This D’var Torah should be a Zechus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister, Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, my uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-MY BROTHER: MENACHEM MENDEL SHLOMO BEN CHAYA ROCHEL
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael, especially those suffering from COVID-19 and the Meiron tragedy.
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken by terrorists (Hashem Yikom Damam), COVID-19, and the Meiron tragedy.
-It should also be a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
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בָּלָק ● Balak
“Balak, Pinchas, & their Grandfather”
Parshas Balak fascinatingly begins and ends with the act of “seeing.” The Parsha begins with “Vayar Balak”-“And Balak saw…”1 while the final paragraph of the Parsha begins with, “Vayar Pinchas…”-“And Pinchas saw…”2
To be more specific, the Sidrah begins: “Vayar Balak Ben Tzipor Es Kal Ashar Asah Yisrael LaEmori”-“And Balak son of Tzipor saw all that Yisrael did to the Emori.”1 Balak “saw” and subsequently responded with a plan to eliminate the powerful opposition in Am Yisrael. He “saw” what they had accomplished and still dared to challenge Hashem’s righteous nation.
On the other hand, the end of the Sidrah records the tragic story of the B’nei Yisrael’s worship of Ba’al Pe’or where the Chumash highlights the heroism of Pinchas who saw and acted, executing Zimri, the leading culprit. “Vayar Pinchas Ben Elazar Ben Aharon HaKohein Vayakam Mitoch HaEidah Vayikach Romach B’Yado.”-“And Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the Kohein saw and got up from amidst the congregation and he took the spear in his hand.”2 Pinchas “saw” and also dared to challenge Hashem’s people, but at a time when they were doing what was evil in Hashem’s eyes.
Just a Coincidence?
One might dismiss these two “seeings” as a coincidence of sorts. Perhaps one might appreciate the poetic effect of the opening and close of the Sidrah. But, perhaps there is even greater significance to these bookends. If so, what might that be? What do Balak and Pinchas have to do with one another?
If we look beneath the surface, we will find more than just a textual parallel between Pinchas and Balak. There is much more that connects these two individuals. Where, in fact, is the common root of Pinchas and Balak? Before we answer that question, we will look closer in our Sidrah to see where these two meet.
Bil’am’s Final Prophecy
At the end of the many prophecies Bil’am received and declaimed before Balak was a collection of messages addressed to a few specific nations3; Israel, Edom, Amaleik, and Keini. Among this select group, one nation seems to stand out. Which of these four just does not seem to belong?
Am Yisrael is obviously the protagonist, so a prophecy addressing them is reasonable. Edom and Amaleik both descend from Eisav and each of them would remain as recurring rivals of the B’nei Yisrael. Thus, both of them are relevant. That leaves one group of people.
Who is Keini?
Who in fact are the Keinite people who received a favorable prophecy? And why was Bil’am imparted with a message addressed to them? How was Keini at all relevant?
Chazal inform us that Keini is one of the names of none other than Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe Rabbeinu.4, 5 Thus, the Keinite people referred to in Bil’am’s prophecy would have been Yisro’s descendents. The question remains as to the relevance of Yisro.
Yisro vs. Amaleik
Yisro is addressed apparently in connection and contrast to Amaleik who was mentioned earlier in Bil’am’s prophecy. The Keinites lived in close proximity to Amaleik, and in the times of the Shaul HaMelech and Shmuel HaNavi, when the B’nei Yisrael eventually target Amaleik, they warn the righteous Keinites to clear out to avoid harm.6
But, that was not the first time that Yisro dissociated from Amaleik. Much like Balak and Pinchas, both Yisro and Amaleik acted in response to the B’nei Yisrael. However, unlike Balak and Pinchas, they apparently did not merit to “see” what was coming.
As far as Amaleik was concerned, the Torah relates that after Hashem had performed many miracles for the B’nei Yisrael during the Exodus, “Vayavo Amaleik Vayilacheim Im Yisrael B’Refidim”7—that Amaleik merely arrived on the scene to do war with the B’nei Yisrael. The Torah does not specify that they saw, perceived or processed the supernatural success of the B’nei Yisrael. That is precisely characteristic of Amaleik the “first nation”8 to try its “luck” against Hashem’s people, a nation who demonstrated no fear of Hashem.9
Yisro also did not “see.” However, the Torah specifies, “Vayishma Yisro Kohein Midian Chosein Moshe Eis Kal Asher Asah Elokim L’Moshe U’L’Yisrael…”10—that Yisro “heard” about all of the incredible things that G-d had done for His people. Only after Yisro heard and perceived, does the Torah relate that “Vayavo Yisro”11—that Yisro came to see for himself. Yisro’s senses told him it was appropriate to join G-d’s nation. (“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”) And in so doing, Yisro challenged the negative status quo of paganism and joined the chosen nation and the religion of truth.
