By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Balak - Conspiracies and Lost Opportunities
"Billam's intentional omission was humankind's lost opportunity."
Who were Billam and Balak, and what were their reasons and strategy for
wanting to destroy the Bnai Yisroel?
The story of Billam and Balak is a tragic story of lost opportunities for
the entire human family and the harm that can result from an evil man's
egomania and selfishness.
It is important to understand that the individuals mentioned in the Torah,
such as Nimrod, Eisav, Pharaoh, Balak, and Billam, were potentially able to
advance the cause of the Bnai Yisroel and the bringing of Mashiach, if they
had so desired.
Nimrod could have been Avraham's greatest advocate and ally, adding his own
personal charisma and influence to Avraham's mission of teaching
monotheism. Had he done so, the era of Mashiach would have begun with Avraham.
Eisav could have been Yakov's partner in advancing the position of the Bnai
Yitzchak into the era of Mashiach. Yakov, married to Rachel would have
given birth to six of the tribes, and Eisav, married to Leah, would have
given birth to the other six tribes. Together, the voice of Yakov supported
by the strong hands of Eisav would have made the grandchildren of Avraham
invincible in the eyes of the world and would have launched the era of
Pharaoh was entrusted with caring for the family of Yakov. Had he done so
with love and strength, rather than fear and malice, Pharaoh and Egypt
would have become partners with the Bnai Yisroel. The strength and support
of what was then the most powerful kingdom in the world would have helped
to usher in the era of Mashiach.
This week's Parsha, the story of Billam and Balak, is another such lost
opportunity. If not for Bilam's egomania and evil hatred, Balak, the king
of Midian and Moav, would have joined forces with the Bnai Yisroel as they
entered the Promised Land and assisted them in forging the kingdom of
Bilam's story began with Yakov and Lavan. The Medresh tells us that the
evil prophet Billam was one of Lavan's sons. (Billam was Yakov's brother
-in-law, and our Uncle.) In fact, Yakov and Billam enjoyed a close
relationship with Billam learning from Yakov all about G-d and the unique
mission of Avraham's children.
After Yakov had successfully amassed his own fortune, he overheard the sons
of Lavan, including Billam, conspiring against him for having been so
successful at Lavan's expense. He conferred with Rachel and Leah and they
decide to flee. Lavan chased after Yakov, and in the end, Hashem forced
Lavan into a truce with Yakov and his sons. The truce was sealed with a
monument constructed from a pile of stones. (The very same "stone wall"
against which Bilam's donkey would smash Bilam's leg.) However, in spite of
the truce, Lavan continued to hate Yakov poisoning his sons with his hatred
and passing on his determination to eventually destroy the Bnai Yisroel. It
was Billam who undertook to fulfill Lavan's wishes for Yakov's eventual
Billam, a gifted student of the occult, attained worldwide renown for his
supernatural powers and prophetic ability. He became an advisor to kings
and rulers charging exorbitant prices for his services, and amassing great
personal wealth. However, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, he was
patiently awaiting the opportunity to use his powers against the Bnai
Yisroel. His first opportunity came as an advisor to Pharaoh regarding
Egypt's "Jewish problem." It was Billam who advised Pharaoh to enslave the
Bnai Yisroel with the hope of eventually destroying them.
The Bnai Yisroel successfully survived Egypt and Bilam's second chance at
destroying the Jews took place at the end of the forty years in the desert.
The Bnai Yisroel were about to enter the Promised Land. The nations of
Midian and Moav feared that their kingdoms would be forfeit along with the
seven nations of Canaan. Balak, a direct descendent of Lot, was the
acknowledged leader and king. It was his responsibility to devise a
strategy that would protect Midian and Moav. Considering that the Bnai
Yisroel had already bested the mighty Sichon and Og, a military solution
didn't seem advisable. Therefore, Balak needed to come up with an
alternative strategy. Balak, who had at one time been Bilam's student and
was aware of Bilam's hatred for the Bnai Yisroel, approached his old
teacher (Billam was over 300 years old) seeking a non-military solution to
his "Jewish problem."
