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RABBI CHAIM LOBEL הרב חיים לובל

This week is Parshat Balak
Candle Lighting 7/8/11 8:12 PM NYC DST
Rabbi Chaim Lobel – Young Israel of Aberdeen, NJ
www.yiaberdeen.com

 

 

Balak v. Moses – In Memoriam of Mr. David M. Warren (Menachem Dovid ben Harav Yosef Z’L)

As the Children of Israel approached the Promised Land, Balak, the Moabite king, sent messengers to Bilam, the Midianite prophet, to curse the Israelites. Bilam refused. “Return to your land for G-d refuses to allow me to go with you.” (Numbers 22:13) Balak sent messengers a second time but Bilam was steadfast. “If Balak were to give me a house full of silver and gold, I would be unable to transgress the word of G-d.” (Numbers 22:18)

Upon close inspection of Bilam’s words, we see he has no objection to cursing Israel or taking the money. Rather, he’s simply recognizing a basic fact – he cannot do anything that G-d will not permit him to do.

Ultimately, Bilam does try to curse the Israelites.

On his first and second attempts, G-d suddenly appears to Bilam and intervenes, ordering Bilam to only say what G-d instructs him to say. {To understand why it was necessary for G-d to intervene, go to http://www.yiaberdeen.com/divreitorah/excuses.html} During the first attempt, G-d orders Bilam to declare that Israel is the chosen nation and G-d would not retract that status no matter what. On the second attempt, G-d instructed Bilam to bless the Jewish nation and say that nothing can intervene with the Jewish destiny. (Numbers 23:23)

By the third attempt, Bilam realized his efforts to curse were futile. Instead, Bilam sought to know G-d’s will. “And the spirit of the lord rested upon him (Bilam).” (Numbers 24:2) On the third occasion, Bilam spoke the word of G-d with utmost sincerity.

Nahmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Gerona, Spain; 1194 -1270, Numbers 24:1-2) explains a fundamental difference between Moses and Bilam. Both were high-level prophets who could ask questions to G-d and have them directly answered. Both recognized G-d’s absolute sovereignty over the world. But Moses and Bilam sought vastly different ends. Moses used his relationship with G-d to serve G-d. Bilam used his relationship with G-d to serve himself. When Bilam called upon G-d, he did so in a manner to get the answer he wanted. When Moses called upon G-d, it was to either to learn G-d’s will or help the Jewish people. The Book of Leviticus (Vayikra) starts with the words “Vayikra Hashem El Moshe” – “G-d called to Moses.” Moses was ready to hear and obey G-d’s will at all times and any moment.

As we study Torah and develop our own personal relationships with G-d, we are each confronted with our own questions. Pure or impure? Permitted or forbidden? The challenge is the underlying desire behind the question. Are we seeking to fulfill G-d’s will or permission to act as we want? Are we following the ways of Moses or Bilam?

May we all have the foresight and strength to follow in the footsteps of Moses.

Shabbat Shalom


 
   
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