Perashat Balak 5777
Perashat Balak 5777Friday, July 07, 2017
Our perasha this week, Balak, deals with an extraordinary event in the Torah. While most of the Torah deals with stories that are happening within the nation, this week we are dealing with a narrative that takes place outside the encampment of the nation of Israel in an enemy territory called Moab.
The perasha describes the effects of the nation's recent wars from the enemy's perspective. The miraculous victories that B'nei Yisrael achieved against the powerful Amorite kingdoms of Sihon and Og awakened the fears of the Moabite nation, who quickly crowned Balak as their king in order to take on B'nei Yisrael. One of Balak's first executive orders was to hire the services of a young prophet by the name of Bil'am in order to curse the nation of Israel. The Torah elaborates on Bil'am's own doubts regarding this mission, and then goes on to describe at length the journey to Moab that he takes with his donkey. In addition, the Torah describes in detail the various forms of worship and sacrifices that were performed as part of Bil'am's desperate attempt to attain some sort of direction from the occult powers of the Kohot HaTumah, the Impure Forces. How is any of this relevant to us?
Bil'am was not an ordinary rasha, a wicked man. Our sages attribute great importance to him. The Midrash Halakha states: "And there was no other prophet who arose in Israel like Moshe, but in the nations of the world there was a prophet like Moshe, and this was Bil'am." (Sifri, Devarim Piska 357:10) Regarding Moshe and Bil'am it is said, "Hashem made one corresponding to the other," meaning the great and holy Moshe Rabbenu on one hand, and on the other hand, Bil'am, the most defiled personality. Both Moshe and Bil'am possessed the lofty quality of Da'at, intimate knowledge of the Divine. Moshe Rabbenu was rooted in Da'at, as was the entire generation of B'nei Yisrael in the desert who were referred to by the sages as the Dor De'ah, the generation with inner knowledge of Hashem. Bil'am is also referred to in this manner in the perasha, where he is called one who is, "Yodea Da'at Elyon", who has intimate knowledge of Hashem (24:16).
It is in the difference between Moshe and Bil'am where we see the biggest contrast between purity and impurity. The difference between the two revolves around their use of Da'at, which we defined before as intimate knowledge of the Divine. The key to the lofty concept of Da'at lies in how to use it. Often we measure people according to how smart they are. However, in reality the biggest and most significant differences between people are in the way they use their wisdom. Our perasha stresses this very much.
Not all Resha'im are stupid and not all Saddikim are geniuses. As the dean of the prophets of the nations, Bil'am received a rare and unique gift from Heaven, Da'at. With the spiritual tools that were at his disposal he could have become a very great man, a true prophet of Hashem, whose personality could have rivaled that of Moshe Rabbenu. He could have led the nations in achieving their divinely mandated purpose in this world. However, at the end he made the wrong decision and succumbed to the negative forces, which ultimately brought upon himself his own demise.
Our sages tell us that the greatest weapon of the wicked is their pretense of wisdom. They present themselves as being very wise and clever and the righteous as naïve and detached from reality. This is an ancient tactic of theYesser Hara, the Evil Inclination, that presents itself as clever and realistic, claiming that it only wants what is for your well-being, while at the same time characterizing the Yesser HaTov as non-realistic, naïve, and too simple. As the sages explain, if you want to expose the fraud of the wicked who want you to accept their view on life just look at where their "wisdom" led them in their own lives. As an example of this we see the prophet Yirmiyahu (4:22) railing against people who have wisdom, and who yet acquire for themselves the title, "wise to do evil". History is full of examples of great people who were very smart individuals, and despite their genius, their life stories were full of blunders and ended in tragic, painful and embarrassing ways.
In the last few perashiyot we have been reading how B'nei Yisrael battled their enemies and prevailed. In this perasha, the Torah enables us to see things from a rare perspective, the perspective of the enemy. We often wage battles within ourselves. It is important for us to know what effect fear has on our quiet, inner battles with "the other side."
Moab was horrified; it was crippled from fear. What was it fearful of anyway? It was known that B'nei Yisrael had no right to conquer their land according to the Torah. Therefore it must be that their fears were not that of a physical battle. Rather, Moab was fearful of a spiritual conquest. A Jew walks around the world with a clear mission. He knows what Hashem wants from him. This is the biggest existential threat to the wicked. The closer the nation of Israel got to Moab, the more they felt the ground being pulled out from underneath them. As a last resort they turned to their doomsday weapon, the wicked Bil'am. They felt that Bil'am could use his ability of Da'at Elyon, his intrinsic knowledge of the Divine, to stop B'nei Yisrael in their tracks and derail them from their mission. They perceived him as unstoppable, as much a spiritual powerhouse as Moshe Rabbenu, and therefore Balak sent Bil'am on this mission. Yet, we see that the man who knew so much didn't even reach the level of knowledge of his own donkey.
The people who possess "real" knowledge are the true Saddikim, those righteous people who acquired this knowledge through hard work and self-sacrifice. Their knowledge is an accurate reflection of Hashem's will. In contrast, the Resha'im, the wicked, are not willing to give up any lust or desire or remove a bad character trait. They are completely immersed in Olam Haze, in this material world. After reading the perasha with this in mind, we can now understand how every detail in the perasha teaches us the tactics of the Resha'im in order that we learn not to fall prey to their traps. May we win our inner battles by applying the great knowledge of the Saddikim.
May 31 2020
Sivan 8 5780