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Balak 5773

Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9 )

by Kalman Packouz

Rabbi Kalman Packouz' popular Jewish weekly.

GOOD MORNING! The story is told by Rabbi Yisroel Reissman of a man in a small Russian village observing the sale of a horse for the unbelievably cheap price of 500 rubles. After the conclusion of the deal, the man approaches the seller and asks, "That horse was worth at least 2500 rubles! How could you possibly sell it for so little?" The seller sneered, "You idiot! That horse is so lame that in 2 blocks he'll have to carry it home on his shoulders!"

The man runs to the buyer and breathlessly asks him, "Do you realize that the horse you bought is lame?" The buyer guffaws, "Fool! Of course I know he's lame! He has a nail in his hoof. As soon as I get it out, I'll have a perfectly good horse for only 500 rubles!"

Running back to the seller, the man exclaims, "The horse has a nail in his hoof! Once he takes it out it will be perfectly fine." The seller laughs, "You're a bigger idiot than I thought! No one is going to buy a lame horse. I put the nail in the hoof to trick the buyer!"

Huffing and puffing back to the buyer, "You've been swindled! He put the nail in the hoof to deceive you!" The buyer shrugs and throws up his hands, "It doesn't matter. The rubles are counterfeit anyway!"

What does the Torah say about deceiving or cheating someone in a business deal? "And if you sell anything to your fellow or buy anything from the hand of your fellow, you shall not wrong one another" (Leviticus 25:14). The Torah is a handbook for life. The word "Torah" means "Instruction." It is our guide for perfecting ourselves, being more God-like and coming closer to God. It governs three areas: between a person and the Almighty, a person and his fellow human being and a person and himself or herself. The laws governing business are an important part of living righteously and building a better world.

The above verse forbids us to cheat others when buying or selling. The laws of this prohibition are sometimes complex. An halachic authority (an expert in Talmudic law) should be consulted whenever a question arises.

The Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, informs us that you are obligated to inform the buyer of any defect in an item you are selling, even if the price is reasonable. (Choshen Mishpot 228:6).

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato writes: "It is very easy for a person to fall prey to sin in regards to deceiving a customer. A person might consider it proper to attempt to make his merchandise attractive and to use sales talk on his customers to make them more receptive. However, if a person is not careful, he will violate the prohibition against deceiving others. Someone who deceives others is considered 'wrong,' 'hateful,' 'abominable,' 'despised,' and 'detested' (Sifra 19:35). Our Sages have stated, 'Whenever someone steals even the value of the smallest coin from another person, it is considered as if he has taken his soul' (Bava Kama 119a).

"If you ask: 'How is it possible not to try to influence a prospective customer to buy my merchandise?' you should know that there is a big distinction in the methods one might use. When you try to show a customer the true value and beauty of an article, it is good and proper. However, what is done to conceal the defects of an item is deceitful and forbidden. This is a basic principle in business integrity.

"Someone who perfects himself in matters pertaining to the desire for acquisition has reached a very high level. For there are many who achieve righteousness in other areas, but do not achieve perfection in despising dishonest gain." (Mesilas Yesharim, Ch. 11)

There are a number of excellent books available in English from your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242 including Kosher Money by Rabbi Yoel Schwartz. Also, one can read the Jewish Ethicist at .

Is this important? The Talmud, Shabbos 31a, teaches that after a person dies, on Judgment Day he will be asked 6 questions -- the first of which is, "Were you honest in your business dealings?"

(This piece draws greatly from Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, pages 321-325).


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Torah Portion of the Week
Balak, Numbers 22:2 - 25:9

This week's portion is one of the most fascinating psychologically-revealing portions in the whole Torah! Bilaam, a non-Jewish prophet, was granted a level of prophecy close to Moshe's level of prophecy. The Almighty gave Bilaam these powers so that the nations of the world could not say at some point in the future, "If we had a prophet like Moshe, we too would have accepted the Torah and would have lived according to it." Bilaam is an intriguing character -- honor-driven, arrogant and self-serving. Unfortunately, not too unique amongst mankind.

Balak, the king of Moav, wanted to hire Bilaam to curse the Jewish people for a fortune of money. It is interesting that Balak believed in God and the power of invoking a curse from God, yet thought that God would change His mind about His Chosen People. (God is not a man who changes his mind). Bilaam was very desirous to accept the assignment to curse the Jews -- more for the profit motive than the prophet motive.

The Almighty allowed Bilaam to go to Balak (cautioning him to only say what God told him). The Almighty gives every person free-will and allows us to go in the direction that we choose. Three times Bilaam tried to curse us and three times the Almighty placed blessings in his mouth. Balak was furious! So, Bilaam gave him advice with hopes of collecting his fee -- "If you want to destroy the Jewish people, entice the men with Moabite women and tell the women not to submit until the men bow down to an idol." Balak followed the advice and consequently the Almighty brought a plague against the Jewish people because the men fell for Bilaam's plot. We see from this that the Almighty hates licentiousness and idol worship.

* * *

Dvar Torah
from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

The Talmud gives the characteristics of the disciples of Abraham: a benevolent eye, a humble spirit and a meek soul. The traits of the disciples of Bilaam are: an evil eye, an arrogant spirit and a greedy soul. (Pirke Avos, Ethics of the Fathers 5:2).

Why does the Talmud focus on the "the disciples" of Abraham and Bilaam? Why not cite the differences between Abraham and Bilaam themselves?

The answer is that anyone looking at Abraham and Bilaam might not be able to distinguish between the two. After all, did not Bilaam subjugate himself totally to God? "If Balak will give me his houseful of silver and gold, I cannot transgress the word of God" (Numbers 22:18). "Bilaam spoke up and said, 'Whatever God puts in my mouth, that I must take heed to speak" (Numbers 23:12). Are these not the words of a tzaddik (a righteous person)? Anyone hearing Bilaam might conclude that he is a very God-fearing person.

Appearances can be deceptive. If you wish to know the true mettle of a person, look at his disciples. The true nature of a person is revealed in those whom he taught -- the group of students as a whole. Their character, their behavior and their belief reflect that of the teacher.


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If you have integrity, nothing else matters.
If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters.
--  Senator Alan Simpson


With Special Thanks To

Bernardo (Dov) &
Sarita Coiffman


In Loving Memory of My Uncle

Arthur Weiss,
Asher ben Leib

With deep appreciation,
Geoff Frisch


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