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Shabbat Parashat Balak 5774

Parashat Hashavua: A Head of State and a Rabbi?

Harav Yosef Carmel

Bilam’s last speech is a prophecy of events that were yet to come in the history of Am Yisrael, which he used to warn Balak, who hired him, what to expect. One of the things, which Bilam said was beyond the near future, is: “A star will surge forth from Yaakov and a staff (i.e., a leader) will arise in Israel” who will defeat various enemies of Israel (Bamidbar 24:17)

In the Yerushalmi (Ta’anit 4:5), Rabbi Shimon quotes his rebbe, Rabbi Akiva, as saying that this refers to Bar Kuziva (Kochva), and that when Rabbi Akiva would see him, he used to announce: “He is the King Mashiach.” Bar Kochva’s major activity was developing the military capabilities of the nation, which was critical in securing political independence. Bar Kochva was not a leader who was involved deeply in the study and certainly not in the teaching of Torah. We find no accounts as to his spiritual proclivity. (We do have historical evidence that he was Torah observant, and for example we find that he made sure that the people who were encamped with him in Ein Gedi received sets of lulav and etrog). We do not even find that those who disagreed with Rabbi Akiva’s conviction that Bar Kochva was Mashiach used Bar Kochva’s less than stellar religious level as justification of their skepticism.

The Rambam (Melachim 11:1) prefers the approach of the Midrash Aggada (Balak 24:17) that breaks the pasuk’s introduction into two, whereby it is a reference to David and to Mashiach. This implies that not only does Mashiach have to be a biological descendant of David, but he should also be a spiritual giant like his forebear. It also describes him as one who fought against the nation’s enemies like David. The Rambam (ibid. 4) lists as a condition for one’s immergence as Mashiach that he must be one who delves into matters of Torah and occupies himself in mitzvot. We see that according to the Rambam the situation we await is that Mashiach will combine political, military, and Torah greatness.

The Ra’avad (ad loc.) sees Mashiach as a figure who is separated from a natural life of mundane activities. Mashiach is not described in the Torah (including our p’sukim in Balak) but in the works of the Prophets. While the Rambam (ibid. 3) says that there will be no need for a candidate to be Mashiach to perform miracles to prove himself, the Ra’avad said that he will have to do so. He bases himself on the gemara (Sanhedrin 93a) that attributes to Mashiach the p’sukim (Yeshaya 11:2-3) that he will be imbued with a spirit of wisdom, bravery, knowledge, and fear of Hashem, and that he will be able to “smell” the truth (in judging between people – Rashi ad loc.). The gemara continues that the Rabbis tested to see if Bar Kochva had the ability to smell in this way and he failed. Thus, we have a third approach: Mashiach will function only within the spiritual realm.

Until Mashiach emerges, may we be blessed with leaders who excel in the physical realms and leaders who are great in the field of Torah and are connected to the practical world.

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