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הנה עם יצא ממצרים הנה כסה את עין הארץ

Behold a nation left Egypt, and behold they are covering the earth’s eye. (22:5)

Earth’s eye? Simply, this refers to the surface of the earth. Rashi explains that Balak was referring to Klal Yisrael’s decimation of the two powerful kings –Sichon and Og, who were considered the shomrim ha’aretz, guardians of the land. If the two giants who protected the land were quickly dispatched by the Jews, what should Balak say? He realized that he had no chance against the Jewish army. Horav Elimelech Biderman, Shlita, the Lelover Rebbe, defines earth’s eye as the way people view matters that occur. They look at it through the earth’s eye, as being teva, natural. Regardless of…

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ועתה לכה נא ארה לי את העם הזה

So now please come and curse this people for me. (22:6)

How often does it occur that someone harms us? We are talking about an evil person who, for whatever reason, decides that we are in the way of his progress; or he wants to take revenge on us for something we have done which, in his mind, deserves punishment. While the individual may be totally wrong (or, even if he is totally right), we are not permitted to curse him. First, we do not curse Jews. They are our brothers. The fact that they are not acting like brothers does not change our relationship towards them. So, what does one do…

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ויאמר בלעם אל מלאך ד' חטאתי כי לא ידעתי כי אתה נצב לקראתי בדרך

Bilaam said to the angel of Hashem, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing opposite me on the road. (22:34)

As usual, Bilaam speaks out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand, he seeks to excuse himself for his actions, claiming, Lo yadati, “I did not know” that you (the angel) stood before me. On the other hand, he concedes, Chatasi, “I sinned.” What is it: excuse, or sin? He cannot have it both ways. The Shlah HaKadosh explains that the two go together – chatasi, ki lo yadaati, “I sinned, because I did not know.” The mere fact that I did not know is a sin. How can Bilaam claim that he was unaware, that he…

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ויעל בלק ובלעם פר ואיל במזבח

And Balak and Bilaam brought up a bull and a ram on each alter. (23:2)

Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, was a master orator. As a maggid, he was able to reach thousands with his powerful, animated oratory. The manner in which he presented his ethical lessons, couched in stories to which his listeners could well relate, captivated his audience, impacting them with his critical message and sage advice. Yet, Rav Sholom was not happy. He felt that in order to be worthy of lecturing to the masses, he himself should be more “sincere.” There should be no vestige of eminence or haughtiness, no personal interest whatsoever. (This story is related by Horav Reuven Karlinstein, zl….

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וירא את הקיני וישא משלו ויאמר איתן מושבך ושים בסלע קנך

He saw the Keini and declaimed his parable and said, “Strong is your dwelling, and set in a rock is your nest.” (24:21)

After failing to curse Klal Yisrael successfully, Bilaam had one last prophecy which foreshadowed what would happen concerning both the surrounding nations and the Jewish People. He mentioned the Keini, who were Yisro’s family. Rashi says that Bilaam recalled the history that he had with Yisro, heralding back to their both being Pharaoh’s top advisors together with Iyov. Three men – Iyov, Yisro and Bilaam. Obviously, to have reached such a pinnacle to serve as advisors to the man who was probably the most powerful monarch in the world was truly an extraordinary achievement. Iyov and Yisro went on to achieve…

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ויצמד ישראל לבעל פעור ויחר אף ד' בישראל

Yisrael became attached to Baal Peor, and the wrath of Hashem flared up against Yisrael. (25:3)

Bilaam was well aware that the moral code of the Jewish People is the foundation of their sanctity. Hashem does not tolerate immorality. In fact (as noted by the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim 1:36), the Torah speaks of Hashem’s anger as af, wrath, only when it is provoked by immorality. Thus, Bilaam counseled Balak to take down the Jewish people by enticing them to act licentiously. The laws of morality are introduced in Sefer Vayikra 18. Surprisingly, this chapter is read in shul on Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the year. Is no other section of the Torah…

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ויפתח ד' את פי האתון

Hashem opened up the mouth of the she-donkey. (22:28)

At times, the truth can be painful. It can be brutal. Why? Because it is the truth. Unembellished truth can be enlightening – but, sadly, not all of us are able to withstand the power of illumination. Balak sought to defeat the Jewish People. He hired Bilaam, an evil pagan prophet, to curse them. Bilaam was a powerful individual who had been blessed with being the pagan world’s response to Moshe Rabbeinu. In the end, Bilaam’s intended negative itent was transformed into positive results. Bilaam was not supposed to accept Balak’s offer, but, true to his evil, weak nature, he…

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כי מראש צרים אראנו ומגבעות אשורנו הן עם לבדד ישכן

For from its origins, I see it rock-like, and from hills, I do see it. Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude. (23:9)

Tzurim is a reference to our Avos, Patriarchs. Gevaos refer, to our Imahos, Matriarchs. Meirosh tzurim er’eenu; I see the roots of this nation. They are firmly anchored in the tzurim and geva’os, Patriarchs and Matriarchs. It is part of their DNA. Hen am levadad yishkon. They are different in the sense that they live away from the pagans. They dress differently, eat differently, maintain a different set of morals. Bilaam was amazed by Klal Yisrael’s ability to retain their exclusivity. They stood out in a world that was so different from theirs. They dressed with tznius, retaining a sense…

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מה טובו אהליך יעקב משכנותיך ישראל

How goodly are your tents, O Yaakov, your dwelling places, O Yisrael. (24:5)

Chazal teach that the word ohalecha, your tents, alludes to the study halls, and mishkenosecha, your dwelling places, alludes to the shuls. The similes of tents and dwelling places have found fertile interpretation among the Torah’s commentators. We will cite a few before suggesting our own. The Shearis Menachem (Parashas Vayishlach) wonders why we commence our daily prayers with a statement made by the wicked pagan prophet, Bilaam. He explains that Bilaam made this remark after observing the tznius, moral modesty, of the Jewish people, manifested by each tribe living distinct from one another; the doorways of each home not…

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וישב ישראל בשטים ויחל העם לזנות אל בנות מואב

Yisrael settled in the Shittim and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moav. (25:1)

Bilaam tried acting out the façade of the righteous prophet who “could not” curse the Jewish people. In the end, his evil advice to have them stray after the pagan women was tragically successful. Bilaam’s wicked intentions willed out. The façade was over. The Talmud Sotah 22b relates that King Yannai was a scion of the Bais Chashmonaim, who had served both as Kohen Gadol and Melech. He became a tzeduki, massacring the chachamim. As a result, he was reviled by the Perushim, who were faithful to the chachamim and meticulously upheld the Torah – both Biblical and Rabbinic. He…

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