Summary Of Parshas Balak

By: Rabbi Aron Tendler

1st Aliya: Parshas Balak begins with King Balak’s offer to Bilam the Prophet to curse the Jewish people and G-d’s refusal to allow him to accept.

2nd Aliya: Balak sent a second negotiating team and Bilam was given permission to go. However, G-d stipulated that Bilam could only speak the word of G-d.

3rd Aliya: Along the way the incident with the talking donkey occurred, emphasizing G-d’s instructions to that Bilam only deliver the word of G-d.

4th Aliya: Bilam attempted his first curse and was unable to do so. Instead, the words he spoke were a blessing for the Jewish people.

5th Aliya: Bilam made his second attempt at cursing the Jews and was again unable to do so. Instead, he issued his second blessing.

6th & 7th Aliya: Billam attempted his final curse but again blessed the Jews. As he left in disgrace, Bilam told the assembled coalition of kings of their eventual destruction by the Jews. As a parting shot against the Jews, he advised them to seduce the Jewish men with Midianite women and bring G-d’s wrath down upon the nation. The Parsha concludes with the incident of Baal-Peor and Pinchas’s heroism.

Bilaam Lost His Shock Value –

By: Rabbi Yissocher Frand and

Sages tell us an astounding fact: that Bilaam had prophetic powers on par with Moshe Rabbeinu. The verse says, “There arose not in Israel another prophet equal to Moshe” [Devarim 34:10]. The Rabbis explain that there did not arise another such prophet specifically in Israel — but in the nations of the world there did arise another such prophet. Who was he? Bilaam the son of Be’or. [Sifrei]

We are therefore dealing with an individual who had a relationship with G-d that we can only dream about. And yet we see that he had an attitude that is hard to fathom. When G-d asked Bilaam, “Who are these people with you?,” Rashi explains that Bilaam answers G-d arrogantly: “Even though I am not important in your Eyes, I am important in the eyes of Kings.”

Later, in one of the most mind-boggling incidents in the Torah, Bilaam does not appear to be at all phased by the fact that his donkey starts talking to him. He just answers back and begins a dialogue with his donkey as if it was an everyday occurrence.

How do we explain the paradoxical personality of Bilaam? Rav Schwab offers an interesting insight. G-d gave us with certain senses. Most of us are blessed with the senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. There is a sixth sense. That is the sense of being able to be impressed. G-d gave most human beings the ability to be impressed by certain phenomenon in this world.

This sense of being impressed (“nispael”) is necessary for our service of G-d. The Ramba”m speaks of a person becoming impressed and overwhelmed with the awe of creation, and of the wisdom and beauty of nature. This is a sense that we need to develop within ourselves — emotions of love and reverence towards the Creator.

However, just like the other senses can be deadened and destroyed if they are abused, so it is with the sixth sense. If a person listens to loud music for long enough, he can lose his sense of hearing. If a person continuously eats very spicy foods, he can lose his sense of taste. Likewise, a person can lose his sense of being impressed. How does that happen? What costs a person his sense of being impressed?

Rav Schwab suggests that a person can lose his sense of being impressed through gluttonous indulgence in every passion and lust in the world. If a person is obsessed with enjoying, taking, eating, consuming, and all he ever thinks about is indulging in the most obscene and gluttonous fashion, then after awhile, nothing impresses him any more. He is so consumed with just enjoying himself that nothing gets him excited anymore.

If it seems hard to relate to this concept, all we need to do is to open our eyes and look at what is happening today in the western world. Nothing makes an impression anymore. Movies have become more and more violent and explicit. Music has become more and more outrageous. The way people talk and the words we hear have become more and more astounding, because nothing makes an impression anymore. As a society, we have lost our sense of wonder. We have become coarsened.

To quote a recent piece in the Op-Ed page of the Baltimore Sun, “America has lost its ‘shock value’. Nothing shocks anymore.”

This is what happened to Bilaam. Nothing shocked him. His animal spoke to him and he took it in stride.

Everyone recognizes the seriousness of losing a sense of sight or hearing, chas v’shalom (Heaven forbid). We need to recognize that losing the sense of being impressed is also very serious. Losing the sense of being impresses is a by-product of the gluttonous and indulgent life that Bilaam lived.

Filed Under: Torah


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