Parshios Balak & The Three Weeks
Hashem promised through the words of Yirmiyahu that the Bnai Yisroel would
exist as long as there was a universe.
“So said G-d Who establishes the sun the law stars and Who
stirs the sea into roaring waves. Only if the l shall the offspring of
Israel cease to be a nation before Me for all time.”(31:34-35)
To date, G-d has kept His promise. Above and beyond the expectations of
history the Jews are alive and well.
The third of the Ten Commandments forbids making promises and validating
them by associating them with the name of G-d. “An oath in the Name of G-d
implies that we seek to prove the veracity of our word and the honesty of
our actions by subordinating our entire future to G-d’s power of deciding
over our fate.” (Hirsch Shemos 20:7)
The story of Bilam’s hatred for the Jewish people began centuries before
they reached the Plains of Moav in the year 2488 from creation. Bilam was
one of Lavan’s sons and a brother to Rachel and Leah. Basically, he was
Forced to flee from the danger of Eisav’s hatred, Rivkah instructed Yakov
to go to the home of her brother Lavan. However, before reaching Charan,
Yakov spent 14 years in the Yeshiva (academy) of Shem and Ever furthering
the 63 years he had already invested studying with his father Yitzchak. In
past issues of the Rabbi’s Notebook I explained that Yakov detoured to
study with his great Grandfathers because he needed to prepare himself to
deal with Lavan. First and foremost he had to strengthen himself
spiritually and intellectually to survive Lavan’s innate insidiousness.
Secondly, he needed to be trained how to best influence the non-Jewish
pagan society into which he would be immersed.
Shem and Ever had lived hundreds of years teaching the truths of G-d to
anyone interested in knowing. They were the greatest living experts on how
to be “a light onto the nations.” As the grandson of Avraham, Yakov knew
that he and his children were destined to become G-d’s kingdom of priests
and holy nation. It would be their responsibility to awaken the other
nations to the reality of G-d’s power and majesty. However, knowing and
teaching is not the same thing. Sixty-three years of study in the tent of
Yitzchak made Yakov into an extraordinary scholar and Eved Hashem (servant
of G-d); however, translating and integrating that knowledge into social
truths and values required special training. Yakov entered the academy of
Shem and Ever to be trained. Yakov went to learn how to teach.
Upon arriving in Charan the Torah described Yakov’s confrontation with the
three shepherds who were seemingly lazing around. Rather than mind his own
business and avoid conflict Yakov chastised them for “stealing” from their
masters. Clearly, the Torah recorded the absurdity of the encounter and
its non-confrontational outcome to highlight Yakov’s first real
interaction with the non-Jewish world into which he would be immersed for
20 years. Presenting himself as a paradigm of honesty and integrity, Yakov
proclaimed to one and all that he personified the Midah (characteristic)
of Emes (truth) in all its facets. As such, whatever he would do and say
would have the imprimatur of G-d’s own approval. Whether it would be
managing Lavan’s flocks or teaching G-d’s reality, Yakov could be trusted
to speak only the truth.
Among those attracted to Yakov’s scholarship was Bilam, son of Lavan.
Bilam was a brilliant and creative student who greedily absorbed every
word of Yakov’s teachings. However, Bilam suffered from the fatal flaw of
being miserly, self-centered, and egotistical. Whereas Moshe Rabbeinu was
the most humble man to ever live, Bilam was the most egotistical.
Lacking humility and beset by the inability to subjugate himself to any
other person or to G-d, Bilam, along with his father Lavan, plotted
Yakov’s demise. So long as Yakov and his progeny lived they would be proof
of humanities ability to attain greatness through diminution. The less a
person focuses on himself the greater his significance. The more a person
focuses on himself the less his true significance. Therefore, Lavan,
Bilam, and all those like them throughout history have plotted the utter
destruction of our nation. Their egos are such that diminution is an
anathema to them. Half measures would never be enough; only total
annihilation and genocide would satisfy their egotistical needs of doing
away with the Jewish people. As we say in the Hagadah, “Go out and learn
what Lavan the Aramean attempted to do to our father Yakov… Lavan
attempted to uproot everything. An Aramean sought to destroy my father.
After 20 years suffering the evil machinations of Lavan and Bilam, Yakov
fled with his four wives and twelve children. The Torah in Bereshis
recorded Lavan’s pursuit of Yakov and their final confrontation at Har
Gilead. Forewarned by G-d that he better not harm Yakov, Lavan presented
himself to Yakov as the self-righteously injured father / grandfather
whose sole wish for saying goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren had
been denied to him by an insensitive, uncaring, and ungrateful son-in-law.
The confrontation ended with Yakov and Lavan establishing a truce and
(Bereshis 31:44-52) “(Lavan said) “So now, let us make a covenant?and He
(G-d) shall be a witness between me and you" Yakov said, “Ga took stones
and made a mound? Lavan called the mound Yigar sehadusa stones in Aramaic)
and Yakov called it Galaid (mound of stones in Hebrew). Lavan
declared, “This mound is a witness between you and me? thoug among us to
see... G-d is a witness between me and you?that I and yo cross over this
mound to do evil to each other.”
