A Local Call
"Balak, the son of Tzipor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
Moav was very afraid; there were many of them, and Moav became very uneasy
about the Children of Israel." (Bamidbar 22:2-3)
Parashat Balak is a parshah about Hashgochah Pratit — Divine Providence.
It is one of the only parshiot in which the Jewish people are not directly
involved. Instead, G-d fights their battle for them from behind the
scenes, while the Jewish people seem oblivious to the war being waged on
their behalf. Even if Moshe Rabbeinu was aware of what was happening, and
it was more than likely that he was, he did not get involved in any way
that we can see from the parshah itself.
"Behold, He does not slumber nor sleep, the Guardian of Israel."
Of course He doesn’t sleep. Why would G-d need to sleep? What it means is
that He never stops paying attention to the Jewish people and what they
are going through, even though it may look as if He does.
For example, it says:
"Eventually the king of Egypt died. By that time, the Children of
Israel were broken because of the servitude, and they cried. Their cry for
help came to G-d, who heard their groaning. G-d remembered His covenant
with Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov, and saw the Children of Israel. G-d
was aware of their suffering." (Shemot 2:23:25)
This seems to contradict the previous verse from Tehillim. Fine, so G-d
wasn’t slumbering nor was He sleeping, but what was He doing instead that
He was unaware, for a time, of the suffering of His children in Egypt?
Until they screamed out and caught G-d’s attention, had He been aware of
what they were going through?
Obviously yes. Not only was G-d aware of the suffering of the Jewish
people in Egypt, He was behind it. After all, could an Egyptian lift a
finger to do anything if G-d didn’t first give him the energy to do it? If
an Egyptian thought something, could he have hidden that thought from G-d?
If an enemy conspires against the Jewish people, does G-d not know about
"He Who forms their hearts together, Who comprehends all their
deeds." (Tehillim 33:15)
The trouble is the way things appear to us, and our expectations. For
example, take the story of Lot and his daughters, a very troubling one
indeed. For, one would expect the lineage of Moshiach Ben Dovid to be
immaculate, without any blemish along the way. And yet, when one considers
the origin of Ruth, the ancestress of Dovid HaMelech, descending from
Moav, the child of a father-daughter relationship, the lineage of the
source of Jewish kings and the ultimate redeemer of the Jewish people, is
about as murky as it can get in this world.
That’s the way it appears to us, and it is nothing what we would expect
from G-d. Therefore, most just side-step the issue and let history do its
thing, trusting that one day in the future, it will all make sense.
However, let’s try a different tact. Let’s make one very justifiable
assumption, and that is, no matter how crooked history may APPEAR TO US,
let’s assume that G-d is as straight as anything comes, and that
everything He does must be, by definition, pure. Let that be our absolute,
and let’s apply it to the story of Lot and his daughters. How can we re-
paint the story in such a way, in spite of all the assumptions of everyone
at that time and also now, that all was really kosher after all, GLATT
"Lot looked and saw the whole plain of the Jordan, and how it was well
watered (this was before G-d destroyed S’dom and Amorah), like a garden of
G-d, like the land of Egypt was as you come to Tzoar. Lot chose the whole
plain of the Jordan for himself, and journeyed eastward. Thus they
separated from one another. Avram lived in the land of Canaan; Lot lived
in the cities of the plain, and camped by So’dom. The men of Sodom were
evil, and transgressed greatly against G-d." (Bereishit 13:10-13)
Amazingly, in spite of the fact that he had lived with his uncle for so
long, the righteous Avraham Avinu, Lot chose S’dom to live in of all
places. As the Torah testifies, the people of S’dom were evil and
transgressed greatly against G-d.
Nevertheless, Lot took a wife from the women of S’dom and built a family
with her, from whom he had daughters. Now, even though the concept of
marriage did not apply at that time, and that technically-speaking his
wife was not married to him in the Torah sense, he still would have been
the biological father of the woman’s children, making intimacy with his
daughters an act of incest, forbidden according to the Seven Noachide
Laws, and not good for the ancestor of Moshiach.
However, let us not forget two things. First of all, all that G-d does is
righteous and pure, and secondly, all that the people of S’dom did was
not. Given the nature of the people from whom Lot's wife was taken, was it
not possible for the mother of Moav to have been a child from Lot’s wife,
fathered by another man in secret? Perhaps Lot's wife had fooled her
husband, and therefore the night that Lot became drunk and was intimate
with the young woman whom he had thought was his daughter, was a woman who
was actually permitted to him according to the Seven Noachide Laws.
