Vol 23.20 - Balak 1                        Spanish French Audio  Video

Hebrew Text:

Page 166   Page167   Page168   Page169   Page170   Page171  



(5741) The parsha is named after an evildoer. Yet 'none name their children after them" (Tal Yoma 38b). The boundary of prounouncing the name of an Idol which is written in the Torah (Tal. Sanh 63b) according to the Baal HaTurim
( Beshalach 14:20) and the Yera'im (75)



Why should a Parsha of the Torah be named after Balak, a wicked anti-Semite, who sought to eliminate the Jewish people (G-d forbid)? 

A number of positive insights can be learned from the name of our Parsha: "He looked into the Torah and created the world" Zohar II 161b). Being that the Torah is the blueprint of creation it follows that even the lowest and most debased aspects of the world are included in the Torah. Thus, a whole Parsha of the Torah is named "Balak," indicating that the existence of even the most wicked inhabitants oi the world are included in the Torah's overall plan for this world. 

Furthermore, the Torah brings to light that, ultimately, evil only exists in order to be transformed into good - as it is written in Proverbs, "G-d has made all things for Himself, even the wicked on the day of evil" (16:4), on which the Alter Rebbe explains, "The wicked man will repent from his evil and turn his evil into 'day'" (Tanya ch. 27). Thus Balak, as he is written in the Torah, represents the good that will eventually arise from people such as Balak, when they are transformed to goodness. 

This is also the inner meaning why the promise of Mashiach's coming appears in the Torah here in Parshas Balak (24:17ff), because with the Redemption we will witness the complete transformation of the non-Jewish nations to actually assist the Jewish people. 

Often, the two Parshiyos of Chukas and Balak are read together on one Shabbos. At first glance, the themes of these two Parshiyos appear to be diametrically opposed: "Chukas," meaning "supra-rational law," represents the highest level of Torah observance, where a person loyally follows G-d's commands even when they make no sense to him; whereas Balak represents the wicked motives of a debased anti-semite, contrary to G-d's wishes.

However, based on the above explanation that Balak represents the transformation of evil to good, it follows that the two Parshiyos of Chukas and Balak actually correspond to the two paths of serving G-d: that of the righteous (Chukas) and that of the ba'al teshuvah (Balak). 

(Gutnik Chumash Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 23, pp. 170-1; Sichas Shabbos Parshas 5740 and 5742) 


1. Concerning the names of the Sidrot of the Torah, it has been spoken of many times, that since the names have been established according to Minhag Yisroel (Jewish custom) and as it states, “Minhag Yisroel is Torah” - they are therefore considered names that Torah has bestowed.

According to this, it is difficult to understand our Parsha:

The Talmud states that a person should not name his son after a wicked person.

(As it states, “the name of the wicked shall rot . . we do not call others by their names”)

Therefore, it is not straightforward:

How was it established that a Sidra in the Torah should be called “Balak”, who was an evildoer/Rasha. So much so, that the Sages state that he hated Yidden “more than all the haters” (יותר מכל שונאים)?

One cannot answer that, “there is no choice” but to name the Sidra after him since the name of the Sidra follows the beginning of the “Sidra”. For on the contrary, according to this, there is a critical question why the Sidra is not named after the first word of the Sidra, “Vayare” (and Balak saw”) similar to the name Vayeira (that has the vowelization of a Kometz) and Vayetze (in Sefer Bereshit).

One must also understand:

The name of a Sidra (like the name of everything in the Holy Tongue) portrays the essence of the Sidra. In our case, the majority of the Sidra involves Bilaam’s aspects and prophecies. In addition, also in importance in its context, according to the simple meaning of the verse, are the blessings which he blessed the Yidden (which are extremely lofty blessings).


This also includes his prophecy regarding the “end of days”. And especially – as Rambam elaborates in his sefer – Yad HaChazaka that,

“Bilaam who prophesies about two anointed kings: the first anointed king, David, who saved Israel from her oppressors; and the final anointed king (Moshiach) “.

Therefore, what relevance do these prophecies and blessings have to do with Balak, who hated the Yidden and wanted to do them harm? He was no more than an external catalyst who brought Bilaam into all this.

2. Seemingly, one can answer (the first question) that this is similar to the law regarding the prohibition of mentioning the name of an idol.

(As it states, “Do not mention the name of other gods”).

Namely, that, “the names of all the idols that are written in the Torah are permitted to be mentioned”.

The same is in our case. The prohibition of, “not calling someone by the name (of the evildoers)” does not apply to a name that is written in the Torah.

One must however understand:

This is indeed no more than the negation of the prohibition. Namely, that regarding the name of a Rasha that is written in the Torah, there is no prohibition. However, it is not a reason to obligate one to use this name. Therefore, why did they specifically choose this name (of a Rasha -) “Balak”?

