The Gemara (Bava Batra 14b) teaches: "Moshe wrote his book -
i.e., the Torah - and the parashah of Bilam." Commentaries ask the
obvious question: Isn't the parashah of Bilam part of the Torah? Why
is it singled out?
R' Chaim Zimmerman z"l (Rosh Yeshiva in Chicago; died mid-1990s)
explains: The parashah of Bilam and the rest of the Torah serve
different purposes. The entire Torah, other than this section, is G-
d's word to His nation. The parashah of Bilam, however, is G-d's word
about His nation. More than that, it is directed not only to the
Jewish People, but to the world at large. Indeed, that is why it was
said originally by a non-Jewish prophet.
What does this parashah teach about Klal Yisrael / the Jewish
Nation? It teaches that Klal Yisrael is a unit. Individual Jews may
be righteous or wicked, but the Jewish People as a whole is always
righteous in G-d's eyes. By way of analogy, R' Zimmerman observes,
the laws of physics that describe the movement of atoms in general do
not predict the movements of a specific atom. Similarly, every
individual Jew has bechirah / free will to do good or bad.
Independently of those choices, however, every Jew has a right to
exist because he is part of Klal Yisrael as a whole.
Where do we see this in our parashah? When Bilam failed in his
first attempt to curse Bnei Yisrael, Balak said to him (23:13), "Go
now with me to a different place from which you will see them;
however, you will see its edge but not see all of it." The Jewish
Nation as a whole, Balak realized, could never be cursed. (Torah
"This is the decree of the Torah, which Hashem has commanded,
to say: `Speak to Bnei Yisrael and they shall take to you a
completely red cow, which is without blemish, and upon which
a yoke has not come'." (19:2)
The law of Parah Adumah / Red Heifer is regarded by our Sages as
the quintessential chok / decree, i.e., a law with no discernible
rational explanation. However, there is disagreement about exactly
what aspect of Parah Adumah is a chok. It is not the basic mitzvah;
our Sages tell us that the Parah Adumah atones for the sin of the
Golden Calf. "Let the mother come and clean up the mess that her calf
made," our Sages say. [Understood simply, the sin of the Golden Calf
brought death to the Jewish People, while the Red Heifer cleanses man
of the impurity of death.]
R' Shlomo Kluger z"l (rabbi of Brody, Galicia; died 1869)
suggests that the chok is contained in our verse. "Speak to Bnei
Yisrael and they shall take to you-i.e., to Moshe--a completely red
cow." Why should the Parah Adumah be Moshe's? Indeed, there is an
opinion in the Gemara which states that each Parah Adumah in history
was prepared only by someone who first was sprinkled with the ashes of
Moshe's Parah Adumah. Of all of the Jewish People, Moshe seemingly
was the one who least needed atonement for the Golden Calf! This is
the mystery of the Parah Adumah.
(Kohelet Yaakov: Drush Heh Le'Parashat Parah)
From the same source:
"Miriam died there and she was buried there." (20:1)
The Zohar states: "Once judgment was exacted against the Parah
Adumah [in the preceding chapter], judgment was exacted against
Miriam." What does this mean?
R' Kluger explains: The Gemara (Mo'ed Kattan 28a) asks, "Why is
the death of Miriam recorded next to the mitzvah of the Parah Adumah?"
The Gemara answers: "To teach that just as the Parah Adumah atones, so
the death of the righteous atones." But why are two atonements
R' Kluger writes: One of the laws of the Parah Adumah is that it
purifies one who is impure, but if one who is pure comes into contact
with it, he becomes impure. Why? This alludes to the fact that it is
easier to repent from improper deeds than from improper thoughts. One
who has done bad deeds knows he has sinned, and he repents. He was
"impure" and he becomes "pure." However, one who has only had
improper thoughts does not believe he has sinned. He thinks he is
"pure," but his failure to repent leaves him "impure."
The death of the righteous has the potential to atone for the sin
of improper thoughts. Why? Because the suffering that one
experiences when the righteous die is in one's mind. If one is pained
in his thoughts at the death of a tzaddik, he thereby purifies his
thoughts and achieves atonement.
