Illuminations #124, Tamuz 5777, Parshat Balak

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Illuminations #124, Tamuz 5777, Parshat Balak

Torah Gems

Balak said to Bilam, “Come with me to another place from where you will see them and curse the Jews from there.”  Balak then built seven altars and brought sacrifices on each of them.

Rabbi Yehuda, in the name of Rav, says that a person should always engage in Torah and Mitzvos, even with ulterior motives, because he will ultimately come to do them sincerely for Hashem. As a proof, Rav cites that as a result of Balak’s offerings he merited to such offspring as Ruth and King Shlomo(Sotah 47a).

How can such an act of evil come close to being called a mitzvah done with ulterior motives? How can it accomplish such great things?

Rav Schwab explains that Bilam revealed to Balak a secret. He told Balak that in order to have Hashem on one’s side, one has to believe in him totally and completely. Accordingly, Balak sincerely accepted on himself Hashem’s kingdom and brought sacrifices to him, obviously with wrong and evil intention. It was through this great undertaking of accepting the Kingdom of heaven that Balak merited Ruth and King Shlomo. This is what chazal calls a Mitzvah.

Parsha Pearls

Bilam states (23:10), “Who can count the dust of Yaakov?”

Rashi explains that there is no limit to the mitzvos that Jews fulfill with earth. We are prohibited from plowing a field with an ox and a donkey yoked together, and we are prohibited from planting kilayim (a mixture of seeds). We are commanded to use the ashes of the red heifer to cleanse people who had contact with the deceased. The test of the Sotah was done with a mixture of earth and other ingredients. We, the Bnei Yisrael, have the power of elevating something as lowly as dirt. We do this by using it to do mitzvos, and in the case of Sotah, ultimately restoring harmony in the home. Mesilas Yesharim describes this concept and writes that Kedusha is the level where one can in fact transform the mundane into the spiritual. person who reaches this level is like the mishkan and Bais Hamikdash. “Tzadikim hen hen hamerkava.” Such a person turns into the chariot where the Shechina dwells. Bilam looked for negativity to curse Am Yisrael, but Hashem turned his eyes on the many countless mitzvos related to dirt and dust the Jews perform, and thus forced him to praise klal Yisrael for it.

Glimpses of Greatness

When Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s children were preparing his responsa for publication, Rabbi Eiger wrote to them: “Among the responsa, you will undoubtedly find many letters to those who have studied in my yeshiva. Please do not refer to them as my students, for I have never called anyone my student. How can I know who has learned more from whom?” (Introduction to Tshuvos Rav Akiva Eiger)

Halacha Weekly

Q. When is it permitted to leave the Land  of Israel ?

A. Pirkei Avot of Rabbi Natan (28-2) explains that it is a defect in a scholar who dwells in the land of Israel if he leaves to go outside the land of Israel. Rambam (Mel. 5-9)  writes that it is prohibited to leave the land of Israel to go outside the land for any reason. The only exceptions are to leave Israel for the purpose of learning Torah (if he cannot find a suitable teacher in the Land), in order to marry a woman, or to rescue property from the hands of non-Jews; and afterwards he must return to the land. Likewise, one may also leave in order to conduct business. But he says to live permanently outside the Land of Israel is prohibited.

In addition, if there is a strong famine which causes scarcity of goods to the point that the price of commodities doubles in price, one is permitted to leave. This is true, however, only if money is available and food is high in price. But if food is cheap and money is scarce, and one is unable to earn it and has no savings, one may go to any place where one can make a living. Even though one is permitted to leave the land, if one does so it is contrary to the ways of piety. Machlon and Chilion  were the two great men of their generation, yet when they left the Land at a time of great distress they were found guilty for it before Heaven.