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Shabbat Parashat Balak| 5770

Parashat Hashavuah: The Difference in Prophets

Harav Shaul Yisraeli, Derasha in 1938, Siach Shual, p. 426

“Hashem’s actions are complete” – just as he gave prophets to Israel, he gave to the nations (non-Jews). The former warned the nation not to sin, and the nations’ prophet encouraged people to sin in order to destroy them from the world. Jewish prophets, such as Yirmiyah and Yechezkel, had mercy for Jews and gentile nations, but Bilam was so cruel as to want to uproot a nation for no reason (Bamidbar Rabba 20:1).

Israel had the father of all prophets, Moshe. The nations had one who was his equal (ibid. 14:20). Despite their equal potential, regarding wisdom and prophetic powers, one created a nation, and one set out to destroy one and to cause it to sin. This is because knowledge is not enough. It can cause its possessor’s downfall, as one digests knowledge and uses it according to his innate nature.

“If someone tells you there is wisdom in Edom, believe him; there is Torah in Edom, do not believe him” (Eicha Rabba 2:13). “The beginning of wisdom is fear of Hashem” (Tehillim 111:10). Wisdom can be a tool to broaden and deepen fear of Hashem. Our tradition is to use wisdom to recognize Hashem’s greatness and the justice of His laws, which brings love of Hashem, as a son loves a father. The righteous become prominent partners in creation through their actions (see Ketubot 5a). Among the nations where godliness is an abstract term and there is not a belief in Divine Providence, intellectual pursuit, instead of elevating the soul, just causes haughtiness. Their [focusing on Nazi Germany] ethics are based on intellect that is controlled by personal desire, allowing society to kill the elderly and disabled. Ethics do not purify the soul that, like Balak, looks to fill itself with wealth.

Bilam was confronted by a culture based on the idea of Hashem’s unity, whereby life is full of content, from the spiritual elite to the lower strata of society. When Bilam saw the nation, he cried out excitedly: “How good are your tents” (Bamidbar 24:5) – these are pure and simple tents, but they contain the secret of the nation’s greatness. The Jewish tent, at once, opens in a manner that promotes modesty but also includes the tents with multiple openings that enabled our patriarchs to excel at welcoming guests. Bilam’s excitement was short-lived, and he remembered what he wanted to accomplish, to curse this impressive nation. When this failed, he devised the scheme of Baal Pe’or to undermine their greatness, focused around the tents, by ruining their modesty and purity.

Times have changed; generations have come and gone. Prophecy has left our people, but basic differences continue. We now see great scientists who use their expertise just to make money and throw oil on the flames of anti-Semitism. Professors in Germany give “credibility” to the doctrine of “the superior race.” We don’t even have a short respite to hear blessings, as we did from Bilam, because we now lack the aura of sanctity that enveloped our forefathers.

Let us return to the purity and the proper openness of the tents so that the curses will turn into blessings against the will of sinister nations.


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In memory of

The Rishon Letzion

Rav Mordechai Eliyahu ztvk”l


This week’s Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of
R' Meir ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld

Hemdat Yamim is endowed by
Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker and
Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.



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