"Behold! it is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not
be reckoned among the nations." (23:9)
The message of the gentile prophet Bilam, writes R' Aharon Lewin
z"l hy"d (the "Reisher Rav"; rabbi of Rzeszow, Poland and member of
the Polish Senate from the Agudath Israel party who was murdered by
the Nazis 65 years ago this past week), is that any attempt by the
Jewish People to assimilate into the non-Jewish world must inevitably
lead to the former's destruction. If the nation does not dwell in
solitude, it will not be reckoned at all because it will ultimately
How can we protect ourselves? R' Lewin writes that one answer is
provided by the following enigmatic statement of the Gemara (Menachot
The verse (Bemidbar 15:39) states: "It shall constitute tzitzit
for you, that you may see it and remember all the commandments of
Hashem and perform them." [Says the Gemara:] See this mitzvah and
remember another mitzvah. Which mitzvah? Kilayim!
R' Lewin explains: Kilayim is the prohibition against mixing
species. For example, the Torah prohibits planting wheat and grapes
together. Likewise, the Torah prohibits interbreeding animals of
different species (as defined by halachah). The mitzvah of Kilayim
reminds us that G-d created each plant and animal with unique
characteristics and He intends that each remain unique.
Similarly, G-d created separate nations. In particular, He
separated Klal Yisrael from the other nations, and He intends that it
What aid did He give us to remind us of our separateness? He
gave us a uniform, i.e., tzitzit. When we see ourselves in that
uniform, we will remember our own separateness.
"He declaimed his parable and said: `Who will survive when He
imposes "El"?'" (24:23)
The Midrash Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer comments: Bilam said, "G-d
created seventy nations and did not attach His Name to them. He did
attach His Name to `Yisra-El.' And, He equated the name of `Yishma-
El' with the name of `Yisra-El.' Accordingly, who can survive in his
R' Alexander Aryeh Mandelbaum shlita observes: The Midrash is
teaching that the descendants of Yishmael derive their power to
oppress the Jewish People from the fact that G-d's Name is in their
name. This alludes to their strong emunah, both their willingness to
sacrifice their lives for their beliefs and their willingness to kill
others because they believe it is G-d's will. These characteristics
were not found among the other nations that persecuted the Jewish
People throughout their history.
(Matzmiach Yeshuah p.15)
R' Aharon Bakst z"l hy"d
Reb Archik was born in 1869 in a suburb of Vilna. At age 14, he
joined the yeshiva in Volozhin, and later he studied in Rav Yitzchak
Blazer's yeshiva in Slobodka. However, the person that Reb Archik
considered to be his true mentor was Rav Simcha Zissel, the "Alter mi-
Kelm." This teacher held Reb Archik in equally high esteem, saying
that Reb Archik was the most suited of his students to carry the
mussar movement to another generation.
The essence of mussar (character improvement), according to Reb
Archik (as reported by his son), is to not be a hypocrite. Mussar
also teaches us how to understand Chazal's teachings, as opposed to
"finding" our own ideas in Chazal's words. Along these lines, Reb
Archik objected to those who invent new approaches to mussar, saying
that these were products of the ego, not genuine mussar.
After his marriage, Reb Archik briefly engaged in business (at
his father-in-law's insistence), but he knew that his real calling was
the Torah. His first rabbinic position was in a small, but difficult,
town. His opponents there, actually opponents of the mussar movement,
even took to the newspapers to vilify him.
In 1895, Reb Archik was invited to serve as rabbi of a distant
Russian town. When he asked how they knew of him, they cited the
newspaper articles mentioned above. Reb Archik later served as rabbi
and rosh yeshiva in other towns, including Shadova, Suvalk, and Lomza.
His last position was in Shavli, where he served until he was murdered
by the Nazis.
Only a small portion of Reb Archik's written legacy survives. He
turned down a chance to send his writings to London at the outset of
World War II because he felt that they required additional editing. A
halachic work, Torat Aharon, has been published, as has Lev Aharon, a
volume containing mussar discourses. Reb Archik was killed on 15
Tammuz 5701 /1941.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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