Balak: Can You See It?
By Shlomo Katz
Balak: Can You See It?
Volume XVIII, No. 36
14 Tamuz 5764
July 3, 2004
Martin and Michelle Swartz
in memory of Martin's grandfather
John Hofmann a"h
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Bechorot 21
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Nedarim 30
The prophet Bilam says in this week's parashah (24:17), "I shall see
him, but not now, I shall look at him, but it is not near." In fact,
R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l (1903-1993) writes, this statement is
one that every person must acknowledge, like it or not. He explains:
Whether he accepts it or not, every person is responsible for the
future. Sometimes man tries to throw off this yoke, but it is in
vain. By nature, man prepares for tomorrow. It is true that there
are some who live according to the dictum, "Eat, drink and be merry,
for tomorrow we die," but they are in the minority. In general, man
worries about and plans for his sustenance in the future.
Man's obligation to think about the future is reflected in the laws
of Shabbat. Man is expected to prepare before Shabbat that which he
will eat on Shabbat. In the Gemara's words, "If one did not toil on
the eve of Shabbat, what will he eat on Shabbat?" More than that,
food that was not made ready before Shabbat is muktzeh; it may not be
handled on Shabbat. This teaches that man has no right to eat on
Shabbat unless he sees the big picture, unless he has the future in
his sights before Shabbat.
The Shabbat for which man must prepare is not only the day that
comes at the end of the week. There is also that time in the future
that is called, "The day which is all Shabbat." Man must keep his
focus and plan for that Shabbat as well. In the words of our Sages,
"Some tomorrows come immediately, while some tomorrows are more
distant." Only one who prepares for that distant tomorrow, only one
who builds for future generations, is living his life properly.
(Yemei Zicharon p.185)
"Moav became very frightened of the am / people, because it was
numerous, and Moav was disgusted in the face of Bnei Yisrael." (22:3)
R' Nosson Teomim z"l (the Krystynopoler Rav in New York; died 1983)
writes: The word "am" usually refers to the Erev Rav, those who
attached themselves to the Jewish people at the time of the Exodus.
Moav feared them most of all because they imitated the gentiles,
behavior that made them a threat to the other nations.
On the other hand, "Bnei Yisrael" refers to those who observe Torah
and mitzvot. Only after Moav has reason to fear the Erev Rav will it
fear Bnei Yisrael also.
"Come curse Yaakov for me, come bring anger upon Yisrael."
"How can I curse? -- Kel has not cursed. How can I anger? --Hashem is
not angry. From the top of rocks I see it [the nation], and from hills do
I see it." (23:7-9)
R' Eliezer David Gruenwald z"l (prominent Hungarian rabbi and rosh
yeshiva; died 1928) explains these verses based on two introductions.
First, the names "Yaakov" and "Yisrael" both allude to G-d. The
gematria of "Yaakov" is a multiple of the gematria of Hashem's four-
letter Name (7 x 26 = 182). The name "Yisrael" contains G-d's Name -
Kel - within it.
Second, the halachah is that when one prays for a person who is ill,
one must mention the person's name. The exception is if one is in the
presence of the ill person; then his or her name need not be
mentioned. (We learn this from Moshe's prayer for Miriam at the end
of Parashat Be'ha'alotecha. He said simply: "Please, Hashem, heal her
now.") Presumably, writes R' Gruenwald, the same thing applies when
one curses. If he is cursing someone who is in front of him, he does
not need to mention the person's name. Otherwise, he does need to
Balak said to Bilam, "Come curse Yaakov for me, come bring anger
upon Yisrael." Just curse them from where you are, using their name,
and be done with it. However, that would require Bilam to curse Bnei
Yisrael by name, and he did not wish to do that. After all, their
names, Yaakov and Yisrael, both contain the name of G-d, and one who
blasphemes G-d incurs the death penalty. Therefore Bilam said, "How
can I curse? -- Kel has not cursed. How can I anger? -- Hashem is not
angry." He meant: How can I curse? -- I would have to curse "Kel."
How can I anger? -- I would have to anger "Hashem."
What is the solution? If from the top of rocks I see the nation,
and from hills do I see it. Then I can curse without using their
"He perceived no iniquity in Yaakov, and saw no perversity in Yisrael.
Hashem his G-d is with him . . ." (23:21)
Can this be true? Don't our Sages teach that one will be punished
if he takes the attitude that "G-d overlooks sins"?
