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Thursday, July 2

The Weekly Shtikle - Balak

This past Thursday, 15 Tammuz, was the yahrzeit of my wife's grandmother, Mrs. Shirley Yeres, Chaya Sheindel bas Alexander.

The previous day was the yahrzeit of R' Yaakov Yitzchack Ruderman, zt"l, the first Rosh HaYeshivah of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel. 

Shabbos, 17 Tammuz, is the yahrzeit of R' Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Yisroel.

The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasam.


The main focus of this week's parsha is clearly Bil'am and his numerous attempts to place 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. Certainly, these terms must have unique meanings which determine why and when each is used.


In observing the dialogue between Bil'am and Balak, the apparent lack of communication is almost comical. 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 he wasn't told why. Balak seems to bring up that sore point when he eventually meets Bil'am. Later on, when things begin to heat up and Balak tries to send Bil'am off, Bil'am seems to snap back, (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 Balak 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 an 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 comprehend 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 Yisrael'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 imbued 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 who 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

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