balak met. They made special preparations to curse the Jewish people. Three times they tried cursing the Jewish people from different angles and three times Bilaam inadvertently blessed the Jewish people. Before returning home, Bilaam prophesied what would happen in the end of days.

Now, when analyzing this Parsha, we should say to ourselves, “what didn’t Bilaam understand?” G-d told him “don’t go” . . . “you will only bless the people”. . . his donkey stopped . . . the donkey spoke to him . . . the angel told him that he will bless the people . . . Three times Bilaam tried and three times he was defeated supernaturally.

The Torah writes, “A prophet like Moshe did not arise among Israel.” According to the Yalkut Shimoni, this means that there was never a prophet like Moshe among the Jewish people. But, among the Gentile nations there was a prophet on the level of Moshe – Bilaam. Bilaam was – in some respects – as great as Moshe. He was obviously bright. He always operated by signs and omens from G-d. So, how could he keep going when all the signs and omens told him to stop?

He was so obsessed with getting rid of the Jewish people that he ignored all the warning signs along the way.

G-d often sends us warning signs. Unfortunately, many times people ignore those signs because they have their minds set on a certain matter and nothing will sway them – nobody can convince them otherwise – no matter how wrong they may be. It’s their way or no way. They know what is best for them and everybody else until it is too late.

On the other hand, there are many people who are obsessed with doing mitzvos – helping the Jewish people and the world – the opposite of Balak and Bilaam. That is a good obsession. However, in those cases one must also look for warning signs – one must also be careful and analyze that the mitzvos they are doing are really mitzvos and they are benefitting the Jewish people and the world. Not every chesed is a chesed. Sometimes the chesed is not helping. If a person needs to exercise or strengthen his legs and knees, am I doing him a chesed by pushing him in a wheelchair or would the chesed be not helping him and let him walk on his own? If a student must learn how to analyze situations – whether in the Talmud, law or a math word problem – am I doing a chesed by giving out the answer or would the chesed be that the student should figure it out on his own and only afterwards I review his answer with him?

When driving towards a goal, we must check to make sure we don’t miss the Stop sign, Yield sign or No Turn on Red sign.”