Torah Weekly

For the week ending 8 July 2017 / 14 Tammuz 5777

Parshat Balak

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Overview

Balak, king of Moav, is in morbid fear of Bnei Yisrael. He summons a renowned sorcerer named Bilaam to curse them. First, G-d speaks to Bilaam and forbids him to go. But because Bilaam is so insistent, G-d appears to him a second time and permits him to go. While en route, a malach (emissary from G-d) blocks Bilaam's donkey's path. Unable to contain his frustration, Bilaam strikes the donkey each time it stops or tries to detour. Miraculously, the donkey speaks, asking Bilaam why he is hitting her. The malach instructs Bilaam regarding what he is permitted to say and what he is forbidden to say regarding the Jewish People. When Bilaam arrives, King Balak makes elaborate preparations, hoping that Bilaam will succeed in the curse. Three times Bilaam attempts to curse and three times blessings issue instead. Balak, seeing that Bilaam has failed, sends him home in disgrace.

Bnei Yisrael begin sinning with the Moabite women and worshipping the Moabite idols, and they are punished with a plague. One of the Jewish leaders brazenly brings a Midianite princess into his tent, in full view of Moshe and the people. Pinchas, a grandson of Aharon, grabs a spear and kills both evildoers. This halts the plague, but not before 24,000 have died.

Insights

Written In Stone

“The angel of G-d stood in the path of the vineyards, a wall on this side and a wall on that side. The she-donkey saw the angel of G-d and pressed against the wall and it pressed Bilaam’s leg against the wall.” (22:24)

Rashi comments on the above verse: “An undefined wall is made of stones.”

Of what possible interest or importance could the construction of the wall be?

When Yaakov Avinu made a pact with Lavan he made it on a mound of stones, “This mound shall be witness …that I may not crossover to you past this mound, nor may you crossover to me past this mound …for evil.” (Ber. 31:52)

Bilaam, who was a descendent of Lavan (Sandhedrin 105), overturned this covenant and “passed over for evil” against the children of Yaakov.

Thus his punishment was through stones. The she-donkey pressed his leg against the wall of stones, broke his leg and left him lame, and he was called by all “Bilaam the Lame.” (Sanhedrin 106)

Rashi’s seemingly redundant comment “An undefined wall is a wall of stone” hints to this hidden depth.

  • Sources: Toldot Yitzchak and Ayein Chizkuni in Iturei Torah

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