Torah Fax

Friday, July 2, 2004 - 13 Tammuz, 5764

Torah Reading: Balak (Numbers 22:2 - 25:9)
Candle Lighting Time:  8:12 PM
Shabbat Ends: 9:21 PM
Fast begins (7/6): 4:10 AM
Fast ends: 9:11 PM

"Just For Today"

Our Parshah tells us that Balak, the king of Moab, was terrified of the Israelites after seeing how they vanquished the Emorites and their mighty king Sichon. Deciding he couldn't beat the Jews on the battlefield, he hired the heathen prophet Bilam to curse the Jews. Instead, G‑d forced Bilam to utter the most beautiful blessings and glorious predictions of the future of the Jewish nation.

When the Torah introduces us to Balak, it states that he was "the king of Moab at that time." What does the Torah mean when it emphasizes that he was the king "at that time?" Why would it have occurred to us that he was the king at any other another time? Rashi replies that Balak was not really fit to be king, but with the death of Sichon, they appointed him as a temporary king for that moment.

On the surface, Rashi means that because of the "emergency" situation that existed for the Moabites at that time, they appointed Balak to the leadership person to serve as an ad hoc leader to defeat the Jews.

One could also look at the temporary appointment of Balak in another more positive vein. Balak and the people of Moab were evil people with malice in their hearts. When they wanted to harm the Jewish people they were satisfied with any amount of pain. Even though they knew that the Jewish people would ultimately prevail, they wanted to, at least, temporarily halt their journey and progress. Similarly, Bilam, the heathen prophet Balak commissioned to curse the Jews, spoke of the Messianic deliverance of the Jews. However, he prophesied that it would be in the distant future. Bilam knew he could not eliminate the inevitable Redemption of the Jewish people from exile through the Moshiach. Nevertheless, if he could delay that process by even one day, he would have been content.

Balak therefore says to Bilam, "and now, go curse this nation for me..," with the emphasis on the word "now." With this he meant to suggest to Bilam, "True, you cannot destroy them and adversely change their situation permanently, but you could curse them now and set then back a bit."

Similarly, the Talmud tells us that Bilam tried to anticipate the split second G‑d got gets angry, in order to utilize that moment to curse the vulnerable Jews. Here again we confront someone utilizing a fleeting moment to do something evil.

What is true in the realm of evil is equally true in the realm of goodness. Indeed, in Judaism, we even try to learn lessons from rather unsavory characters. King David said as much in the Psalms: "From my enemies I gain wisdom." In this vein, there are a number of lessons one can learn from the actions of Balak and Bilam: First one should seize every opportunity to do good. If there is even one window of opportunity, that opportunity should not be lost - just as Bilam sought to divine the precise moment G‑d's anger was aroused. When one feels even a bit of inspiration, take advantage of it immediately. Do something special; bless someone, perhaps that inspired moment was a gift by G‑d to use for the benefit of others.

A story is told of how a prominent Polish rabbi, Rabbi Saul Wall, was appointed king for a night when the nobles of Poland could not agree on a candidate. The rabbi-king utilized that "king for a night" opportunity to annul various anti-Semitic laws before he relinquished the throne to one of the noblemen.

Another lesson to be learned from Bilam: One could conclude from the episode of Balak that one should appreciate even what appears to be the most temporary change for the good just as Balak was satisfied to inflict temporary pain on the Jewish people. We should not think that a person should only do the type of good deeds that lead to a permanent change in our lives or in the lives of others. Earth shattering events are indeed very appealing to us, but of what value are the simple gestures that may not even seem to have any enduring effects? The truth is there is really no such thing. Even the most insignificant act can forever change the world. We can not fathom the ripple and snowballing effect all the good that we do has on the world.

But even if it were possible that the benefits of one good act that we perform should last for only a short period of time, one should learn the lesson from Balak, and still do it. And just as Bilam wanted to only delay the Messianic Age, but not push it off  indefinitely, one should be motivated, in the realm of holiness, to hasten its coming even if it were only advanced by one day.

In short, not only does every act and every opportunity count, we should never underestimate the power of one temporary change in the world and the importance of hastening the coming of Moshiach by each and every positive act, word or even thought that we engage in.
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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