June 13, 2024 ~ Shabbat NASO. Maqam SABA.

Shabbat Balaq - שבת בלק


Grass of the Field

כלחך השור את ירק השדה - When in competition against rivals, playing fairly is praiseworthy. When Moab saw that Israel was traveling in their direction, they conspired with Midian on the basis that Israel "will devour everything around us, like the ox devours all the grass of the field (Numbers 22:4)." Although their concerns over its limited supply of resources had validity, their method of defeating Israel through sorcery, witchcraft, and divination is indicative of the poor moral character of these parties. Rather than confront their challengers in a straightforward way (i.e. by declaring war), Moab and Midian attempt to weaken Israel from behind; first by commissioning Bilaam to have God curse them, and then by sending women to seduce them and recruit them into foreign cults. While it is important to play hard in all fields of life, all victories should be achieved fairly and not through backhanded means. Beth Torah Bulletin, July 8, 2017.

Benefit of the Doubt

ויגל ה׳ את עיני בלעם - When Bilaam travels on the road, his donkey stops for no apparent reason. Without hesitation, Bilaam beats his donkey. "What did I do to deserve these three beatings?" asks the donkey. Bilaam says "if I had a sword in my hand, I would have killed you!" The donkey then replies, "I am the donkey that you rode your entire life. Have I ever done anything like this before?" Suddenly, "God uncovers Bilaam's eyes" (Numbers 22:31) revealing that the road all along has been blocked by an angel holding a sword. Bilaam was quick to think that he is correct and that the donkey is wrong, when in fact, the reality was quite the opposite. Bilaam did not give his life-long friend, the donkey, the benefit of the doubt. The lesson here is never to jump to conclusions. When you perceive that others have wronged you, it helps to walk away from the situation for a few moments and then revisit it with a new outlook and a fresh perspective. Beth Torah Bulletin, June 30, 2018.

Tents of Jacob

מה טבו אהליך יעקב - Any aliya to the Torah is considered to be an honor for the recipient. According to Aleppo tradition, however, there is added significance to the Sixth Aliya, Shishi, due to the words “very good” being written in association with the Sixth Day (Genesis 1:31). As a result, the aliyot are always arranged in order to give the Sixth Aliya the nicest portion; keeping it short in order to limit it to nice words and blessings. This is most true in Perashat Balaq where most sources designate Numbers 24:5-7 as the Sixth Aliya. In this portion, we read what the prophet Bila'am is forced to say in describing Israel. "How good are Your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!" The aliya continues to describe the Israelite community like a place with plentiful rivers of water that stretch out alongside beautiful gardens of strong Cedar trees. The aliya concludes that "their king shall rise above Agag [of Amaleq], and their kingdom shall be exalted." Tiqqun Highlights, Beth Torah Bulletin, July 20, 2019.