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Torah Dialogue Chukat-Balak

07/01/2020 04:41:51 PM


Rabbi Edward Davis

SHABBAT SHALOM. Today is 12 Tammuz 5780. Kiddush Levanah can be said tonight. The fast of Shiva Assar B’Tammuz is this Thursday, beginning the Three Weeks.


1.    I have written before about an effort in Israel to develop a Red Cow. Rabbi Richman, who had been involved with the Temple Institute (he left there in January 2020) was heavily involved with a Christian pastor in breeding cows to develop one. In 2018 a red calf was born amid a great deal of publicity because Jewish (and Christian) sources attribute the existence of a Red Cow with the coming of the Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. By now, rabbis have investigated the development of this cow and look forward to coming times. We are always involved in the pursuit of Mitzvot that we read and study and were not able to observe, like the Red Cow, or the Techeilet dye for Tzitzit. Much has been accomplished in our time, as we applaud our ability to continue efforts to keep the Torah vital and alive in our times. (RED)

2.     The enigmatic laws of the Red Cow is not an aspect that we can ignore. The ritual is puzzling because these ashes both purify the unclean and make the clean impure. Even King Solomon, when he reflected upon the law of the Red Cow said, “This is far from me” (Kohelet 7:23). Rabbi Herbert Goldstein, z”l (Rabbi of the West Side Institutional Synagogue of New York) proposed an idea (which I like). “This law resembles perhaps anti-toxin. The toxin makes the person sick; and the same toxin, injected into the sick person, makes him well. So also there are herbs that will both induce and reduce fever.” (From his book “Between the Lines of the Bible”). The Red Cow had to be three or four years old. However, if she were older, she was still kosher. If she possessed two black or white hairs, she would be rendered unfit. The Red Cow was to be one “upon which a yoke never came.” No work could have been done by her. Even if one placed his coat on her and she carried it along, this made her unfit for the sacrifice.

3.     Immediately after the death of Miriam, there was a lack of water for Bnei Yisrael in the desert. Rashi surmises from this that the well that accompanied Bnei Yisrael in the desert and provided them with all the necessary water was in the merit of Miriam. The Mannah came daily from Heaven and was in the merit of Moshe. And the Clouds of Glory came in the merit of Aharon. Of the three, the most critical sustaining gift was water. This teaches us that the woman was the main provider of life in the family. She is the anchor. Traditionally her presence was the most important one in the raising of the children. And some of the other major aspects of home life came as a result of her efforts: welcoming guests in the home, the sense of modesty, the kashrut, the kindness of the atmosphere in the house. Her influence and input is critical in the house. And today, when many more mothers have careers, her most important abilities are still felt in the home. (RED)

4.     In the Prayer for Rain that we recite on Shemini Atzeret, the poet recounts Moshe’s act of hitting the rock in a meritorious way. Possibly the poet embraces the opinion that Moshe did not sin by hitting the rock. (One commentator said that maybe the poet was referring to the previous incident, in Parshat Beshalach, that Moshe correctly hit the rock. I disagree because the rock in the previous story is called a “Tzur.” Here it is called a “Sela,” and that is the term the poet uses in the prayer.) Maybe Moshe was concerned that if he spoke to the wrong rock, he would cause a desecration of Hashem’s name in public. Maybe he hit the rock twice, demonstrating that in case of hitting the wrong rock, Hashem would respond to his request for water, and he would be creating a sanctification of Hashem’s name. The Malbim writes a novel idea: the punishment of Moshe was not meant as Moshe’s loss, but the loss for Bnei Yisrael in not having Moshe as their leader in the conquest of the Promised Land. Bnei Yisrael were the real target of the decree. They would be deprived of having the revered Moshe Rabbeinu as their leader. 

5.    Why did Hashem grant prophecy to a Bilaam? Rashi states that Hashem did this to remove a potential complaint from the non-Jewish people: Had we had prophets, said the non-Jews, then we would have become righteous people. So, Hashem did give them prophets. What went wrong? Prophets are a different breed of people. First of all, they have to be sourced in the life of Torah. Without that prerequisite, it will not work. Bilaam was a greedy person. He had a great desire for money and riches. Secondly, prophets do not have the power to change people. If the people are wicked, the chances of a prophet to succeed are next to nil. When Yonah went to Nineveh with the message of Hashem, his very few words triggered a massive surge of penitence, but it was short-lived. This was Hashem’s true message to the world’s inhabitants. Prophets won’t cure you, or redeem you. This is something you have to do on your own. Corruption and evil are base character traits that make your life unredeemable. Bilaam was evil, and Hashem allowed him to be on center stage, where he failed miserably. (RED)

6.    You have to ask the following question of Bilaam. Bilaam was well aware that Bnei Yisrael were beloved to Hashem. He knew what occurred in Egypt and at the Red Sea. He saw the protection that Hashem afforded Bnei Yisrael while traveling in the desert. Recently he saw Bnei Yisrael defeat Sichon and Og. If all this is true, what propelled Bilaam to think that Hashem would allow him to curse the Jewish nation? Rav Moshe Sternbuch (contemporary in Israel) suggests that Bilaam thought that Hashem would permit Bilaam to curse the Eirev Rav, the people who exited Egypt with the Jews and were a source of difficulty for the Jewish people. Cursing them would cause problems for Bnei Yisrael, but Hashem would not allow that either. I find Rav Sternbuch’s suggestion very weak. A simpler solution is better. When someone is so determined to do something, however evil, no manner of logic or reasoning is able to dissuade him. Bilaam was so set in his ways, and desirous of reaping a wealthy reward for his misdeed, that no way in the world can anyone ruin his day in the sun. And in a way he succeeded in something, in entrapping Bnei Yisrael to sin at Shittim, resulting in the loss of 24,000 men.

7.    This last point is essentially presented to us by Rashi, when Bilaam saddled his own donkey to go to Balak (22:21). “Hate ruins all sense of logic.” Just as Avraham saddled his own donkey and did not delegate the job to a servant, so demonstrating that “love ruins all logic.” Avraham was embarking to fulfill a Mitzvah from Hashem. The contrast is stark and striking, but it clearly shows that once something is set in one’s mind to do so, there is no argument to dissuade him. Bilaam could not say that once he heard Hashem say to go, that Bilaam’s haste to saddle his donkey was to fulfill Hashem’s directive to go with them. As Rashi correctly points out at the end of that verse, “He went with the officers of Moav.” They were of one mind and equal heart, namely, to do harm to Bnei Yisrael. That is what drove Bilaam, not the word of Hashem. The driving force was the hate; no other emotion was involved.

MICAH  5:6

Jewish powerlessness is only a surface impression.  On a deeper level, God's Firstborn People exert an imperceptible dew-like influence upon their hosts; this will eventually result in a powerful reshaping of the whole world toward justice, love, and God from Israel.  First the Jews must see their own false economic and military security destroyed.  Micah reminds us of Balak's scheme, which didn't work due to a basic flaw:  God has no need of animal sacrifices, if the donor doesn't sacrifice – bring near to God – his own animal nature.  Balak erred – he believed that God needed human gifts and was bribable by sacrifices, a reflection of his own values.  Man created God in his own image; my true understanding of God can only match the level of my own inner Divine soul development.  Balak's arrogant religious leader uses his knowledge of Divinity to hurt people or to sell blessings. Moshe, in contrast, is the most humble, the most other-oriented of all men, who teaches all how to walk modestly with our God.  (Malbim.)


Wed, October 28 2020 10 Cheshvan 5781