This is even harder to understand according to the view of the Baalei Tosafot who ask on the verse,

"Speak to the Bnei Yisroel and have . . camp . .facing Baal Tzephon”

“How can He say to them that they should camp at the sea facing Baal Tzephon, for it says that it is prohibited for a person to say to his friend, wait for me near the idol of so-and-so”.

 However, they answer that the prohibition is,

“Specifically regarding a person” but not regarding G-d.

This seemingly is puzzling (as the Acharonim ask):

The law is that the name of an idol, that is written in the Torah, is permitted to mention. This also applies to a “person”, as aforementioned?

One must therefore, differentiate and say that according to the Baalei Tosafot, the reason that it is permitted to mention the name of an idol that is written in the Torah, is specifically when this is just a casual mention, without a need (importance). However, when the mention of the idol has need (like “wait for me near the idol of so-and-so”) which by doing so, “gives it tangibility”, then it is prohibited, even if it is the name of an idol that is written in the Torah.

According to this, it is more problematic:

How can the name “Balak” be established as a name of a Sidra in the Torah, which is indeed an aspect of significance. Especially since through this, the name endures for eternity (פאראייביקט) (for the Torah is eternal)?

3. One can understand this by prefacing an explanation in the aforementioned answer of the Baalei Tosafot – that the prohibition of mentioning the names of an idol is “specifically regarding a person but not regarding G-d”. For seemingly this is puzzling:

Since the reason of the prohibition is (as aforementioned) in order to impart, through this, any significance to the idol – what is the difference whether this is through a mortal or through G-d?

On the contrary, G-d’s Word seemingly conveys more power than the word of a mortal. This is similar to the statement of the Sages that, “G-d’s word is considered deed”.

At first glance, it could appear that the intent of the Baalei Tosafot is that regarding G-d, a prohibition is not applicable.

(As the Baalei Tosafot cite the example of that which, “G-d sits and judges the entire world, even on Shabbat etc., even though this is prohibited for Yisroel”).

However, it is completely not straightforward. For the Sages state,

(On the verse, “He tells His words to Jacob etc.”)

that, “what He does, He says to Yisroel to do and observe”.

One must therefore say, that the simple meaning (Pshat) of Tosafot’s answer, is that regarding G-d, the reason of the prohibition (טעם האיסור), of mentioning the name of an idol, is not applicable.

4. One can explain this according to that which the Sefer Yere'im (Note: R’ Eliezer of Metz, a disciple of Rabbeinu Tam) explains that the reason why, “the names of the idols that are written in the Torah are permitted to be mentioned” is “since the Torah mentions it, it is certainly nullified”. Therefore, there is no reason why one may not mention its name.

Learning this reason plainly, however, is not understood:

From where do we know (הא מנלן) – where is the source of this “proof” - that since the “Torah mentions it” that it is a “certainty” that it is “nullified”?


One finds that there are certain idols that are indeed mentioned in the Torah and yet are not nullified.

For example: The idol, “Baal Pe’or” (which is mentioned in our Parsha, yet) was not nullified.

One could say that the explanation in the Yere’im, is that, this idol is certainly nullified by this Yid who mentions it.

(For the true desire of every Yid is to fulfill all the commands of the Torah).

Just as the purpose of the Torah mentioning the aspect (and names) of idols, is to convey that they are naught and emptiness; and they contain nothing of any avail, and tangibility; and to convey their falsity (פאלשקייט) and the error of those that worshipped these idols -

Conveying that this idol did not help those who worshipped it,

(Similar to, “you are destroyed, people of Kemosh”)

Or that though Yidden worshipping idols, it brought upon them punishment,

(As is told at the end of our Parsha, that “Yisroel became united with Baal Pe'or”, which brought a plague on the Yidden)

and so forth.

It therefore comes out that he mentioning of the name of an idol that is written in the Torah brings out the negation and nullification of the importance of the idol. On the contrary – this emphasizes the falsehood (שקר) of the idol.

The same applies to a Yid:

When a person mentions the name of an idol that is written in the Torah– this is in the context of how it is written in the Torah - the opposite of significance and tangibility of the idol.

Such an idol,

(which Torah clearly conveys that it has no significance)

is for him “certainly nullified”. Therefore, (as the Yere’im continues) – “for the very reason that the Torah mentions it (- to convey that it is naught), we are therefore permitted to mention it”.

One could say that this is similar and a semblance of the law that, “one is permitted to “mock idol worship”.

For mentioning the name of the idol in this manner, conveys the opposite of the significance of the idol. On the contrary – through this, one denigrates the idol.

