Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9 )
GOOD MORNING! The story is told of Napoleon walking through the streets of Paris one Tisha B'av. As his entourage passed a synagogue he heard wailing and crying coming from within; he sent an aide to inquire as to what had happened. The aide returned and told Napoleon that the Jews were in mourning over the loss of their Temple. Napoleon was indignant! "Why wasn't I informed? When did this happen? Which Temple?" The aide responded, "They lost their Temple in Jerusalem on this date 1700 years ago." Napoleon stood in silence and then said, "Certainly a people which has mourned the loss of their Temple for so long will survive to see it rebuilt!"
If we know our history and understand it, then we can put our life in perspective. We can understand ourselves, our people, our goals, our values. We will know the direction of our lives, what we want to accomplish with our lives and what we are willing to bear in order to fulfill our destiny. Friedrich Nietzsche put it well, "If you have a 'why' to live for, you can bear with any 'how'."
We are now entering the Three Weeks, the time between the 17th of Tamuz (Tuesday, June 29th) and the 9th of Av (starting Monday night, July 19th). This is a period when many tragedies happened to the Jewish people. Why do we mourn the loss of the Temple after so many years? What did and does it mean to us?
The Temple was a central focal point of the Jewish people. Three times a year -- Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot -- the Jews living in the Land of Israel came to worship and celebrate at the Temple. It offered us the ultimate opportunity to come close to the Almighty, to elevate ourselves spiritually. It represented the purpose of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel -- to be a holy people united with the Almighty in our own land ... a Jewish state. That is what we seek to regain and that is why we mourn and remember the loss of what we once had.
What can one read to gain knowledge, get perspective, to understand who the Jewish people are and what we are about? Certainly, reading the Five Books of Moses is the place to start. I recommend the Artscroll Stone Edition. Nineteen Letters by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch will give a tremendous understanding of the Jewish purpose. Nine Questions and Why the Jews? by Praeger and Telushkin address central issues of the Jewish people. And then there is Judaism in a Nutshell: God by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf for people who are long on curiosity, but short on time. For more history and understanding of the holidays, read Book of Our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov. All are available from your local Jewish book store, JudaicaEnterprises.com or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242.
In Jewish cosmology, the Three Weeks are considered to be such an inauspicious time period that one is not allowed to get married. From the 1st of Av (July 12), one is even advised to push off court cases until after the 10th of Av (after July 21). We refrain from hair-cutting, purchasing or wearing new clothing, listening to music and pleasure trips. It is a time for self-reflection and improvement.
On the 17th of Tamuz, five calamitous events occurred in our history: 1) Moshe broke the first Tablets of the Ten Commandments when he descended from Mt. Sinai and saw the worshipping of the Golden Calf 2) The Daily Sacrificial Offerings ceased in the First Temple due to lack of sheep 3) The walls of Jerusalem were breached during the siege of the Second Temple 4) Apustumus-the-Wicked burned a Sefer Torah and 5) An idol was placed in the Sanctuary of the Second Temple.
The 17th of Tamuz is a fast day. The fast begins approximately an hour before sunrise and continuing until about an hour after sunset. The purpose of the fast is to awaken our hearts to repentance through recalling our forefathers' misdeeds which led to tragedies and our repetition of those mistakes. The fasting is a preparation for repentance -- to break the body's dominance over a person's spiritual side. One should engage in self-examination and undertake to correct mistakes in his relationship with God, his fellow man and with himself.
It is interesting to note that Saddam Hussein was a student of Jewish history. He named the nuclear reactor (from which he planned to create a bomb to drop on Israel) -- you guessed it, Tamuz 17! (Want the source? Two Minutes Over Baghdad by Amos Perlmutter.) I also highly recommend ShabbatShalomAudio.com and aish.com/holidays. There are many excellent articles and insights on our website.
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.
* * *
from Twersky on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD
The Torah writes, "Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorite" (Numbers 22:2). What is the message for us from this verse?
Moses had sent emissaries to Sihon, king of the Amorite, asking for permission to pass through their land on their way to Canaan. He assured Sihon that they would not wander from the main road, and they would not make use of their water unless they paid for it. Instead of allowing the Israelites peaceful passage, Sihon gathered his army and attacked Israel, resulting in his defeat.
But what did Balak see? Only what the Israelites did to the Amorite, which was in self-defense. It was Sihon who was the aggressor, but Balak paid no attention to that.
The Torah is timeless. What the Torah recorded several thousand years ago is as true today as it was then. In three wars the Arab nations tried to destroy Israel, but that is not how the world sees it.
The nations of the world and even much of the media in the United States are no different today than Balak was several thousand years ago.
The message? "It is better to look to God than to trust in man. All the nations surrounded me; it was with the Name of God that I faced them" (Psalms 118:8-10).
Israel has only one true friend: God. But He is all it needs.
CANDLE LIGHTING - June 25
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it
-- George Santayana
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Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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