Weekly Reading Insights

Balak 5763

Overview of the Weekly Reading: Balak (outside Israel: Chukat/Balak)
To be read on 12 Tamuz 5763 (July 12)

Torah: Num.22:2-25:9; Haftorah: Micha 5:6-6:8 (mentions Billam, Balak, and their plots)

Pirkei Avot - Chapter Six

Stats: Chukat , 7th Reading out of 10 in Numbers and 40th overall, contains 0 positive mitzvot and 0 prohibitive mitzvot. It is written on 178 lines in a parchment Torah scroll, 35th out of 54 in overall length.

Overview: Parshat Balak opens with Balak, king of Moab, hiring Balaam, the gentile prophet, to curse the Jews. Despite Balaam's numerous sacrifices and attempts to curse the Jews, all he succeeds in doing is blessing the Jews! When Balaam and Balak realize the futility of trying to curse the Jews, they decide to try to cause the Jews to sin and thus arouse G-d's anger toward them. The parsha concludes telling how many of the Jews sinned with the Moabite women, worshipped their idolatry, and were punished subsequently with a plague. One of the tribal princes even sinned publicly, but was killed by Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron, whose act of zealousness simultaneously staved the plague.


"He has not beheld any wrong in Jacob; the L-rd his G-d is with him." (23:21)

Even the "animal soul" of the Jew is ultimately transformed into good, by virtue of the fact that every Jew possesses a Jewish soul --- "a veritable part of G-d Above" --- giving him the power to effect this transformation.

(Sichot Kodesh) (From L'Chaim #376)

"What this people will do to your people in the end of days." (24:14)

In the end of days, before the arrival of Moshiach, an attempt will be made to turn "this people" into "your people," i.e., to transform the Jewish people into a nation like any other, indistinguishable from non-Jews in custom and habit.

(Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa) (From L'Chaim #376)



Selected with permission and adapted from the three-volume English edition of Shney Luchot HaBrit -- the Sh'lah, as translated, condensed, and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630), known as the 'Sh'lah' - an acronym of the title, was born in Prague. A scholar of outstanding reputation, he served as chief Rabbi of Cracow, and more famously, of Frankfort (1610-1620). After his first wife passed away, he remarried and moved to Israel in 1621, where he became the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. He later moved to Tiberias, where he is buried, near the tomb of the Rambam.

Balaam, who had come prepared to curse, was forced to bless. The angel who delighted in evil was forced to consent to the blessings; the accuser was turned into an advocate.
There was a cosmic necessity for Balaam to become the instrument of G-d. He, after all, was the prophet of the Gentile nations, and the spiritual head of all the nations. When our sages commented on the verse (Deut. 34:10), "there never did arise in Israel a prophet like Moses etc.," they said that amongst the other nations there did arise someone comparable to Moses, i.e. Balaam. Surely, they did not mean to compare Moses to Balaam as being equal or similar in holiness, character qualities, relationship with G-d, etc!
The Zohar (Balak, p. 193b), is very explicit in describing Balaam's low character, giving many examples of his appearing to credit himself with great insights and thereby misleading those who considered him a great Seer.

Balaam communicated with the forces of impurity, forces considered by the nations as deities. When he speaks about knowing the Supernal Knowledge, the listener got the impression that he claimed to be privy to G-d's range of knowledge, whereas in fact he was privy only to the "highest" of the forces of impurity that G-d has allowed to govern part of nature. Balaam, technically speaking, spoke truthfully, since he was privy to a power that in its field was considered supreme. However, the listener did not know that this power had no independent authority at all. It was but an agent of G-d.

(adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Zefat on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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Balak, the name of this week's Torah portion, was the name of a non-Jewish king who attempted to destroy the Jewish people. How can the Torah name a portion after such an evil person? The Talmud (Sotah 47:1) points out that Balak, the king of Moab, was the ancestor of Ruth the Moabite, who was the ancestor of King David, and from whom eventually will come the Mashiach.

Thus, this lineage reveals that from a destroyer of the Jewish people will come our final redeemer, Mashiach. Balak represents the transformation of darkness to light - the turning over of the idolatrous kingdom of Moab to the sacred kingdom of David and the King Mashiach. Just as Balak was transformed from evil to good, darkness to light, so too are we reminded by his name as the Torah portion's title that if we make the effort, every obstacle can be overcome and the light revealed.

This Shabbat is the 12th of Tammuz, the date the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, was released from prison in 1927, having been jailed for encouraging his Chassidim to teach Judaism. The following is an adapted excerpt from what our generation's Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, said about his predecessor, father-in-law, and spiritual master. The emphasis is on how a Jew serves G-d, a task that is assisted by the guidance of a Rebbe, or spiritual mentor.

There is a thrill in helping another person to physically journey to a strange place. So too is there great pleasure in using some experience or knowledge you have, especially Jewish knowledge, to illuminate and even eradicate the darkness in someone else's life. Indeed, it is not just wonderful; sometimes, to retain our perspective we need to do it…

Similarly, we sometimes must make a spiritual journey beyond ourselves. It is so easy to become sedentary, guiding our lives by old premises that may no longer apply. More than just temporarily stopping the momentum of our lives to examine where we are and where we are going, sometimes we need to totally break out of the trance, to completely escape our confines. The habits and stigmas that fill our lives are put on hold, to be re-analyzed afterwards.

The route of this journey is not one that we choose ourselves. Rather it must be on the King's Highway, the King of the world, the Holy One, blessed be He. The directions are right there, revealed to us by the Torah we study, by the rabbis in our lives, and particularly by the spiritual guide that each person must choose for him or herself.

And even when you travel on the King's Highway, be careful not to become a tourist, only seeing the sights, becoming absorbed in the scenery, standing in the middle, passive. It is crucial to push ahead, to reach our goal, to complete the journey. The purpose of the King's Highway is to lead us the capitol of the King - and eventually to the King's palace. Once in the palace, we proceed to enter the chamber of the King, and then to meet the King Himself, the Holy One, blessed be He. This is the goal of every Jew, to become one with the King. And this is the meaning of the words, "The Jewish People, the Torah, and the Holy One, blessed be He are all one".

When we are willing and ready to totally devote our lives to G-d even for a short while, we transcend our finitude and commit ourselves to reaching the ultimate goal. Pick a mitzva. Make it yours. Slow down and concentrate on the words you pray. Lend a helping hand and act cheerful, even when you'd rather not. By making a concerted commitment, we unify ourselves with G-d. Our day-to-day lives reach a new level of reality, and we ourselves are transformed for the better. So, who's waiting? Start the journey! NOW!


Shabbat Shalom, Shaul Leiter

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