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Friday, July 8

The Weekly Shtikle - Balak

    The main focus of this week's parsha is clearly Bil'am and his numerous attempts to put a curse on B'nei Yisrael. When the elders of Mo'av come to solicit his services the message they are given from Balak is (22:6) "ve'ata lecha arah li," go and curse for me. When Bil'am is speaking with HaShem and tells of the job that has been asked of him (22:11), he says that he was asked "lecha kavah li." The term "kava" also means to curse. There must certainly be some unique meanings that determine why and when each is used.
 
    In observing the dialogue between Bil'am and Balak, the apparent lack of communication is almost comedic. First, when Bil'am told the messengers that he could not go with them for HaShem forbade him, the details seem to have been left out when that message was delivered to Balak. The pasuk (22:14) recounts that Balak was told only that Bil'am refused, but not why. Balak seems to bring up that sore point when he eventually meets Bil'am. When things are really heating up later on and Balak tries to send Bil'am off, Bil'am seems to retort snappingly, (24:12) "Hey, I already told your messengers that I will only do what HaShem allows!" This is as if to say, "Didn't you get the memo?" Time and time again, Bil'am tries to make Bil'am understand that he is limited by HaShem's will but Balak never seems to get it. They really just aren't on the same page.
 
    I do not know of any deeper meaning of the word "arah." It simply means to curse. It is a very general word. "Kava," however, has an alternate meaning. The word literally means to pierce.  Piercing is typically a act which takes much precision. Perhaps the word "kavah," when used in the context of a curse, refers to the more precise "art" of the curse. Balak completely did not understand this. Rashi points out (22:6) that Bil'am was known for having helped Sichon defeat Moav. It seems that Balak had simply heard of his work but didn't fully understand it. Further, it is interesting to note that Balak is mentioned in the very first pasuk as having observed B'nei Yisroel's destruction of the Emorites. However, the ensuing discussions and planning were between Moav and Midyan (not necessarily Balak himself.) One might contend that "Moav" is simply an apostrophe for its king but perhaps it is indicative of a group of representatives being the principal planners of the Bil'am project. Balak just gave the orders but wasn't intimately involved.
 
    Balak seems to believe that the cursing procedure is a simple and uninvolved one which merely takes someone with special powers like Bil'am to perform. Yet Bil'am is constantly trying to convince Balak of the "spiritual" aspect of cursing, the necessary communication with HaShem and the obligation to subject oneself to His will. Perhaps it is because of this misunderstanding that Balak originally uses the word "arah," the general term for cursing whereas Bil'am himself, except when quoting Balak (23:7), always uses the word "kavah." [See also Malbi"m here to deals with the difference between the two words.]
 
    [It is also interesting to note the root of "kavah" used at the end of the parsha - "kubah," tent, and "kavasah," her ... stomach.]

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
Al Pi Cheshbon: Counting the Judges
AstorTorah: Did Bil'am Say Tachanun? by R' Ari Storch

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