Weekly Reading Insights: Balak 5764


Overview of the Weekly Reading: Balak

To be read on 14 Tamuz 5764 (July 3rd )
Torah: Num. 22:2-25:9
Haftorah: Michah 5:6-6:8 (mentions Billam, Balak, and their plots)

Balak is the 7th Reading out of 10 in Numbers and 40th overall, and 35th out of 54 in overall length.

Pirkei Avot: Chapter Six

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.


From the holy Zohar, teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Z:40-64/Balak)

The invitation raises the consciousness of the diners to bless the source of all blessing and in so doing causes unity between the spiritual and physical worlds.

For the full article, click to the "Weekly Torah" section on our KabbalaOnline site.

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From the holy Ari, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed (A:40-64/Balak)

Know that all these things are based on the transmigration of the souls [of these nations] and [the significance of] their origins. Amalek is the waste product of evil that was separated out of [the soul of] Cain, the son of Adam.

For the full article, click to the "Weekly Torah" section on our KabbalaOnline site.

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From the Shelah, Shney Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (S:40-64/Balak)

Bilaam saw a vision of the greatness of the Mashiach, someone greater than himself. What he did not appreciate was that that purity could be rooted in impurity, just as Abraham came forth out of a Terach. When the Mashiach arrives, the last vestiges of the dross remaining from former efforts at distilling the pure out of the impure will vanish.

For the full article, click to the "Weekly Torah" section on our KabbalaOnline site.


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

When the word "Jacob" is used for the Jewish people, it alludes to the inner struggle of the G-dly soul against the animal soul. Yet, even on this level, the Torah states that the Jew is without wrong. Where does the Jew derive the strength to prevail? From his unique Jewish soul, of which it states, "the L-rd his G-d is with him." The Jewish soul, a "veritable part of G-d Above," is endowed with the power to transform even the animal soul into holiness.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)



from the Chabad Master series, produced by Rabbi Yosef Marcus for

www.ascentofsafed.com and www.kabbalaonline.org

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

(for a free weekly email subscription, click here) (W:40-64/Balak)

Balak is 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 Rebbe points out that the answer lies in what is written in the Talmud (Sotah 47a). There it says 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 (speedily in our days!).

Thus, Balak represents the transformation of darkness to light - the metamorphosis of the idolatrous kingdom of Moab to the sacred kingdom of David and Mashiach. Just as Balak was transformed from evil to good, darkness to light, we too are reminded that if we make the effort, every obstacle can be overcome and the light revealed.

Similarly, we see that the portion speaks mostly about the non-Jewish prophet, Balaam, whom Balak had hired to curse the Jews. Since this is so, why is the portion named after Balak and not after Balaam, the main antagonist?

The simple answer is that Balak was the initiator who hired Balaam in the first place. This same truth can be applied to ourselves. It is sometimes easy for us to discount our impact on others. "What they do is their problem," we excuse ourselves. "After all, we only gave them a little bit of advice!" This portion teaches us that we must be very careful even with a small bit of advice. As the Shelah points out, Balak used the words "Ara li" - "curse for me". This can also be translated as "curse me". Because of his careless speech, this is in fact what actually occurred - Balak himself was cursed.

Balak sends a message to Balaam asking him to curse this large nation that had come out of Egypt. Why? Because they are "greater" than me (Num. 22:6). The Shlah explains a deeper dimension of these words. The phrase can be read like this: "Their greatness comes from me!" What is the greatness of the Jewish people that derives from Balak? King David and Mashiach, who descended from Balak himself! This too connects to our previous point.

After accepting Balak's commission to try to curse the Jewish people, Balaam travels by donkey to meet with Balak. On the way an angel, armed with a sword, blocks the road; however, the angel is visible only to Balaam's donkey, and not to Balaam himself. Balaam's leg is crushed (ibid. 22:25) as the donkey struggles to protect them both. Finally, when Balaam complains to his donkey for its intransigence, the donkey opens his mouth and begins to speak (ibid. 22:28).

The Oneg Shabbat comments that the world thought that the power of Moses was his faculty of speech, his ability to mesmerize the Jewish people and even G-d. Balaam, who was renowned for his magical oratorical abilities, was therefore called upon to counter Moses and the Jews. What did G-d do? He demonstrated that if some are so infatuated with Balaam and his speaking ability, well, then even a donkey can speak.....

The Kli Yakar sums it up nicely: So as not to be proud of his prophetic ability, Balaam was warned not to speak about the Jews without permission. He was supposed to take a lesson from his donkey. His donkey certainly did not deserve to see an angel or to speak; nevertheless, it did, because it was important for the Jewish people and G-d's grand plan. Similarly, Balaam's prophetic ability was granted only because it was of use to the Jewish people.

Although the Almighty warned Balaam that he may not even speak without G-d's permission, Balaam repeatedly tries to curse the Jewish people, but to Balak's dismay, only blessings are uttered. "How goodly are your tents Jacob, and your dwelling places Israel." (ibid. 24:5)

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi writes that the different words used to describe the Jewish people in this verse are appropriate. "Yaacov" (Hebrew for "Jacob"), which is connected to the word "ekev", meaning "heel", alludes to a person who works on his feet all day to make a living . On the other hand, the letters that compose "Yisrael" (Hebrew for "Israel"), can be rearranged as "li rosh", meaning "a head for me". This refers to a person who is always learning Torah, which requires constant use of his head; essentially his trade is Torah study.

For the above reasons, "tents" are more appropriately associated with Jacob. When a working person studies, it is not his full time occupation, so his living space is a just a tent, a temporary accommodation. Whereas concerning a full time learner, the phrase "dwelling places" applies, for this is his true and permanent abode.

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe adds that our generation, the final days of the exile, is a time when extreme self sacrifice is required in order to overcome the obstacles that confront us. Yet, despite the hardships, we are bidden to maintain a true Jewish lifestyle. And since both lifestyles, learning Torah and working, are mentioned in the same verse, this teaches us that both endeavors are equally difficult, and therefore equally praiseworthy.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul Leiter

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