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Shabbat Parashat Balak | 5769

Parashat Hashavuah:The Power of the Three Legs (=Holidays)

Harav Moshe Ehrenreich

Hashem opened the mouth of the donkey, who asked Bilam: “What did I do to you that you hit me three times (regalim- literally, legs)?” (Bamidbar 22:28). Rashi says that the regalim hint to the travesty of harming Bnei Yisrael, who celebrate three holidays a year. Why is this out of all mitzvot connected to Bilam’s desire to destroy them? The Siftei Chachamim says that since Hashem wants to “see us” when we visit Yerushalayim on the holidays, it is wrong for Bilam to want us to be destroyed.

We will suggest an additional approach. Balak twice (ibid.: 5, 11) explained to Bilam that he was disturbed that Bnei Yisrael have “covered the eye of the land.” The simple explanation is that they were a large nation. However, the S’fat Emet explains that he was afraid that Bnei Yisrael would usurp the concept of connection to the land and physicality in general. This was a departure from the existence in the desert, where Bnei Yisrael dealt only with spirituality, and all physical things (food, water, security, etc.) were a present from heaven. When they would enter the Land of Israel, they would fulfill the pasuk “When you enter the Land and plant fruit trees” (Vayikra 19:23). It would be a country with agriculture, an army, and an economy, as Hashem wanted, under the Divine ideal, which Rav Kook calls “saving everything.” The nations of the world are willing to leave us spirituality; it is difficult for them to let us “trespass” their territory, physicality, and sanctify it. That is why Balak asked that Bnei Yisrael be “expelled from the land” (Bamidbar 22:6).

The mitzva of going up to Yerushalayim on holidays stresses this element of sanctifying the physical. What happens in Yerushalayim? “For there tribes go up, the tribes of Hashem (using the two letter name), a witness to Israel, to give thanks to Hashem’s Name” (Tehillim 122:2). Rashi explains that the testimony in Hashem’s Name relates to the verification with His Name that the children born in Egypt had Jewish fathers and were not from the Egyptian oppressors. The letters in His Name were attached to the names mentioned in the Torah from that time (see Bamidbar 26). The midrash says that Hashem created this world with the letter “yud” and the next world with “heh.” Thus, this name relates to the connection between the physical and the spiritual.

On the holidays, the main sacrifices are shelamim, which combine benefit for the one who brings it, the altar, and the kohanim. A non-Jew may bring a sacrifice but only an olah, which is entirely consumed by the altar. Bilam and Balak wanted to prevent us from combining the two worlds in the manner of the holidays and their shelamim sacrifices, but Hashem wanted us to connect them. 

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