Torah thought forFriday 11 Tammuz 5783 June 30 2023

Parashat Balak (outside Israel Parashiyot Chukat-Balak)

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK

Who Stole the Gold?

This Shabbat we shall read how Balak, king of Moav brought Bilam to curse Am Yisrael. As the passuk states, “This nation is too powerful for us [alone], so if you would, come and curse this nation for me. Then, we may be able to defeat them and drive them from the area. I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed” (Bamidbar (22:6-7). In the end Bilam actually blessed Am Yisrael, to the extent that Balak said to him, “I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have made every effort to bless them!” (ibid. 23:11).

Our chachamim expounded further about Bilam, (Avot 5:22), anyone who has…an evil eye, an arrogant demeanour and an insatiable soul are attributes of the disciples of the wicked Bilam. Rashi quotes the Midrash on the passuk, “Even if Balak gave me his whole palace full of gold and silver, I would not be able to do anything great or small that would violate the word of Hashem my G-d!” (Bamidbar 22:18). From here we learn that he had a greedy soul and desired other people’s money. He said, it is fitting to give me all his gold and silver.

One may raise a question by contrasting the following Mishnah (Avot 6:9),  Rebbi Yose ben Kisma said, Once I was walking along the road when a man said to me if you are willing to live with us in our place I will give you a million golden dinars. And I said to him, Were you to give me all the silver and gold and precious stones and pearls in the world, I would not live anywhere except in a place of Torah, as the passuk states, “The Torah of your mouth is better for me than thousands in gold and silver” (Tehillim 119:72). We see that Rebbi Yose also mentioned all the gold and silver in the world, yet the chachamim don’t describe him as a “greedy person”, on the contrary, they praise him. We must understand the difference between them, since both of them mentioned gold and silver, so why is Bilam seen in a negative light whilst Rebbi Yose is praised?

The most straight forward answer to this is that regarding Rebbi Yose it was a response to what that person had asked. He offered gold and silver and to that Rebbi Yose responded, therefore he is praised. Not so with Bilam, there he was the first one to mention gold and silver, he raised it first, and thereby showed everyone his true essence, his desitre and his greedy nature to fill his house with gold and silver. Balak came to teach us that that through a person’s words it may be determined what really interests them and what their essence is all about. Therefore he is seen in a negative light.

It happened at the time of Shlomoh HaMelech, with three partners who hid their money in a secret location, only they knew its location. After a few days the stash got stolen and each one suspected their fellow and they didn’t know who had robbed them. They came to Shlomoh HaMelech that he reveal to them who did it. Shlomoh heard them and said to them, before I adjudicate, I want your advice about something that happened. A young man and woman took an oath to marry one another, however, after some time they parted, each one going on their way. The young woman met a young man and wanted to marry him but she remembered her oath to the young man who was her neighbour. She took a hundred gold coins and travelled a great distance to seek his permission to marry the other person. She travelled for two days, travelling through a dense forest until she reached where the young man lived. She sought his permission to marry someone else and she gave him the gold she brought as compensation. The young man heard this, he was excited, and allowed her to immediately marry her new chosen one, he even forwent the gold that she brought. The young lady was thrilled and she began her return journey home. Suddenly in the middle of the forest an old bandit stopped her and demanded her money. The young lady cried, and with her tears she told him that even the young man forwent it and that she desperately needs the money for her wedding. The old bandit was merciful and let her go with the gold.

All this Shlomoh HaMelech told the three partners and asked them, tell me, which of the three is most valued? Is the young woman who remembered her oath and went to seek permission from the young man, or perhaps the young man is most valued for agreeing to forgo the oath and allowed her to marry someone else. Or perhaps further still, the old bandit is most valued in that he let the young lady keep her gold? The first partner said, to my mind the young lady is most valued for she remembered her oath and went to seek his permission. Against this the second partner arose and said, to my mind the young man is most valued for he gave it up for her and allowed her to marry her new chosen one. The third partner said, to my mind the old bandit is most valued for he forwent the gold that he could have easily robbed. Immediately Shlomoh HaMelech arose and said to the third partner, you are the thief! If you claim that the bandit who forwent the money is worthy of being valued, this is a sign that you are greedy for money. Your mouth has ensnared you!

We learn a great thing from this from this story. Namely that a person is recognisable from their speech and that a person’s speech shows what interests them and what is important to them and what is their essence. This is Bilam whose conversation circle around gold and silver and was therefore considered a greedy person.

We should all make an effort to ensure that our main desire and ambition should be to be busy with Torah and mitzvot. Like the words of David HaMelech in Tehillim (1:1-2), “Praiseworthy is the man who walked not in the counsel of the wicked, and stood not in the path of the sinful, and sat not in the session of scorners. But his desire is in the Torah of Hashem and in His Torah he meditates day and night.” Amen.

Shabbat Shalom!