R' Noach Shalom Brazovsky z"l (the Slonimer Rebbe in Yerushalayim)
explains: When will G-d overlook sins? If a person sins because he
cannot overcome his yetzer hara, but at the same time that he commits
the sin, he is broken within because he dreads the thought of
transgressing G-d's Will. This is the meaning of the verse: "He
perceived no iniquity in Yaakov, and saw no perversity in Yisrael."
When? "When Hashem his G-d is with him" at the time he sins.
(Quoted in Otzrotaihem Shel Tzaddikim)
"He has told you, man, what is good, and what Hashem seeks from you -
only the performance of justice, the love of kindness, and walking humbly
with your G-d." (From the Haftarah; Michah 6:8)
R' Yissachar Dov Rokeach z"l (the Belzer Rebbe; died 1927) comments:
In holy work Noam Elimelech (by R' Elimelech of Lizhensk z"l; died
1787) notes that some people are expert at concealing their good
deeds from others, but they themselves are very conscious of their
mitzvot. This is not proper. Rather, a person has to serve Hashem
such that even he is not aware of his good deeds. This is why our
verse does not say, "What Hashem seeks from you [is] walk humbly with
your G-d." Instead the prophet says that G-d desires "walking" humbly
with G-d. This implies an activity that is engaged in subconsciously.
We read in Yirmiyah (23:24), "Can a man hide in concealments and I,
I will not see him?" R' Uri of Strelisk z"l (see page 4) explained
this verse as follows: If a man hides in concealments -- even if he is
humble -- if he has an "I" -- if he is aware of his own good deeds -
then I, G-d, will not see him.
R' Yissachar Dov continues: How can a person attain the level of
service that these verses demand? It is by fulfilling the injunction
(Tehilim 16:8), "I have set Hashem before me always." If a person
always focuses on G-d's greatness, he will not become haughty about
his own service of G-d. [He will realize that whatever he does is
insufficient compared to how Hashem is entitled to be served.] In
this way we can understand the words of R' Moshe Isserles z"l (Poland
; 1525-1572) in his gloss to the first paragraph of the Shulchan
Aruch: "I have set Hashem before me always is a major rule of the
Torah and of the ways of tzaddikim who walk before G-d." These
tzaddikim who walk before G-d are the ones alluded to in our haftarah.
How does one attain "walking humbly with your G-d"? By always setting
Hashem before him.
(Likkutei Amarim Maharid)
R' Uri of Strelisk z"l
R' Uri was born in a village near Janow, Galicia in 1757. Before
R' Uri's birth. R' Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch, told our
subject's father (whose name was Pinchas) that his son would have a
unique soul and would light up the world of Judaism.
In his youth, R' Uri lived in Lvov where he studied Torah
assiduously. He also traveled to many of the chassidic leaders of the
generation: R' Elimelech of Lizhensk, R' Yaakov Yosef of Ostraha, R'
Pinchas of Koretz, R' Mordechai of Neschiz, and R' Zusia of Annopol.
However, once R' Uri met R' Shlomo of Karlin, he made that sage his
mentor and became his primary disciple.
In 1792, R' Shlomo was murdered, and R' Uri returned to Lvov and
began to conduct himself as a chassidic rebbe. At first, his
following was small and he was oppressed terribly by the mitnagdim
(literally "opponents") of Lvov. Gradually, however, his influence
From Lvov, R' Uri moved to Strelisk, and there his following grew
even more. The centerpiece of R' Uri's chassidic movement was prayer
with great emotion. His prayer, which followed the nussach of Karlin,
was mixed with "roars" and "shouts" and lasted for many hours. It was
this behavior that earned R' Uri the title "Saraph" / "fiery angel."
Most of R' Uri's chassidim were extremely poor, and R' Uri's
ideology glorified poverty. He particularly objected to rebbes whose
fame was based on performing miracles.
Among R' Uri's notable disciples were R' Shalom Rokeach of Belz,
R' Zvi Hirsch of Rimanov and R' Isaac of Zhidachov. R' Uri died in
1826 and his son R' Shlomo succeeded him as rebbe. However, he lived
for only a few months after his father and was followed in the
leadership by R' Yehuda Zvi of Strettin. (Encyclopedia La'chassidut).
Copyright © 2004 by Shlomo Katz
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