Pearls of Rashi – Balak

In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, we find that Balak, the king of Moav, found himself surrounded by the Jews. Fearing that the Jews would attack him he attempted to hire Bilaam, a prophet of the gentile nations, to curse them.

The Torah tells us that (Bamidbar 22:21) “In the morning Bilaam arose, saddled his she-donkey and went with the Moabite dignitaries.” Rashi cites the words “saddled his she-donkey,” and comments as follows. “From here we learn that hate causes a disregard for the standard of dignified conduct, for he saddled it himself. Hashem said, ‘Wicked one, their father Avrohom has already preceded you, as it says (Bereishis 22:3), ‘Avrohom arose in the morning and saddled his donkey.’’”

It did not suit one of Bilaam’s status to saddle his own donkey. His servants should have done it for him! The same is true of Avrohom (Le’havdil); it did not befit one of his stature to saddle his own donkey. However that is where the comparison ends. Bilaam got up early in the morning and ran to saddle his own she-donkey because of his hatred for the Jews. In contrast to that Avrohom was so anxious to fulfill Hashem’s words that he jumped up in the morning and saddled his own donkey. How can Rashi compare the two by saying that “their father Avrohom already preceded you?”

Rashi can be understood as follows. As a prophet of Hashem Bilaam could not curse the Jews without G-d’s permission. The problem is that Hashem had already told him not to go! Why did Bilaam decided to go anyway? He hoped that he would manage to “persuade” G-d. He hoped that perhaps he could point out the Jew’s sins; thereby gaining G-d’s permission to curse them. He tried to demonstrate that they had sinned. In order to do so he disregarded the standard of his own dignified conduct by saddling his own donkey. He meant to allude to the fact that throughout the years in the desert the Jews had done the same. They had disregarded the standard of their own conduct as servants of Hashem. Hashem’s response was “wicked one!” You are too late. Their ancestor Avrohom had disregarded his honor years earlier in order to perform G-d’s will as quickly as possible.

Wishing one and all a good Shabbos! May we merit the time of the complete and true redemption which will begin an eternal Shabbos!

Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn

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