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)
"Behold! A people has come out of Egypt. Behold! It has covered
(`kisah') the surface of the earth and it sits opposite me."
"Behold! The people coming out of Egypt has covered (`vychas') the
surface of the earth." (22:11)
R' Moshe Feinstein z"l (1895-1986) observes that Balak referred to the
Exodus (in verse 5) in past tense, while Bilam referred to it (in verse
11) in present tense. Why?
He answers: Balak assumed that Bnei Yisrael, like other nations, wished to
forget the dark parts of their history. The Exodus, being a reminder of
hundreds of years of slavery, was surely forgotten forty years later. In
contrast, Bilam understood that Bnei Yisrael are not like other nations
and would never forget the Exodus.
Balak's and Bilam's different understandings led them to have different
motives for wanting to curse Bnei Yisrael, which explains the difference
in the second halves of the above verses. Balak was concerned solely with
the present: Bnei Yisrael has recently covered (`kisah' -- past tense) the
surface of the earth and must be repelled. Bilam, on the other hand, used
the term `vychas' which alludes to both past and future tenses. His
concern was that Bnei Yisrael would influence the world to believe in the
living G-d of the Exodus; that was what he wished to stop. (Darash Moshe)
"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 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 (Yishmael's) days?!"
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)
"Whoever has these three traits is from the disciples of our forefather
Avraham; and whoever has three different traits is from the disciples of
the wicked Bilam. Those who have a good eye, a humble spirit, and a meek
soul are disciples of our forefather Avraham. Those who have an evil eye,
an arrogant spirit, and a greedy soul are disciples of the wicked Bilam."
At first glance, observes R' Shlomo Kluger z"l (1784-1869; rabbi of Brody,
Galicia), appears to contain unnecessary repetition, as the first sentence
of the mishnah does not appear to add to the message of the mishnah. In
fact, however, there is a difference between the first sentence of the
mishnah and the second. Indeed, the mishnah is referring not to two
groups of people, as would appear at first, but to four groups.
First the mishnah addresses those for whom good or bad traits are inborn.
Such individuals are "from the disciples" of Avraham and Bilam,
respectively. While they clearly are descendants of those who went in the
ways of either Avraham or Bilam, but they cannot themselves be called
Next the mishnah refers to the actual disciples of Avraham and Bilam,
respectively. The former are those who have toiled to acquire the traits
of "a good eye, a humble spirit, and a meek soul." Likewise, the latter
are those who, through their own choices, have acquired the traits of "an
evil eye, an arrogant spirit, and a greedy soul."
R' Kluger adds: Some versions of the mishnah actually state "from the
disciples" in both the first and second sentences. According to that
version, we can explain the seeming redundancy by stating that the first
sentence actually sums up the previous three mishnayot. Those mishnayot
extol the virtues of one who loves others selflessly, one who does not
engage in disputes, and one who toils for the benefit of the many. Such a
person, says the first sentence of our mishnah, is among the disciples of
Avraham (and the opposite type of person is among the disciples of
Bilam). Then the mishnah lists three more traits which determine whether
a person can be counted among the disciples of Avraham (or Bilam). (Magen
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
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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