Shabbat Shalom Weekly: Balak 5759
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Balak(Numbers 22:2-25:9)

Balak 5759

GOOD MORNING!  We are about to enter the Three Weeks -- the period of time between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av. (Tamuz 17 begins Friday evening, July 10.) It is such an inauspicious period throughout our history that the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, advises us to avoid court cases and forbids the performance of weddings. It is a period of introspection with thoughts to correcting one's mistakes in life. During this period -- though in different times of history -- both of the Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed.

The Second Temple was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, unwarranted hatred. People did not treat others with respect or kindness. The Sages tell us that for the Third Temple to be rebuilt there needs to be Ahavat Chinam, unconditional love.

Each of the past two years, I have retold a story I had heard from Dr. Bernie Siegel relating how a father had prevented the suicide of his son by handing him a card which read: "You make a difference. The world is a better place because of you." The father had received the card with instructions to pass it on to someone deserving within 24 hours. (If you want to read the story, go to http://www.shabbatshalom.org)

If you would like to have five cards to spread unconditional love -- to give recognition and make others feel good, to perhaps change destinies, then send $1, a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Aish Cards, 3414 Prairie Avenue, Miami Beach, Fl. 33140. You can help make this a better world and hasten the building of the Third Temple!


Q & A: WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE 17TH OF TAMUZ AND HOW IS IT OBSERVED?

The 17th of the Hebrew month of Tamuz begins a three week national period of semi-mourning which culminates with the Ninth of Av (Tisha B'Av). It is a period where many tragedies have historically occurred and is considered in Jewish cosmology such an inauspicious time period that one is, as mentioned above, advised to push off court cases and during which no marriages take place. Traditionally, 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:

  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. This year, because the 17th is Shabbat -- and we do not fast on Shabbat (except on Yom Kippur) -- the fast is observed on Sunday, July 12th. 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 is 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? Ten Minutes Over Baghdad.) For more history, read Book of Our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov.


Torah Portion of the Week
Balak

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, " And the Almighty said to Bilaam, do not go with them. Do not curse the nation for they are blessed" (Numbers 22:12). Bilaam tells the messengers from Balak, "God refuses to let me go with you" implying that he could only accompany representatives of a higher social status. How is it possible that Bilaam misunderstood the Almighty's message to refer to the honor due someone of his own "distinguished" status, rather than the plain meaning of the words?

From here we see the power of bias to blind a person. Bilaam's own arrogance led him to fool himself about what he thought were the Almighty's intentions. It is clear to any unbiased person that the Almighty did not want Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. However, a person usually hears just what he wants to hear.

Each of us must realize that we too have biases and selective hearing. By being aware of our biases, hopefully we can avoid making embarrassing and costly mistakes. By discussing with a friend, we can further protect ourselves from our biases.

Published: January 24, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Christal, July 8, 2008 1:59 PM

Thank you

I can not find adequate words to thank you. Your site is wonderful and I am looking forward to reading every word of each weekly reading. I just found this online blessing. Thanks to the archives, I have the chance to go back and read important lessons. Christal

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