Parshat Balak

Bilam's Holidays
by Avi Shinnar

In Parshat Balak, we read the famous story of Bilam's talking donkey. Bilam, on his way to curse the Jewish nation, is thrice visited by an angel with a drawn sword. While Bilam is unable to see the angel, his donkey can see it and avoids it by veering off the road. Bilam, unaware of the motivation behind his donkeys intransigence, beats his donkey each time. A miracle then happens, and Bilam's donkey gains the power of speech. When the donkey asks Bilam why Bilam hit him the three times, the donkey uses an interesting expression, Ze Shalosh Regalim, "these three times" (22:28). Rashi picks up on this oddity and comments that it is a hint to the following idea: How is Bilam expecting to curse a nation that observes the Shalosh Regalim and is consequently protected by Hashem? This idea seemingly has little to do with the story; however, it can be understood as alluding to a central idea in the Parsha.

If one looks at the focus of the Parsha, Bilam's four blessings, something interesting emerges. The first blessing is basically an introduction to the rest. It is only two Pesukim long, and it contains very general content. The three remaining blessings each represent, in sequence, the Shalosh Regalim. The first is connected to the first of the Shalosh Regalim, Pesach, as the Pasuk says, El Motziam Mimitzrayim, "It is God who brought them out of Egypt" (23:22). In the second of these main blessings, we have the celebrated Pasuk, Ma Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov Mishkenotecha Yisrael, "How goodly are your tents, Yaakov, and your dwelling places, Yisrael" (24:5). Chazal interpret Mishkenotecha as referring to the study of Torah. This connects to the second holiday, Shavuot, on which Chazal say the Torah was given. The third of these blessings talks mainly about the fate of various other nations. This is clearly connected to Sukkot. Sukkot is the time when we offer sacrifices on behalf of the other nations. An even clearer connection is seen in the Haftara of the first day of Sukkot, which discusses Messianic times and the final war. As Zechariah says, Tihiye Hamagefa Asher Yagef Hashem Et Hagoyim Asher Lo Yaalu Lachog Et Chag Hasukkot, "The same plague will come to pass with which Hashem will strike the nations that do not go up to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot" (14:18). Thus, we see that each of the Shalosh Regalim that we observe, in effect, takes its turn saving us from Bilam. First, they each attempt to prevent Bilam from going to Balak by sending an angel to stop him three times. Then, when that is ineffective, they each change one of his curses into a blessing that is reminiscent of the holiday in whose merit we are being saved.

This idea fits in with a comment made by Rabbi Zvi Grumet. Rabbi Grumet suggested that one of the reasons for the Shalosh Regalim is to take pagan holidays and dedicate and channel them to Hashem. In their merit, Hashem, in return, takes something pagan, sorcery, and transmutes it for Bnai Yisrael's benefit.

by Tzvi Kahn

There is a fundamental problem regarding Bilam's attempt to curse Bnai Yisrael in Parshat Balak. Why would Hashem worry or even care about Bilam's desire to curse Bnai Yisrael? Even if he had been successful in cursing them, how could it have had any effect? After all, the Torah previously told us, Lo Tenachashu Velo Teonenu, "You shall not indulge in sorcery, and you shall not believe in lucky times" (Vayikra 19:26), Al Tifnu El Haovot Ve'el Hayidonim, "Do not turn to [the sorcery of] the Ovot and Yidonim" (ibid. 19:31), Lo Yimtza Becha...Kesem Kesamim Meonan Umenachesh Umechasef, "There shall not be found among you…one who practices divinations, an astrologer, one who reads omens, or a sorcerer" (Devarim 18:10), and Ki Hagoyim Haele...El Me'ananim Ve'el Kesamim Yishmeu Ve'ata Lo Cain Natan Lecha Hashem Elokecha, "For these nations…they hearkened to astrologers and diviners; but as for you - not so has Hashem, your God, given to you" (ibid. 18:14).

The Daat Mikra answers that indeed, Hashem was not worried about the possibility of Bilam's curse taking effect. Rather, He was concerned that Bilam's curse might give Moav the confidence and courage to attack Bnai Yisrael. This was a scenario that Hashem wanted to avoid. Therefore, by having Bilam bless Bnai Yisrael, the opposite effect was achieved: Balak and Moav's fear of Bnai Yisrael only increased.

Food for Thought
Dani Gross

1) Why is it necessary for Balak, the king of Moav, to be mentioned? After all, the kings of many of the other nations Bnai Yisrael met are not mentioned.

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