The opposite reactions of Amaleik and Yisro are certainly striking.12 But, what is important for our purposes is that they bring us right back to the opposite reactions of Pinchas and Balak.
Pinchas vs. Balak
As was mentioned, Pinchas and Balak apparently had advantages that neither Amaleik nor Yisro had. They “saw.” Now, indeed, like Yisro and Amaleik, both Pinchas and Balak challenged some status quo. However, the status quo they each challenged were worlds different from one another.
As was mentioned, Amaleik naturally denied G-d’s wonders and gave G-d no second thought before challenging His people. Yisro, by contrast, challenged the pagans. Fast-forward to Balak. He had seen the might of Hashem and His people. He knew they were different and that there was no way he could beat them by any natural means. He saw and yet, he challenged them anyway. Granted, he didn’t exactly blindly attack the way Amaleik did. But, he proceeded in Amaleik’s direction. Yes, he saw and therefore attempted to come up with a roundabout tactic to defeating the B’nei Yisrael. But, to challenge Hashem’s people meant to turn a blind eye to what he knew to be true, that he would not eliminate Hashem’s people. The status quo was not worth challenging.
By contrast, Pinchas watched his own nation engaged in acts of immorality and idolatry. The easy thing would have been to just let everything happen and stay out of the way. But, Pinchas realized that this was not okay, even it seemed like the new status quo. He zealously acted to reverse the negative current.
The Shared Grandfather
The contrast between Balak who saw and sought to fight the current for evil and Pinchas who saw and sought to fight the current for good cannot be mistaken. But, the real tragedy though is that both Balak and Pinchas might have had it in their blood to successfully fight alongside Hashem against evil.
We know that Pinchas was the grandson of Aharon HaKohein. But, that was on his father’s side. However, Chazal teach that Pinchas’s maternal grandfather was none other than Yisro.13 And yet, the Zohar teaches that Balak, as well, was a grandson of none other than Yisro.14, 15 Indeed, that means that Pinchas and Balak were not only related, but they were possibly first cousins, once again, linked by the grandfather they shared, Yisro.
What the above might tell us is that Balak innately had the tools to make the right decision. It was in his DNA to go against the grain for the good like his grandfather Yisro. Thus, when Bil’am prophesied the fate of Keini, allies of Yisrael, he spelled out what Balak missed out on by not following his grandfather for good. Instead, despite what Balak had seen and known to be true, he chose to follow the blind Amaleik. Granted, like his grandfather, he dared to go against the grain. But, more fundamentally like Amaleik, he picked the fight with G-d’s nation. On the other hand, Pinchas chose to follow his grandfather and go against the grain to fight for the truth, for the will of Hashem.
In the end, both Pinchas and Balak saw and acted. Both had it in them to challenge the status quo. And yet, the difference between the two cousins was the difference between night and day, right and wrong, truth and falsehood, and ultimately between Yisrael La’Amim. There is a place for audacity in life. But the direction and circumstances make all the difference. If we choose to follow Yisro and his grandson Pinchas, we will have the opportunity to perceive the truth and the holy audacity to stand up for the truth.
We should all be Zocheh to choose that path, fight for Ratzon Hashem, and Hashem should allow us to be triumphant with coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah BiYomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg
- Bamidbar 22:2
- See Rashi to 24:21 and to Shemos 4:18 and 18:1 citing Mechilta 18:1, based on Shoftim 1:16.
- For explanations of the name “Keini,” see Mechilta 18:1 and Chida’s comments on Shoftim 1:16 and 4:11 in his commentary, Chomas Anach.
- See Rashi to Bamidbar 25:7 citing Shmuel Aleph 15:6 as well as Rashi’s commentary there.
- Shemos 17:8
- Bamidbar 24:20
- See Devarim 25:17
- Shemos 18:1
- For more sources on the relationship and contrast between Yisro and Amaleik, see AlHaTorah.org/Yisro_and_Amalek.
- See Rashi to Bamidbar 25:12 citing Tanchuma 1, Sanhedrin 82B, Sotah 43A and Sifrei 131 as well as Rashi’s comments to Shemos 6:25 citing Shemos Rabbah 7:5 and Bava Basra 110A.
- Zohar 196B-197A
- This would be consistent with Rashi’s comments to Bamidbar 22:4 citing Tanchuma 3, that Balak was not a native of Moav, but of Midian (as was Yisro).