Why all the confusion? Because, as the Alschich explains, the main goal
here was to redeem the spark of Dovid HaMelech, which had been hidden deep
down within the Klipot, represented by the people of S’dom. However, it
had to be done in such a way that would not arouse the suspicion of the
Sitra Achra, against whose interest such a redemption was. Thus, G-
d “required” a scenario that fooled the Sitra Achra into letting events
occur as they did, while at the same time remaining true to the purity of
Or, maybe one of the babies was switched either accidentally or purposely
in the baby ward of the hospital, unbeknownst to Lot or his wife.
Who knows what the real story is? All we know for sure is that G-d was
involved every step along the way, working at all times behind the scenes,
perhaps at times out in the open, but ALWAYS orchestrating events to
satisfy all the needs of history, and particularly those of the Jewish
people. This is true in every aspect of Jewish history, the parts we
celebrate and the parts we mourn. That is why the Talmud says:
"A person is obligated to bless G-d for the bad as he blesses Him for the
good." (Brochot 54a)
If He is not involved with the bad events of history, then why bless Him
at all? Rather, He is involved, and instead it says:
"Rav Huna said in the name of Rav, citing Rebi Meir, and so it was taught
in the name of Rebi Akiva: “A man should always accustom himself to
say, ‘Whatever the All-Merciful does is for good’.” (Ibid.)
This means that, as convoluted as history may seem at times, and as
backwards as the events of our lives may appear to us, we have to know, or
at least believe that when all the layers of the events are stripped away,
it will all make sense to us as well. And not just make sense, but even
appear to us as straight and pure as events can get, and had we judged G-d
to the side of merit, perhaps we could have seen this at the time as well.
Maybe this is part of the message of the following account:
Our Rabbis taught: The scholars were once in need of something from a
noblewoman where all the great men of Rome were to be found. They
asked, “Who will go?” “I will go,” Rebi Yehoshua said. So Rebi Yehoshua
and his students went. When he reached the door of her house, he removed
his Tefillin at a distance of four amot, entered, and shut the door in
front of them. After he came out he descended, went to the mikvah, and
learned with his students. He asked them, “When I removed my tefillin, of
what did you suspect me?”
“We thought that our teacher reasoned, ‘Let not sacred words enter a place
“When I shut [the door], of what did you suspect me?”
“We thought, perhaps he has [to discuss] an affair of State with her.”
“When I descended to the mikvah, of what did you suspect me?”
“We thought, perhaps some spit spurted from her mouth upon the rabbi's
“By the [Temple] Service!” he exclaimed to them, “it was just like that.
Just as you judged me favorably, so may G-d judge you favorably.” (Shabbat
To do that, they had to really know their rebi well, and to believe,
without exception, that he was truly a G-d-fearing man. With a starting
point like that, all they had to do was use their imagination to devise a
scheme that matched the circumstances and the character of their teacher,
as far-fetched as it may have seemed.
If we can do it for man, we must also be able to do it for G-d as well,
Who is far more righteous than the most righteous of men.
"G-d told Moshe, 'After you lie with your fathers, this people will act
immorally and pursue the gods of the strangers of the land they are going
to. They will abandon Me, and nullify My covenant which I have made with
them. I will become very angry at them on that day, and I will abandon
them and hide My face from them. They will be devoured, and plagued by
many evils that will distress them, and will say, "Do we not suffer
because G-d has left us?"’” (Devarim 31:16-17).
Let’s say that a father wanted to test his sons’ loyalty before giving
over the reigns of his company to them upon retirement. Therefore, he
devises a little test, whereby he pretends to travel abroad to watch what
his sons will do while he is away. As the expression goes, “When the cat
is away the mice will play.” Are his sons some of those mice?
The father stages everything perfectly. He has a taxi pick him up to take
him to the airport. He has what looks like a real plane ticket, and he
packed suitcases as if he is really going away. As the father drives off,
and his wife and sons wave good-bye to him, he has the taxi go around the
block and drop him off at a neighbor’s house, where he plans to stay for
As the sons walk back to the house, they speak about the opportunity of
being alone for a week without the “boss.” However, whereas some talk
about taking on even more responsibility to make sure that the company
runs smoothly while their father is away, others talk about taking
advantage of privileges reserved usually for the boss himself. A
disagreement ensues, and each one goes his own way.
In the meantime, after a reasonable amount of time, the father pretends to
call home from his destination overseas, and the sons have no reason to
expect otherwise. One-by-one, the father questions each son about his
activities, and checks to see how each responds to the father’s apparent
absence. They have no idea that their father can see them come and go, and
actually watch them at work through a two-way mirror.