This week’s Parsha relates how Balak the king of Moav hired Bilam the son
of Beor to travel from Pethor in Aram Naharaim (see Areyeh Kaplan)
(homeland of Avraham and Lavan) to the Jewish encampment and curse them
(approx. 300 miles). Chazal tell us that Beor was Lavan and that Bilam was
At first G-d refused to let Bilam go with Balak’s emissaries; however, in
the end G-d allowed Bilam to go. Along the way the incident with Bilam’
talking donkey (the original Mr. Ed) took place. G-d sent an angel to
block Bilam’s path but did not allow Bilam to see the angel. Instead, the
donkey saw the angel with his drawn sword and fearful for its life fled
into the vineyards bordering the road. The angel repositioned himself in
the narrow pathway between the vineyards that was bordered by stone walls.
Frightened for its life but unable to flee due to the narrowness of the
path, the donkey smashed Bilam’s leg against the stone wall causing
permanent damage. Bilam began striking the donkey to regain control at
which point the donkey opened its mouth and began to speak. In the end G-d
allowed Bilam to see the angel and he understood that it was the angel
that had frightened the donkey.
The entire episode of the talking donkey demands greater elucidation which
the many Mipharshim (commentaries) offer; however, I would like to share
with you the insights of the Daas Zikaynim Baalei Tosofos that I learned
from my older brother Rabbi Dr. Yakov Tendler.
Bilam as Lavan’s son was bound by his father’s oath to Yakov at Galaid. At
that time Lavan agreed that he and his family would respect Yakov’s
autonomy and never cross over the borders of Charan to attack Yakov or his
family. The covenant was agreed to by both parties and at Lavan’s
insistence witnessed by G-d Himself. (See Rav Hirsch the beginning of the
When Bilam agreed to undertake the contract with Balak for cursing the
Jews, he effectively broke the covenant between Lavan and Yakov. (By the
way, according to Chazal (the rabbis), Lavan was still living at the
The Daas Zikaynim says the following. (Bereshis 31:52) “Lavan proclaimed
that the mound should be witness to the covenant between himself and
Yakov. They then stuck a sword in the top of the mound to complete the
covenant. Therefore, when Bilam broke the covenant with the children of
Yakov he was punished by both the mound of stones and the sword. The mound
punished Bilam when it states that his leg was smashed against the stone
wall. Know that the stone wall against which Bilam’s leg was smashed was
the very same mound that Lavan and Yakov had erected! Later, in the war
against Midian Bilam was killed by the sword…”
The ways of G-d are timeless. Oaths made centuries before are as bearing
and demanding as the moment they were first agreed to. Lavan and Bilam
never intended to keep their side of the deal. Instead, they hoped that
history would take care of their problem for them. However, that wasn’t
the case. Time after time the Jews were saved by the grace of G-d’s
It seems that “there is nothing new beneath the sun.” Covenants made and
sealed are meaningless except as so much fodder for the political and PR
craving. Dovid Hamelech (King David) wrote, (Tehilim 146) “Do not rely on
nobles, nor on a human being, for he holds no salvation. Praiseworthy is
one whose help is in G-d...”
The 3 Weeks & The 17th of Tamuz
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
Batei Mikdash (Temples). Beginning with the 17th of Tamuz and culminating
the day after Tisha B’Av 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 Tisha B’Av.
The Three Weeks
The laws of the 3 Weeks extend from sundown on July 5 ? 1 Tamuz, until
mid-day the day after Tisha B’Av, July 28. Men & women are not to shave or
take haircuts during this three-week period. Marriages are not performed
and it is forbidden to rejoice with music and dance. The custom is to
refrain from listening to any music, or to attend any live musical event.
Occasions necessitating the Bracha of Shehechiyanu, such as buying and
wearing new clothes or eating a new fruit should be avoided during the
Three Weeks. Purchasing new clothing is also not permitted unless there
are extenuating circumstances. Please refer all such concerns to your
On the 17th of Tamuz, five tragedies befell the Jewish People. In
commemoration of these events Chazal ? the Rabbis ordained a fast day.
1. Moshe returned from Mt. Sinai and witnessed the Golden Calf. Moshe
broke the first Luchos.
2. From the day that the Mizbeach (altar) was inaugurated in the desert
(2449), offerings were sacrificed every single day for 890 years. During
the fall of the first Bais Hamikdash, there were no more sheep to
sacrifice due to the hunger, and the daily offerings were stopped.
3. During the fall of the second Bais Hamikdash, the Romans breached the
walls of Yerushalayim. At the destruction of the 1st Bais Hamikdash, the
walls were breached on the 9th of Tamuz. The fast of the 17th
commemorates both occasions.
4. The Talmud in Taanis recounts that in 2610, right before the story of
Channukah, Apustomus, a Syrian governor, publicly burned a Sefer Torah.
5. In 3228, during the 1st Bais Hamikdash, King Menashe placed an idol in
the Bais Hamikdash. During the era of the 2nd Bais Hamikdash, Apustomus
did the same.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.