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מה טבו אהליך יעקב

How goodly are your tents, Yaakov. (24:5)

What impressed Bilaam about the Jewish tents? Bilaam saw that the entrances to one another precluded intrusions on the privacy of other families. Furthermore, tents refer to the batei medrash, study halls. (According to Rashi, it refers to the Mishkan and Batei Mikdash when they were extant). At first glance, tznius, privacy and modesty, and study halls do not seem to coincide, unless the Torah is suggesting to us that the study hall – or Torah study of those who occupy the bais hamedrash, who devote themselves wholly to studying Hashem’s Torah – should reflect tznius, privacy and modesty, in…

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וישלח מלאכים אל בלעם בן בעור

He sent agents to Bilaam ben Beor. (22:5)

Is it possible that, concerning all outward appearances, one not only manifests himself as righteous, but he even receives the fringe benefits and special treatment accorded to a tzaddik; yet, he remains throughout a despicable rasha, wicked person, of the lowest order? Yes! Bilaam showed us that it can be done. Bilaam was Hashem’s “gift” to the pagan/gentile world, so that they could not assert that they had no worthy spiritual leadership. Bilaam was on a lofty spiritual plane, a prophet of the highest order. He was the gentile world’s Moshe. So what happened? He refused to purge himself of…

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וישלח ד' בעם את הנחשים השרפים ... ויאמרו חטאנו ... והיה הנשוך וראה אתו וחי

Then Hashem let the poisonous snakes loose against the people … They said, “We have sinned” … that everyone who is bitten when he looks upon it he shall live. (21:6,7,8)

It was not the first time; once again, the people did not receive what they perceived they needed. Their first reaction was to complain, “This is no good; that is no good.” Immediately, they directed their discontent against Hashem. They did not doubt the authenticity of Moshe Rabbeinu’s leadership; they had issues with Hashem’s guidance. They would never reach the Promised Land if they were to continue along this path in the wretched wilderness. Veritably, they had nourishment from the manna, but what about some real food and drink? Furthermore, obtaining manna was effortless, almost monotonous. They wanted some excitement…

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ויקחו אליך פרה אדומה תמימה

And they shall take to you a completely red cow, which is without blemish. (19:2)

The mitzvah of Parah Adumah, Red Cow, which is used to purify one who is tamei meis, spiritually defiled by coming in contact with a dead body, has become known as the paradigmatic mitzvah whose reason is beyond human cognition. Actually, this is true with regard to all mitzvos. We have no idea of the reason for any one of the 613 mitzvos; it is just that some are easier to relate to, because they are common-sensical. The laws of Parah Adumah are replete with anomalies. The most difficult to accept is the fact that the Kohen who carries out…

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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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