After the week is up, the father pretends to come home from his trip, and
asks his sons about how the week was while he was gone. He listens
intently as each one describes how he acted responsibly on behalf of the
father, doing that which he thought was necessary to keep the company up
Then comes the bombshell: the father reveals the truth.
At first there is disbelief, until the father tells them all that he saw,
and how he saw it. He apologizes for the charade, but he explains how it
was necessary to be able to know who to trust with his multi-million
dollar company, and who not to trust. Instantly, some of the sons feel
tremendous relief knowing that their actions were admirable, as the father
points out. Other sons feel embarrassed and exposed as they recall what
their father must have seen them do at times when they thought that no one
could see anything. Their dreams of taking over the family company one day
Hester panim, the hiding of G-d’s face, is exactly that: a hiding. Hiding
does not imply an actual departure, it signifies invisibility, a
perception, or rather, a misperception. It takes advantage of our
assumptions and expectations to fool us into believing that whatever we
seek is not there. However, as the prophet said:
"Seek out G-d and call to Him since He is close." (Yeshayahu 55:6)
Close, but hidden. However, something far away cannot be revealed like
something that is close and only hidden. And, the prophet says that
revelation depends upon us, on our desire to find Him. As it turns out,
this is really the definition of a Jew, as the Akeidah has taught us.
"Avraham told the men, 'You stay here with the donkey, while I and the
lad will walk until there, prostrate ourselves and then return to you.'”
The Torah recounts that G-d told Avraham regarding his son Yitzchak:
"Go to the land of Moriah; bring him up there as an offering, upon one
of the mountains which I will show you." (Bereishit 22:2)
Obediently, Avraham left for the land of Moriah with no specific
indication of where he was to offer Yitzchak up to G-d; that information
was to be revealed to him at a later time. Sure enough, on the third day
of his journey, Avraham “lifted up his eyes” and saw the Divine sign: a
mountain encompassed with fire from Heaven to earth, and the Clouds of
Glory hovering above it (Bereishit Rabbah 56:2).
The Midrash says that, at that time, Avraham was uncertain as to who was
to accompany him up to the mountain. Aside from Yitzchak, Avraham had
brought along Yishmael, his son from Hagar, and Eliezer his trusted
servant. Perhaps even Yitzchak was unworthy to complete the journey to
Mount Moriah, the future location of both Temples. Therefore, Avraham
tested each of them: anyone who saw the Divine Presence in the distance,
he rightly assumed, was meant to travel with him up the mountain.
In the end, only Yitzchak shared Avraham’s vision, and therefore it says:
"Avraham told the men, 'You stay here — poh: Peh-Heh, with the donkey,
while I and the lad will walk until there — koh: Chof-Heh, prostrate
ourselves and then return to you.'” (Bereishit 22:5)
Fascinatingly, in Gematria Kollel (one is added for each word of the
gematria), the numerical value of the word “poh” — here, is 86: 80+5+1,
and of “koh” — there, is 26: 20+5+1. The numerical value of G-d’s
Name, “Elokim” — the Name of G-d when He works through nature, is also
86: 1+30+5+10+40, and the numerical value of the Ineffable Name of G-d is
26: 10+5+6+5 — the Name of G-d when He works supernaturally.
Thus, on a simple level, Avraham had simply given instructions to Yishmael
and Eliezer to remain behind with the donkey. However, on a deeper level
the verse and the usage of the word “koh” alluded to a revelation of the
Divine Presence and the light of Creation. It also represented an
important fork in the spiritual road between Avraham and the rest of the
nations of the world, the former being able to see the hand of G-d
working “behind the scenes” of history, as in this week’s parshah, and the
latter being unable to do so.
Thus, as history now takes weird turns, and truth seems to be a distant
concept, it seems as if the “Boss” has gone “abroad”. In fact, it is only
a charade. For, He neither slumbers nor sleeps when it comes to Jewish
history, no matter how much it seems as if He does. He’s just testing us,
checking each one of us to determine who is reliable enough to run His
business, so-to-speak, and who is not.
And, one of the things about being G-d is that He can do whatever it takes
to convince us that we are truly on our own, even when He is right there
next to us, watching us perform the mitzvah or, G-d forbid, the sin. When
it comes to G-d, seeing is not always believing, and often, it is the
other way around, though it is the intention of the Balaks and Bilaams
throughout history to make us believe otherwise. Unfortunately, so it is
for billions of Jews over the millennia, and with a lot of success.
"Seek out G-d and call to Him since He is close." (Yeshayahu 55:6)
It is only man who actually goes away, and makes the distance between G-d
and himself so great.
Have a great Shabbat,
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.