Torah Fax
Friday, June 29, 2007 - 13 Tammuz, 5767

Torah Reading: Balak (Numbers 22:2 - 25:9)
Candle Lighting: 8:13 PM
Shabbat ends: 9:22 PM
Pirkei Avot Chapter 6 


Our Parshah deals with the famous story of the failed attempt of Bilam, the heathen prophet hired by Balak the king of Moab, to curse the Jews. In the end, not only does Bilam not curse the Jews, he bestows upon them some of the most powerful blessings.
Interestingly, the term Halichah, walking or going, is a theme that is subtly couched in the narrative of Balak and Bilam.  Repeatedly the Torah speaks of how the "elders of Moab went (vayelchu)… to Bilam…"; G‑d said to Bilam don't go (lo telech) with them…"; "Bilam arose in the morning and said to go (lechu) to your land…"; "And the ministers of Balak arose and came to Balak, and they said, 'Bilam refuses to go (haloch) with us.'"  Similarly, when Bilam was ready to curse the Jews, he kept changing locations and vantage points from where he could see the Jews encamped and again the word Halichah is used (Num. 23:13 and elsewhere). 
To these evil people, moving from one location to another had meaning.
And on the positive side of things we also find a reference to the virtue of walking in this week's parsha:
When Bilam was riding on his donkey as he traveled to go and curse the Jewish people, the donkey pressed his leg against a wall because it saw an angel standing in the way. Bilam (who was not granted permission to see the angel) then struck the donkey three times, whereupon "G‑d opened the mouth of the donkey" and it complained to Bilam: "Why did you strike me three times?"
Now, in Hebrew the standard word for "times" in this context is p'amim. Yet, here the Torah uses the word regalim, which actually means legs. Rashi explains that G‑d (through the medium of the donkey) was, in effect, scolding Bilam by telling him "why do you wish to harm the Jewish people who will go by foot on their pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem three times a year?"
What is it about walking from one place to another that features so prominently in this week's parsha in both the realm of evil and good? 

To understand the power of walking, we should note that when Jews "went up to Jerusalem" for the holidays, they would make at least part of the journey by foot (though the majority of the trip was done on horseback and the like). This was known as being "Oleh LaRegel." Oleh LaRegel literally means going up for the holiday to Jerusalem, but it also means having an Aliyah, a spiritual elevation.  Indeed, the experience of the holiday was mainly a spiritual one, where one would move and grow to a higher spiritual plane, but the spiritual has to express itself on a physical plane as well. Thus, in order to have the Aliyah, the spiritual elevation connected with the holiday, there had to be a physical Aliyah, going up to Jerusalem, as well.
This is in keeping with a concept discussed in Chassidic thought that everything that exists on the physical plane is paralleled in a higher spiritual realm.
In truth, this axiom is a threefold one: First, every physical thing has a spiritual counterpart. Second, the physical thing actually derives from the spiritual. That means that the spiritual plane existed prior to the physical and is the force that generated the emergence of the physical. Third, and conversely, whenever we engage in a physical activity it impacts the spiritual plane and helps to activate it.
Accordingly, when one walks from one place to a better and holier place, that exercise does more than just strengthen the muscles of our legs and heart. It actually activates the spiritual mechanism that helps us get to the next level. Moreover, the act of using our legs and feet to walk to a good place for a good cause can actually enhance the spiritual state of our minds and hearts as well - just as our legs carry our heart and mind.

Thus, on the positive side, going up to Jerusalem on the holidays enhanced greatly the spiritual experience of those days. Conversely, Bilam and Balak's walking was intended to more quickly actualize the negative effects of their intended curses.
The last generation of exile has been compared by our Sages as the "heels of Moshiach." This means that our generation is paradoxically the lowest generation of history, being the farthest removed from the defining experience of Sinai. Yet, our generation is also the most powerful in that we can uplift and bring fulfillment to all the preceding generations that are likened to the heart and head of our nation.
The reference to walking can be understood in light of the above analysis. When we want to make the transition from one state to another, there is a need to make some sort of effort in that direction. Going from the Diaspora to the Land of Israel, from exile to Redemption is primarily a spiritual transition. But to facilitate that move from one space to another much higher space, one needs to do their part, very literally.
For one Jew it can mean making the move to the Land of Israel. For another it can be making an effort to walk to the synagogue. For a third person it can be walking to visit someone in the hospital or any other act of kindness that requires one's physical movement from one place to the other.
Moreover, the metaphor of walking teaches us about the value of an action that is not related to emotion or intellect. Precisely those people whose dedication to G‑d is based on simple faith and devotion to G‑d's will - which transcends understanding - are the ones that will march at the front of our people into the Age of Redemption. Their simple marching song will inspire all of the other more intellectual souls to make the inexorable move from exile into Redemption.


Moshiach Matters       

The ultimate state of fulfillment that will be manifest in the Era of the Redemption and in the Era of the Resurrection, i.e., the revelation of [G‑d's] Infinite Light... in this material world, is dependent on our deeds and service throughout the era of exile. (Tanya)
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