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Shabbat Parashat Balak 5776

Parashat Hashavua: Treated Like a Son For Better and Worse

Harav Shaul Yisraeli based on Siach Shaul, p. 330-1

An entire parasha is dedicated to the story of Bilam and his blessings. What is the reason that Hashem decided it is so important to us?

It is possible that it comes from the desire to show Bnei Yisrael’s level at that time, which made them fit for such blessings. This, in turn, sheds light on the events that occurred in the desert. If we read the previous parshiyot, describing the people’s complaints and quarrels, we might conclude that this was a lowly stage in our nation and that we did not really deserve to receive the Torah. However, Chazal laud this generation as the “dor de’ah (the generation of knowledge)” (Vayikra Rabba 9:1). The Torah thus shows how the brilliant enemy of the Jews, Bilam, looked for blemishes to throw at us and was unable to find them. He was left with no choice but to make such declarations as “How good are your tents, oh Jacob?” (Bamidbar 24:5).

Indeed, from the non-Jewish perspective, i.e., in comparison to what Bilam knew of the rest of the world, Bnei Yisrael’s level was indeed unprecedentedly high. The reason that the Torah contains harsh criticism of the nation is because they are not judged like anyone else. It is not enough to be relatively good. It is Bnei Yisrael’s responsibility to elevate themselves and, in the process, raise other nations along with them.

The above idea finds expression in the pasuk: “… for as a man disciplines his son Hashem disciplines you” (Devarim 8:5). We find two different kinds of strict discipline for the purpose of educating: a father who strikes his son and a teacher who strikes his student. There is a difference between the two phenomena. A (fair) teacher will only resort to strict discipline if his student is not performing reasonably. If he is doing most of what he is supposed to and especially if he is doing a good job, he will be left alone. After all, he will be as good as or better than his peers. A father is different. He doesn’t care if other children are better or worse. He wants perfection from his son and the fulfillment of his potential.

That is what the Torah says about Israel. Why should they be punished if they are better than Yishmael and Edom, Put, Luv, and Canaan? The Torah says that this is a mistake, as we are disciplined as a father disciplines his son. We are not at all compared to other nations
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