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Parshas Balak

A Great Responsibility

Volume 22, No. 40
9 Tammuz 5768
July 12, 2008

Sponsored by
Martin and Michelle Swartz
on the yahrzeit of his grandfather
John Hofmann a"h

Today's Learning:
Menachot 8:6-7
O.C. 162:2-5
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Sotah 49
Begin Masechet Gittin on Sunday
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Ketubot 57

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." (Bemidbar 22:5)

"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)


Pirkei Avot

"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." (5:22)

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 disciples.

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 Avot)


R' Aharon Bakst z"l hy"d
("Reb Archik")

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.


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