The underlying strategy was simple. Turn the strength of the Bnai Yisroel
against themselves. The Bnai Yisroel, as promised to Avraham, were a
"blessed" people. That meant that they had the potential, in conjunction
with possessing Eretz Yisroel, to influence the world to believe in Hashem
and join the Jews in creating the era of Mashiach. Our divine attribute of
free will allows for all abilities and strengths to be used for good or for
bad. It was Balak's request that Billam affect the Jewish potential as the
children of Avraham to influence good in the world and direct that
potential into an influence for bad. Balak hoped that Billam would "curse"
the nation and remove their right to claim the Promised Land.
Balak, knowing Bilam's love for money and honor, sent an impressive
entourage of noblemen and gifts to entice Bilam's participation. Billam
deferred to answer till the morning and invited the nobleman to spend the
night. During the night Hashem instructed Billam to tell the committee,
"... do not go with them, do not curse the nation for they (the Bnai
Yisroel) are blessed." (22:12) The next morning Billam told the noblemen,
"...go home, G-d has forbidden me to go with you." (22:13) He conveniently
left out the second half of G-d's instructions, do not curse the nation for
they (the Bnai Yisroel) are blessed." Bilam's intentional omission was
humankind's lost opportunity.
Billam and Balak were two important pieces in the Mashiach puzzle. Balak,
as the king of Moav, possessed within him a part of Mashiach. That gene
would one day be realized in his great-grand daughter, Ruth. Billam, as a
prophet and teacher, was in the position to influence Balak, and the two
nations that followed him, to join their destinies with that of the Bnai
Yisroel as allies, not enemies. Had he shared G-d's full answer with Balak,
he could have advised Balak to support the Jews and their claim on Eretz
Yisroel. Balak would have understood that his destiny was to be part of the
Bnai Yisroel rather than their enemies. The combined support of Midian and
Moav behind the Bnai Yisroel would have modeled for all the other nations
how they should relate to the Bnai Yisroel. Balak would have led the
military might of the other nations in support of the Bnai Yisroel and
Billam would have joined Moshe in teaching the rest of the world about G-d.
The 17th of Tamuz and the Three Weeks
The fasts of Gedalia, the 10th of Teves, the 17th of Tamuz, and Tisha B'Av,
were ordained to commemorate the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples.
Beginning with the 17th of Tamuz (July 12) and culminating on Tisha B'Av
(Aug. 2) is a period of mourning. As legislated by the Talmud and amplified
by our customs, the degree of mourning becomes more intense as we approach
The laws of the 3 Weeks extend from Saturday night, July 11- the 17th of
Tamuz, until after Tisha B'av - Sunday night, Aug. 2 Our custom is that
during this three week period men do not shave and both men and woman do
not take hair cuts. Marriages aren't performed, (if however the marriage
takes place before the 17th of Tamuz, even those days of the Sheva Brachot
that fall out during the three weeks are celebrated) and it is forbidden to
rejoice with music and dance. The custom is to refrain from listening to
any music, or to attend any public entertainment. Occasions necessitating
the Bracha of Shehechiyanu, such as wearing new clothes or eating a new
fruit should be avoided during the Three Weeks. Purchasing new clothing is
permitted until Rosh Chodesh Av - Monday, July 24, provided that they are
not worn until after Tisha B'Av.
On the 17th of Tamuz, five tragedies befell the Jewish People. In
commemoration of these events Chazal ordained a fast day.
- Moshe returned from Mt. Sinai and witnessed the Golden Calf. Moshe broke
the first Luchos.
- From the day that the Alter was inaugurated in the desert (2449),
offerings were sacrificed every single day for 890 years. During the fall
of the first Temple, there were no more animals to sacrifice due to the
hunger, and the daily offerings stopped.
- During the fall of the second Temple, the Romans breached the walls of
Yerushalayim. At the destruction of the 1st Temple the walls were breached
on the 9th of Tamuz. The fast of the 17th commemorates both occasions.
- The Talmud in Taanis recounts that in 2610, right before the story of
Chanukah, Apustomus, a Syrian governor, publicly burned a Sefer Torah.
- In 3228, during the 1st Temple, King Menashe placed an idol in the
Temple. During the era of the 2nd Temple, Apustomus also placed an idol in
the Temple on the 17th of Tamuz.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.
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