5. According to this it is also understood why the Baalei Tosafot say that the prohibition of mentioning the idol is,

“Specifically regarding a person” but not regarding G-d”:

When a person mentions the name of an idol, his desire is to mention it (and especially when this is mentioned for a purpose). Therefore, through this, he gives significance to the idol. However, from G-d’s perspective, there is no place, G-d forbid for the error of idolatry.

On the contrary, through the “essential aspect” (תוכן) of the Supernal – the True G-d– saying the name of the idol (or when it states in Torat Emet – the Torah of truth – this itself nullifies the idol. G-d’s word and the revelation of the truth – nullifies and negates even a supposition that there is any validity to the false idol (שקר פון דער ע״ז).

(One could say that for this reason, the sign “opposite Baal Pe’or” was specifically chosen.

For seemingly, although it is indeed true that it is “certainly nullified”. However, it is, at the least, not a polite expression (לשון נקי׳). (Note: Baal Pe‘or is associated with exposure and excrement).

However, through this itself, the falsity of the Baal Tzephon is revealed and nullified. Therefore, also the falsity of the idol’s deceiving people, is nullified – in the world)

This is similar with a Yid:

When a person mentions the name of an idol (that is written in the Torah), in the manner in which it is written in the Torah, through this he mentions and emphasizes the nullification of the idol.

With this, one can explain that which the Talmud tells the story of an Amora who mentioned the name of an idol and who explained that he did so since it is written in the Torah. For seemingly, what is the purpose of mentioning the name of an idol, even when it is permitted, if there is no benefit and purpose?

However, the explanation of this is as aforementioned:

This Amora, whose entire aspect is Torah, saw a situation in the world

(“בקעה מצא” - found an “unguarded valley and fenced it in”, i.e. added a safeguard)

which required the nullification of this idol – Therefore, it is not just an exemption (היתר) – (“it is permitted to mention it”). Rather, there is a benefit and need for this – his mentioning this idol is like the mentioning of Torah – the nullification of the idol, as aforementioned.

 6. One could say that similarly, this is the reason why this Sidra is called “Balak” (even though “we do not call others by their names”):

Just as the reason that the Torah tells us of Balak, which is to convey that his evil thoughts,

“And now, please come and curse this nation for me . . perhaps it will enable us to strike at him etc."

 were foiled (צעשטערט) and which is why there is no contradiction to “the name of the wicked shall rot”. For on the contrary – such a mentioning just adds to the denigration and rotting of the name of the evildoer -

So too, does it also apply to the naming of the Sidra - Balak:

When Yidden use the name “Balak” as the name of a Sidra in Torah, they indeed mean “Balak”, as Torah portrays him. This is a remembrance (not for the purpose of just remembering, but the opposite) to convey the derogation of Balak.

7. A deeper aspect in this is:

Regarding Balak, we find that not only were his evil thoughts foiled (similar to the nullification of idol worship) but more than this:

His hiring (דינגען) of Bilaam brought an increase to Yidden. Namely, that Yidden should be blessed with extremely lofty blessings. This is a greater innovation than what is accomplished by nullifying the idol:

When one nullifies an idol, where the idol itself is a “denial of the unity of G-d”, it must be completely nullified.

Whereas, Balak‘s deed, his evilness, and his hatred for Yidden, which is why he hired Bilaam, to “please come and curse this nation for me”, brought an aid and increase (סיוע והוספה) to Yidden (extremely lofty blessings).

This is also why the Sidra is called “Balak”. For through him (and his hiring of Bilaam) he brought out an increase for Yidden.

8. One could say that this is also one of the explanations why the prophecy of Bilaam is among the prophecies in the Chumash that speak (in an open manner) regarding the “end of days”.

(And this prophecy of Moshiach is citied by Rambam as law, as aforementioned Par. 1)

For one of the main aspects that will be accomplished in the “end of days” is that which all the nations of the world will be rectified in a manner that, instead of using their power to rule over Yidden, the power itself will be used to aid (מסייע) Yidden, as it states,

“And kings shall be your nursing fathers and their princesses your wet nurses”

Therefore, this came in Bilaam‘s prophecy which has the same aspect – that this very power (his power of prophecy) with which Balak wanted to carry out the “please come and curse this nation for me etc.”, Bilaam had to use to bless Yidden.

Therefore, this is a portion of the Sidra “Balak”.

This completeness of this,

“And strangers shall stand and pasture your sheep, and foreigners shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. And you shall be called the priests of the L-rd etc. - Their work will be done by others”.

will be in the true and complete Geulah through our righteous Moshiach, soon, mamosh.

MSichas Shabbat Parshat Balak, 5724



Gutnick Chumash

Date Delivered:   Reviewer:       
Date Modified:    Date Reviewed: