This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Balak (5768)
This week's Torah portion is perhaps the strangest in the book. It tells of how one of the most insidious, monsters of all time almost succeeded in cursing and destroying the Jewish people but instead uttered the most powerful blessings and prophesies regarding the Messiah ever.
At first glance this is completely not understood.
First of all Bilam was no fool. He knew that although the Jews were G-d's chosen people nevertheless they sinned and it was possible to curse them. So why didn't his curses work?? On the other hand why did G-d give Bilam power to curse in the first place? And why did his curses turn into blessings? If G-d wanted to bless the Jews it seems He should have blessed us Himself!! Who needs Bilam's blessings?!
To answer this here is a story I recently heard.
Some two hundred years ago, there lived a great Tzadik called Rebbe Mottel (Mordechai) of Chernobyl.
He was renowned for his erudition and holiness and had hundreds, if not thousands of followers many of whom he 'inherited' after the passing of his even holier father Rebbe Nachum.
Once, it so happened that this Rabbi Mottel fell sick. He became so critically ill that he went into a coma for four days and was literally hovering between life and death.
His Chassidim and followers were in distress. They gathered together, prayed and said Tehillim (Psalms) non-stop for the entire time until finally it worked and G-d heard their prayers! Their Rebbe regained consciousness and several weeks later held a great thanksgiving meal for the kindness G-d showed him.
The meal was unusually joyous; replete with song and dance until one of the older Chassidim, who had taken a few L'chiams, mustered up his courage approached the Rebbe and asked him if he would please grace the crowd with a description of what he’d seen in the four days he was “out.”
After a few minutes of pregnant silence the Rebbe cleared his throat, closed his eyes and began to speak.
"I left my body and felt my soul rising, rising to heaven. I was sure that my time on earth had terminated. But I resisted. I didn't want to die. I cried and asked for mercy but it didn't help.
"I was brought before the heavenly court and they were about to decide my fate. So in desperation I screamed that I wanted to see my holy, departed father, Rabbi Nachum. I knew that if he could intercede for me I might have a chance.
"My request was granted! My father was lowered from the high level of heaven he was but, when we were finally face to face and I was bursting from joy to see him again after all these years … he didn't recognize me!
"I pleaded and tried to make him remember… but to no avail. He admitted that he had a son but he didn't believe that I was him! He simply didn't recognize me at all.
“Finally he asked if perhaps I had done some sin after he left this world and that is the reason he didn't know me. And he disappeared.
"So for three days, I tried to remember if possibly I had done something wrong but with no success. I again began weeping and praying and, behold, my father re-appeared. He told me that he also had been searching but he came up with nothing. All he could conclude was perhaps it was something I had done very recently; say in the last day or two before my illness that was inaccessible to him. He asked me if I remembered anything unusual.
"Suddenly something came to my mind, but it certainly wasn't a sin. I told him that I remembered that just before my illness a wealthy Jew who had recently become a pauper, came to ask me for a loan of several hundred rubles to get back on his feet.
“But I had to turn him down because I simply didn't have that type of money. Still, I gave him what I could and tried to comfort him as best as possible.
"'Comfort him?' My father asked, 'What did you say?'
"I said a proverb from the wisest of men… King Solomon. I said, 'Who is beloved, G-d reproves' (Proverbs 3:12).
"'And what did you mean by that?' My father asked as though he was on to something.
"What did I mean?" I replied, not really understanding what he was getting at. "Why, I meant the simple meaning. That he shouldn't worry because sometimes G-d makes people suffer because He loves them. For instance sinners; suffering can sometimes clean them of their sins. 'Who is beloved, G-d reproves'"
"'Aha!' My father replied. 'Now I know why I didn’t recognize you! I never would have said such a thing! And, indeed, here in Heaven we learn that sentence completely differently!
"'Up here we learn it like this: 'Whoever is beloved' namely if you see someone that you love (and we are supposed to love every creature) who is suffering… then…. 'G-d reprove!’
"'Namely you should reprove G-d!! Like Moses did; when he challenged G-d saying 'Why do you make Your people suffer?' (Ex. 5:22). And G-d listened!!!
"'My son' my father concluded, 'when it comes to the suffering of others we have to protest! We must try to change G-d's mind and not justify Him!'
"And I came back to life."
This answers our questions.
The power of the Jews is not just to survive this world and get into heaven. Rather G-d chose us to CHANGE the world that He created; in other words to CHANGE His will! (as we say in prayer 'Y'he Ratzon') and make it heaven on earth.
And that is where Bilam came in.
Bilam was the ultimate in worldliness. G-d gave him the ability to bring the greatest spiritual powers into the physical world (as this week's section begins "Whoever you bless will be blessed etc. 22:6) but he misused it all for his own ego.
And it is precisely this power of selfish egotism that the Jews were put here to change.
So Bilam had a point! If, like Rebbe Mottel in our story, we justify and accept whatever G-d does then if G-d made a Bilam He must be right!!
But the truth is as Rebbe Mottel's father said; the reason He created suffering and evil people like Bilam is for us to transform them.
And when we DO it; namely when we change this 'lower' aspect of G-d's will then we reveal the TRUE blessings in THIS world! (see Deut. 23:6)
That is why Bilam gave the clearest prophesies regarding Moshiach; Because Moshiach will bring the ultimate transformation of 'worldliness, division and suffering to G-dliness, unity and blessing.
Perhaps the clearest exemple of this is what happened over 80 years ago when the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson stood single handedly against the arch-evil regime of Stalin and won! He was imprisoned, sentenced to death and was a hair's breadth from joining the ten's of millions that Stalin had murdered.
But he not only escaped and survived; he transformed the curse into a blessing. Today millions of Russian Jews have been exposed to Torah Judaism and thousands have returned to their Jewish roots due to his self-sacrifice which we will celebrate this coming week on 12th and 13th of Tammuz.
May G-d grant us all the same courage, optimism and joy the Rebbe had to transform all the suffering and 'curses' in the world to blessings with ….
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