Balak 5774

June 29, 2014

8 min read


Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9 )

GOOD MORNING!   What do you owe your parents? What are your responsibilities to them? Does it depend if they were good parents? Recently was published an illuminating and inspiring book My Father, My Mother and Me by Rebbetzin Yehudis Samet. Sons and daughters tell of their devotion, challenges and successes in honoring their parents. The book clearly sets forth the mitzvah in detail including the halacha (Jewish law) pertaining to specific situations. It also shares 170 heart-warming, insightful, motivating true stories illustrating practical solutions to sometimes very difficult problems.

What is the source of the commandment to honor one's parents? When the Jewish people stood at Mt. Sinai to enter into a covenant with the Almighty, they received the Ten Commandments. The Fifth Commandment is, "Honor your father and mother, so that your days will be lengthened upon the land that the Lord, your God, gives you" (Exodus 20:12).

The Ten Commandments were given on two tablets. The first tablet contains the laws of Man's relationship with God; the second tablet contains the laws of Man's relationship with people. Therefore, it is fascinating that the mitzvah of honoring your parents is on the first tablet! We can see the great significance that the Almighty places on honoring our parents by including it in the Commandments to honor and revere God Himself. The Talmud (Kiddushin 30b-31a) tells us that "There are three partners in creating a human being -- God, the father and the mother." If someone honors his parents, the Almighty considers it "as if I am dwelling in their midst and they are honoring Me."

Writes Rebbetzin Samet, "The mitzvah of honoring parents is all-encompassing and includes our actions, our speech, our thoughts, and our feelings. It applies equally to sons and daughters, single or married -- with some qualifications for a married woman. There is no difference between the obligation to a father and the obligation to a mother. This mitzvah never ends. As long as we are alive, we have a responsibility to our parents."

"Honoring parents in deed requires providing for a parent's physical needs and includes all preparations necessary to fill those needs. When parents, young or old, cannot care for themselves, this is mandatory. Even when parents are self-sufficient, any benefit given by a son or daughter is a fulfillment of the mitzvah. When we extend ourselves in an extraordinary way, we beautify this mitzvah." "A child has an obligation to aim to please. A parent has an obligation not to make it too hard to please, giving his child a helping hand to succeed."

A child also has a mitzvah to revere his parents. The Torah tells us, "Every person -- your father and mother shall you revere ..." (Leviticus 19:3). "Reverence is refraining from behavior that diminishes a parent's esteem, and stems from an inner feeling of deference. While honor is expressed through active gestures, reverence is purposeful inaction. Anything that diminishes a parent's honor is also considered lack of reverence (Aruch HaShulchan).

Writes Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, "The deference that a child develops for his parents in his early years is the root of all future strength he will have to rule over his desires. It will give him the capacity and control to accede to others. Placing one's parents' will before his, as a child, is a practice in humility and will enable him, in his adulthood, to place the Almighty's will before his own. In this way, reverence for parents is the initial preparation for a life of holiness."

For those who are thinking, "All of this is very nice in theory, but, Rabbi, if you knew my parents you would know this doesn't apply!" then read chapter 15 "Must We Love Our Parents?" There are exceptions built into the laws regarding honoring your parents -- and one should consult a competent Torah authority for direction and decisions. However, it behooves all of us to remember that exceptions do not invalidate the rule to honor and revere our parents.

I am limited by space regarding how much wisdom, insight and information I can share from Rebbetzin Samet's masterpiece. That is why it is well worthwhile to purchase My Father, My Mother and Me --and then read it! It is comprehensive, uplifting, insightful. (Search "Honoring Parents" on for more!)


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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
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"The Almighty came to Bilaam at night and said to him: If these people come to call upon you, arise, go with them" (Numbers 22:20).

What lesson can we learn from this?

The Talmud (Makos 10b) takes note that previously in verse twelve the Almighty told Bilaam not to go with Balak's messengers who request that he accompany them to curse the Jewish people. From this above verse the Talmud derives the principle, "In the way a person wishes to go, so is he led."

If a person wants to do evil, he will be able to do so. However, he will have to pay a heavy price for his successful completion of his evil wishes. Conversely, someone who wishes to study Torah and fulfill the Almighty's commandments will be successful. When you wish to travel along a certain path in life, you will be divinely assisted.

"Nothing stands in the way of a strong will." There are many things that we wish for half-heartedly, but when you strongly set your mind on a particular goal, you will have the strength and abilities necessary to meet that goal. What person truly wants in his life, he will usually obtain. (Alai Shur, pp. 120-1)

Rabbi Avigdor Miller comments (Rejoice O Youth, p. 1) that the Almighty guides the person who seeks wisdom, and the amount of guidance is in proportion to the earnestness of the seeker. Work on developing a strong desire for spiritual growth and you will be amazed at the positive changes you will experience!


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Quote of the Week

Opportunity is missed by most people
because it is dressed in overalls
and looks like work.
--  Thomas Edison


In Loving Memory of

Zahava Goldwasser
Roxanne Perri


In Loving Memory of

Arthur Weiss,
Asher ben Leib

With deep appreciation,
Geoff Frisch



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