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Balak 5773

By: Rav Jonathan Bailey

What important Torah-educational role doesBalakplay? And the quick answer that he serves as the catalyst for the true teacher of our story,Bilam, would still leave us questioning why we need the first three introductorypesukimwhich describeBalakspersonal observations, worries and discussions concerningBnei Yisrael; just start the parsha with, andBalaksent messengers toBilam (the very next verse) which ultimately includes all ofBalakspreviously mentioned fears and plans anyway!

There was another foreign king who worried about the vast numbers of the Jewish nation, who also schemed against them with his council and also enacted a plan in hopes of weakening them into submission:PharaohinEgypt. And not only are these two kingsthematicallyconnected, thetextalso illustrates the Torahs desire for comparison:


And he said to his nation: behold, the nation ofBnei Yisraelaretoo many and powerfulfor our liking (Shemot 1: 9)


And Moav was very terrified before the nationbecause it was many (Bemidbar22: 3)

And now go and curse this nation for me because it istoo powerful for my liking (ibid ; 6)


And even as they oppressed them they increased and spread; and [the Egyptians]were disgusted byBnei Yisrael (Shemot1: 12)


And Moavwas disgusted beforeBnei Yisrael (Bemidbar22: 3)


Let us take council, lest they increase and when an enemy nation wages war against us [Bnei Yisrael] will join with our enemies and will fight us and leave the land (Shemot1: 10)


And [Balak] said to the elders ofMidyan: now, this gathering will lick up all our surroundings like an ox licking up the vegetation of the field (Bemidbar22: 4)

Through this comparison the Torah is telling us that this upcoming episode withBalakwill be powerfully educational in itself, similar to the story ofPharaohandhisplans;Balak, himself, will serve as a teaching tool, independent of his role asBilamsemployer. And its only these unnecessary introductorypesukim, which describeBalaksown observations, fears and schemes, which will enable us to fully appreciate the true lesson to be learned byBalaksultimate failure.

So how doesBalaksinitial approach and motivations illustrate (for us) the true mistake behind his crushing failure? There are two other episodes inTaNaKHwhere we are given a report of an outsiders comments onBnei Yisrael. The first occurred whenYitro, the priest ofMidyan, joined his son-in-law and the rest of the nation after their exodus fromEgypt; the second is whenYehoshuasspies hid out on the roof ofRachavshouse during which time she expressed her understanding of her future in light ofBnei Yisraelsupcoming military conquest. BothYitroandRachavscomments are very positive, deeply praising God for having performed grandiose miracles and having annihilated some of the greatest military empires of their time in His protection of His chosen nation upon their exit fromEgyptand during their sojourn in the desert. Due to their objectivity, the meaning gleaned from these outsiders reports carries a resounding significance unmatched by the praise of God we have heard and will continue to hear through the mouth ofMoshe,Yehoshuaor perhaps even God Himself; if even theseoutsidersare saying it, itmustbe true.

In blatant and purposeful contradistinction,Balaksobservations and subsequent descriptions ofBnei Yisraelare pejorative, without any mention of God (even his mention of the Exodus omits any God involvement![1]) with an extreme (worried) focus on the strength of their numbers and the destruction they could therefore wreak due to this physical power. And it is on account of this faulty understanding thatBalaksplans were doomed to fail right from the start. Mistakenly believing his enemys power was found solely in their physical numbers,Balaklooked to attack them spiritually (usingBilamthe Prophet's curses) - a one up, stronger weapon than mere physical strength which would therefore serve to hobbleBnei Yisraelsphysical power, giving the King ofMoavan opportunity for a successful attack. However, the truth of the matter was, of course, very different; the continued and dominating military success of the Jews was founded not upon their numbers but rather upon their uniqueDivineprotection and therefore even a spiritual attack would be, and of course ultimately was, easily thwarted.

But where didBalakgo so wrong whenYitroandRachavgot it so right? The formers take onBnei Yisraelmotivated his desire for their destruction, the latter twos a joining with that chosen nation (according to midrash, bothYitroandRachavactually joinedBnei Yisrael:Yitroconverted andRachavmarriedYehoshua)! The integral difference lies in the method with which these people recognized the nations character: the Torah tells us that bothYitroandRachavheard, whileBalaksaw. Without a subjective, superficial witnessing of a specific situation,YitroandRachavwere able to reach the proper conclusions regarding the true nature ofBnei Yisraelbased on thetotalityof undeniable facts which they heard and compiled: there is no way such a fledgling nation could accomplish so many great feats without supernatural assistance; surely God is the true basis of their strength.Balak, however, only saw, remarking merely on the great numbers spread out before him which seemingly facilitated the most recent Jewish military success - the annihilation of theEmori[2]. He did not take any previous episodes of this nations brief history into account what he saw is all he cared to know. A dangerously mistaken approach so brilliantly conveyed by the trup of theparshasopeningpasuk: andBalaksaw; (etnachta: first clause of thepasukcomplete!) all thatBnei Yisraeldid to theEmoriBalakonlysaw, therefore limiting his full comprehension of the true nature of that Divinely protected nation.

The largess and power of God which He employs for His children may not always be seen but it will always be heard; when the truth behind thetotalityof our existence is fully appreciated, no singular event can ever undermine our faith in God and His eternal covenant with us.

Shabbat Shalom.


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