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Friday, June 25

The Weekly Shtikle - Balak

Today, 15 Tammuz, is the 18th yahrtzeit of my wife's grandmother, Mrs. Shirley Yeres, Chaya Sheindel bas Alexander HaLevi.


Yesterday was the 34th yahrzeit of R' Yaakov Yitzchack Ruderman, zt"l, the first Rosh HaYeshivah of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel. 


Sunday, 17 Tammuz, is the 22nd yahrzeit of R' Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Yisroel.


The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmasam.


The Weekly Shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmas my Oma, Chaya Sara bas Zecharia Chaim, a"h.


This week's shtikle is dedicated for a refuah sheleimah for my father.

Please include Reuven Pinchas ben Yehudis in your tefillos.


There is some interesting discussion among the commentaries as to what exactly Bil'am's powers were. There are many (Rabbeinu Bachya, Ohr HaChayim, for example) who contain that he didn't really possess any actual power to affect anything with his blessings or curses. Rather, he was able to use astrology to determine what was destined to happen anyway and put that in the form of a blessing or curse to give the appearance that events occur on his command. According to the gemara (Berachos 7a) he did possess the ability to discern the exact moment in the day at which HaShem expresses his anger and was able to capitalize on that to produce an actual curse. However, that moment never came when he intended to curse B'nei Yisrael.

According, to either approach, however, the chain of events is difficult to understand. As we know (Devarim 23:6), HaShem turned the curse into a blessing. Why was this necessary? If Bil'am was so inept – to use the Ohr HaChayim's words, his blessing was as effective as that of a donkey – why couldn't he simply be left to do and say whatever he pleased without the Divine intervention to flip his attempted curse?

This question is asked by Rabbeinu Bachya, among others, and their answer was discussed in a shiur I attended last night. However, I wish to use an idea discussed in a shiur I attended the previous night to answer this quandary. Meshech Chachmah addresses a common question: what was the purpose of bringing about the miracle of the talking donkey in front of only Bil'am and a handful of Balak's men? He explains that the main objective of this entire episode was to prevent any neighbouring nations from even attempting to wage war on B'nei Yisrael. Although swift victory by the Divine hand was an absolute certainty, the realities of war present all sorts of challenges as we observed from some of the wars which resulted in casualties. With a clever inference from the words of Rachav, as we read in the haftarah two weeks ago (Yehoshua 2:10-11), Meshech Chchmah understands that the episode of Bil'am played a significant role in deterring attacks against B'nei Yisrael. If Bil'am's words were the only source of discouragement, there would have been room to believe that he had been bribed by B'nei Yisrael. Balak's men needed to witness the talking donkey to know that HaShem was truly behind us.

With this idea, we can understand why it was not sufficient to allow Bil'am to utter idle, useless curses. It is clear from the beginning of the parsha (22:4) that Balak's master plan was to attack B'nei Yisrael militarily. If Bil'am had uttered curses, he would have been inspired to follow through. He would certainly have been handily defeated but the point was to avoid the war altogether.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: I say Yericho, You Say Yereicho

Dikdukian: The Dead of the Plague

Al Pi Cheshbon: Counting the Judges

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