Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thursday's Parsha Tidbits - Parshas Balak

The following is a brief summary of a series of vorts said over by R' Frand in his shiur this evening. I have attempted to reproduce these vorts to the best of my ability. Any perceived inconsistency is the result of my efforts to transcribe the shiur and should not be attributed to R' Frand.

The first quick vort said over by Rabbi Frand related to the conversation between Hashem and Bilaam in Bamidbar 22:12. In this pasuk, Hashem tells Bilaam not to go with Balak, using the following verbiage "Don't go with them, don't curse the nation, for it is blessed." Rashi on this pasuk fills in the gaps in the sentence and explains that there was an ongoing conversation:

Hashem: Don't go with them to curse the Jews.
Bilaam: OK, then I will curse them where I am now.
Hashem: Don't curse the Jews.
Bilaam: OK, then I will bless them.
Hashem: They are already blessed.

After repeating the back and forth between Hashem and Bilaam, Rabbi Frand asked the famous question - why did Bilaam want to bless the Jews? Rabbi Frand answered that Bilaam knew that there were two possible ways to destroy the Jews. The first path to destruction is the obvious one - that a nation would come and wipe them out. However, Bilaam was also aware of another possible derech - if the Jews had it too good they could decide that their wealth was of their own doing and that there was no need to thank or recognize Hashem for his role. Thus his potential blessing could also be a manner of curse.

The next vort said over by Rabbi Frand this evening related to Bilaam's conversation with Balak's henchmen in the next pasuk. In Bamidbar 22:13 Bilaam tells Balak's henchmen that they should go to their land because Hashem does not want Bilaam to go with them.

Rabbi Frand asked on the pasuk - why did Bilaam only tell half of his nevuah from Hashem to Balak's men? Why did he not tell them that Hashem also told him not to curse the Jews? Rabbi Frand quoted R' Chayim Shmulevitz who explained that Bilaam did not intentionally omit the second half of the command. Rather, Bilaam (like most people) only heard what he wanted to hear. When Hashem told Bilaam not to go with them, Bilaam assumed that meant that he was not to accompany them because they were low level help and he should have been escorted by the king himself. In so doing, Bilaam conveniently ignored the rest of the command (which is seen later in the parsha when he does attempt to go and curse the Jews).

The third vort that Rabbi Frand said related to the conversation between Bilaam and the donkey. The parsha repeats their conversation wherein the donkey says to Bilaam why are you hitting me and Bilaam responds because you embarrassed me.

Rabbi Frand asked on this strange scene - why did Bilaam not fall off the donkey in amazement and ask why and how are you speaking to me? Indeed, this was the first time in creation that an animal spoke to a person, yet Bilaam did not act surprised at all! Rabbi Frand analogized this to a person who tries to get his car to start and is unsuccessful. The man then tries to tinker under the hood and when the car still will not start, the man kicks the car. If the car then says to the man - why did you kick me, would the man first answer the car back - because you did not start? Of course not.

Rabbi Frand answered the question by quoting R' Luban who said that this shows how a person can fail to win an argument. When a person has a dispute with another and wants to convince the other person he is right, the last thing a person should do is tell the other person he is "dead wrong." Instead, he should say to the person, I see your point, however... and then destroy the other person's argument. Bilaam was insulted and tied up with feeling embarrassed over the donkey's actions. As such, he could not think clearly when the donkey was talking to him and his gut reaction was to lash out at the donkey.

Rabbi Frand's final vort related to the language that the donkey used in complaining to Bilaam that he was struck three times. In Bamidbar 22:28, the donkey does not say to Billam you struck me three pa'amim. Instead, the donkey uses the language regalim. Rashi explains that the donkey was saying to Bilaam - you think you can curse the nation which observes the shalosh regalim?

The obvious question is, why mention the shalosh regalim? What is the symbolism. To answer this question, Rabbi Frand quoted the Imrei Baruch who cites the gemara in Chagiga which teaches that the tanner and the metal smith were exempt from the mitzva of being oleh regel. The gemara explains that these people smelled foul because of the work they did and other people would not want to stand near them. The purpose of being oleh regel was to join as a nation and not to alienate others due to a foul stench.

Rabbi Frand then mentioned the Brisker Rav who notes that the mi shebeyrach on yom tov is "veyizke l'alos haregel im cul echav" a person should be zoche to go up with all his brothers.
This was the message the donkey was trying to give to Bilaam - you can't attack a nation which is together as one.

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