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Friday, July 19

The Weekly Shtikle - Balak

This past Thursday, 15 Tammuz, was the 16th yahrzeit of my wife's grandmother, Mrs. Shirley Yeres, Chaya Sheindel bas Alexander HaLevi.

The previous day was the 32nd yahrzeit of R' Yaakov Yitzchack Ruderman, zt"l, the first Rosh HaYeshivah of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel. 

Shabbos, 17 Tammuz, is the 20th yahrzeit of R' Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Yisroel.

The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasam.


At the beginning of this week's parsha, we find that Moav is frightened of B'nei Yisrael because of what they did to Sichon. Many are bothered by the fact that B'nei Yisrael are commanded not to wage war with Moav. So they need not have worried. However, it is unclear to me how exactly Moav would have known that. But I was once asked a more intriguing question concerning Balak's entire approach to B'nei Yisrael. Sichon met his demise only because he started up with B'nei Yisrael. B'nei Yisrael clearly had no intentions of war with Sichon and he was the one who came out and attacked. As long as Balak avoids a confrontation, what does he have to be afraid of? If he simply leaves B'nei Yisrael alone, his country is in no danger whatsoever.


Perhaps what frightened Moav was that they observed that as soon as B'nei Yisrael requested a passage through Sichon's land, that is when everything started to fall apart for him. Indeed, Sichon started the war, but what was he supposed to do? How is a country supposed to see such a request as a friendly gesture? The way Balak saw it, as soon as B'nei Yisrael asks for permission to go through the land, it means trouble. Now, in the parsha we are not told that any such request was sent to Moav. However, in the haftara of Chukas (Shoftim 11:17) we find that messengers were sent to Moav as well with the same request. Perhaps the episode of Balak happened after these messengers were sent and that is why he became frightened. When Balak saw his nation following the same course of events as that of Sichon, he felt threatened and saw fit to take preemptive action.


However, there is a much simpler approach to Balak's actions which teaches a great lesson. Perhaps Balak was simply misinformed and misguided. B'nei Yisrael's trouncing of Sichon's army had them looking like the aggressors at the end of the day. B'nei Yisrael began to be looked upon as a force of terror ripping through the region. Balak was not aware, or did not allow himself to be aware that B'nei Yisrael had no intentions of any involvement with him whatsoever. This whole parsha is therefore a clear example of ma'aseh avos siman labanim, a harbinger of events to follow for many generations. Throughout history, Jews have always been vilified on false pretenses. But in our days it is most glaringly evident. After the Holocaust there was an atmosphere of pity for the Jewish people and the State of Israel was a direct outgrowth thereof. But that only lasted for a fleeting moment. Israel has been blessed by HaShem with the strongest and most successful of armies. With the Divine gift of power and might, they have crushed their enemies to bitter defeat. But suddenly, we are looked upon as aggressors. Each war was a defensive battle but yet, we are looked upon as instigators and subsequently, occupiers. In sweeping, defensive attacks against terrorists, we are seen as terrorists ourselves. The incidence of misguided public opinion is far too great and far too obvious to even bother enumerating examples.  As we see in our parsha, this is old news. As the generations pass it seems evident that the Jews will always be misunderstood and misjudged in the public eye. It is something we will just have to live with.


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

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Al Pi Cheshbon: Counting the Judges

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