Torah Fax    

Friday - Shabbat, June 25 - 26

Torah reading: Balak (Numbers 22:2 - 25:9) 
Candle Lighting Time 8:13 PM
Shabbat ends 9:23 PM 

Pirkei Avot Chapter 6

What Do You Really Mean?

It is well known that the written Torah does not have any vowels or punctuation. There is, however, one feature in the written text of the Torah that tells us where the conclusion of a subject is. In virtually every Torah portion there are spaces that indicate the end of a paragraph. Occasionally these "paragraphs"- also known as parshiyot-can contain just several words, as in the Ten Commandants: "Don't steal;" in other instances they can be several columns long.

Rashi states that the paragraphs in the Torah were not intended for grammatical purposes but rather to give Moses-and, even more so, people who are not on Moses' level-an opportunity to pause, review and delve more deeply into what had just been studied.

All this will serve as an introduction to a question that has been raised concerning this week's Torah portion of Balak. The entire section-comprising over 100 verses-is one long paragraph in the Torah scroll. Why was there no need to break-up the narrative to allow for the opportunity to reflect on the subject matter?

There is one other anomaly in this week's Parsha that will help shed light on this matter. This Parsha is the only one that contains words of prophecy uttered by a most vile individual, Bilam. This heathen prophet was hired to curse the Jewish people. Instead of curses, G‑d made sure that only blessings would come from his mouth. These blessings rank among the most beautiful and inspiring words of spiritual poetry in all of the Torah. So much so, that sections of it have been in incorporated in our daily liturgy, such as the prayer "Mah tovu - How goodly are your tents."

However, our Sages tell us that as beautiful as his utterances were, Bilam's thoughts were entirely evil. He was actually compelled to utter the blessings that ultimately emerged from his mouth, much to his own consternation. In other words, these blessings were only blessings on the surface. Were we to probe beneath the surface to find the underlying intent that existed in Bilam’s heart, we would find curses and not blessings. 

We can now appreciate why the Torah leaves no room for reflection in this Parsha, to underscore that there are times when it is better to leave well enough alone. Occasionally, it is preferable to leave things the way they are on the surface and do not try to probe into the psyche of a person and his statements to find that the intentions are not as pure as they appear on the surface.

We have become a society in which everything has to be analyzed. There are political analysts, business analysts, psychoanalysts - each there to delve beneath the surface and evaluate. In many situations this is positive and beneficial. But there are times when we should leave the positive, albeit, superficial statements of people the way they are on the surface. Give people-who say good things- the benefit of the doubt. Don't try to find a trace of insincerity beneath the surface.

If one will search, one will inevitably find some imperfection in intent behind a person's apparently kind statement. But rather than unearth the inner intent hidden behind a warm compliment, for example, let the person's positive speech define him or her, not their hidden thoughts. In many situations, Chassidic thought teaches, the superficial begins to seep in and can actually change a person's attitude. Thus, though a person might have uttered praise insincerely, it can utterly become sincere, because the good speech will ultimately change the person's heart to good.

One could explain the anomaly of this week's Parsha not having any breaks in yet another way. One of the distinctive elements of this Parsha is that it contains prophecies concerning the coming of the Moshiach. One of the characteristics of the Messianic Age is that its precise timing was and will always be a secret until it happens. By keeping the entire Parsha "closed," the Torah intimates to us that we should not focus on when Moshiach will come. Rather we should focus our efforts on praying and working for Moshiach to come. In the words of the Talmud: "Moshiach's coming will be when we are distracted from it." How do we reconcile this statement with the fact that we are commanded to wait for Moshiach's coming every day?

One answer is to define the word wait. Wait really means to yearn and prepare. When one tries to figure out when Moshiach will come but does nothing to make it happen, he misses the point. It can be compared to someone who tries to figure out how to open the door, without first trying to simply turn the knob. 

On yet a deeper level, the "closed" nature of this Parsha conveys to us the notion that whatever we think we can know about Moshiach and the Messianic Era, there will always be something closed and hidden from us. It will be much greater and more sublime than anything we can imagine.

Moshiach Matters 

In Pesikta D'Rav Kahane, it is stated, the Holy One Blessed Be He said, "You loved my Torah but did not actively await my Kingdom." "The most basic of all basics" is the belief in the coming of Moshiach, for it is then, that G‑d will reign over all the lands, and everyone will recognize his Kingdom. Although he tarries, nevertheless we are obligated to await, expect, beg and demand, "When will You reign in Zion?" (Chofetz Chaim-Parshat Noah)
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