Vol 28.21 - Balak 2 Spanish French Audio Video
The Torah portion Balak relates how Balak, king of Moav, hired the prophet Bilam to curse the Jewish people. G‑d, however, frustrated the king’s scheme and caused Bilam to utter praises and blessings of the Jewish people.
Among Bilam’s words of praise and blessing, we find the following:1 “I see him Israel from the peak of flintrocks, and gaze upon him from the heights; it is a nation dwelling alone, entirely dissimilar to other nations.”
What is the connection between the two parts of the verse?
In explaining the words: “I see him Israel from the peak of flintrocks,” Rashi comments:2 “I gaze upon their beginnings and their roots, and see them braced and as strong as these flintrocks and rocky heights, on account of their Patriarchs and Matriarchs.” Bilam’s statement was thus allegorical.
When something is so profound that it cannot be understood or explained directly, it becomes necessary to draw an analogy from something less profound.
Here too, Bilam found it necessary to compare the Jewish people to flintrocks, though, in truth, they are much stronger than that.
Wherein lies this great strength?
The true power of a Jew lies not in his physical might but in his spiritual prowess, particularly his power of mesirus nefesh , a submission to the Divine that is so profound that he is willing to lay down his life if necessary for the realization of G‑d’s will.
The soul that possesses the power of mesirus nefesh is referred to3 as “the peak of flintrocks.”
This power emanates from a Jew’s mighty, firm and immutable faith in G‑d, a faith so powerful that a Jew will offer his very life in order not to renounce G‑d.4
Rashi thus states “I gaze upon their beginnings and their initial roots and see them braced and as strong as these flintrocks and rocky heights, on account of their Patriarchs and Matriarchs,” for the strength of mesirus nefesh is passed on to all Jews from the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.5
The power of mesirus nefesh is entirely different from the strength of mundane matter. In the physical realm, strength means that a corporeal entity exists in a powerful manner. Mesirus nefesh , however, presupposes the very opposite of being — the complete nullification of self.
The Alter Rebbe thus explains6 that the power to act with mesirus nefesh is a byproduct of G‑d’s shining within every Jewish soul, for mesirus nefesh flies in the face of nature; a living creature doesn’t do things that cause its own negation.
This then is the connection between the two parts of the verse: “I see him Israelfrom the peak of flintrocks … it is a nation dwelling alone, entirely dissimilar to other nations:”
Their power of mesirus nefesh causes the Jewish people to be entirely alone, wholly unlike other nations.
Since the power of mesirus nefesh is a gift granted from Above, it is not subject to the vagaries of time and space. Thus, although other traits transmitted from generation to generation may wane with time, the power of mesirus nefesh that Jews receive from the Patriarchs and Matriarchs is immutable.
1. It has already been mentioned many times that the aspect of Rashi’s commentary on Torah is to explain the simple meaning of the verse (as Rashi states in many places, in his commentary).
And in the places where Rashi cites an “Aggadah” - it is because, as Rashi himself states,
“But I have come only to give the plain meaning of (Scripture and) the Aggadah which serves to resolve the words of Scripture in a way which fits those words”.
This means that Rashi cites an Aggadah solely:
Whereas, in the places where the verse can be translated quite literally, without difficulty – Rashi does not cite an “Aggadah” (nor even an Aggadah which “suits” (פאסט) the wording of Scripture “in a way which fits those words”.
According to this, there is a great puzzlement regarding a verse in our Parsha, where we find that (most of) the commentators, who explain the literal (Pashtanim), explain it simply. Yet specifically Rashi explains it (seemingly) according to homily (דרש).
Among the first statements that Bilaam said, in praise of Yidden, is the verse (Num. 23:9):
“For from the top of the rocks (or mountain peaks) I see them, and from the hills I behold them: it is a nation that will dwell alone etc.” (מראש צורים אראנו).
The commentators (Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, Ramban, Ralbag and others) explain the words:
“From the top of the mountain peaks I see them” - literally:
Namely, that Bilaam was then standing on a mountain peak (ראש צורים), from which he saw the Yidden (אראנו) and upon seeing them praised them saying: “it is a nation that will dwell alone etc.”
Rashi, however, cites the words, “From the top of the mountain peaks I see them” (מראש צורים אראנו) and explains according to the Midrash:
“I look at their origins and the beginning of their roots, and I see them established and powerful, like these mountains and hills, through their Patriarchs and Matriarchs”.
This is completely not understood:
Why does Rashi abandon the simple meaning of “From the top of the mountain peaks I see them” and explain the words according to homily/derash?
2. The commentators explain, that according to the simple explanation, it is problematic. For why is it relevant to tell us where Bilaam was standing at that time? Therefore, they say (and the Midrash expounds) that even the words, “From the top of the mountain peaks etc.” is a part of the praises that Bilaam stated regarding the Yidden.
However, according to the style of Pshat, this is not a question, at all. On the contrary – from the flow of the verses, it is (seemingly) very necessary to translate it literally:
After Bilaam concluded the first statements of praise and blessing on the Yidden, Balak said to Bilaam,
"What have you done to me? I took you to curse . . but you have blessed them! . . Come with me to another place from where you will see them; however, you will see only a part of them, not all of them etc. “
From this it proves (געדרונגען) that Balak meant that the reason why Bilaam previously blessed the Yidden, was because he saw “all of them”.
Where does it state previously that Balak saw all of Am Yisroel?
(For on the contrary, before this it expressly states:
“And in the morning Balak took Balaam and led him up to Bamot Baal, and from there he saw part of the people”?)
However, if we translate, “From the top of the mountain peaks I see them” - literally - it is not a question. Bilaam himself said and emphasized, “From the top of the mountain peaks I see them (all)”. Moreover, he said it as a preface (and explained hintingly) to the blessing in the continuation of the speech.
Therefore, it comes out that specifically according to the simple translation of, “From the top of the mountain peaks I see them” is the continuation of the verses understood.
3. One must also understand Rashi’s wording:
The source of Rashi’s comment, that the verse is speaking of the establishment (גרונטיקייט) and strength of the Yidden due to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs - is in the Midrash.
However, there the wording is:
The foundation of this homily is that we find that the “Avot” are called (in many verses) “mountains”.
(or “rock” (צור), as it states in Yeshaya: “look at the rock (צור) whence you were hewn . . Look at Avraham your father etc.”)
It is not understood:
“Through (ע"י) the Patriarchs and Matriarchs” not like the Midrash, “these are the Patriarchs. . these are the Matriarchs”?
However, when one closely examines Rashi’s wording, it proves, on the contrary, that Rashi indeed wishes to differ and not explain like the Midrash that:
“mountain peaks” - these are the Patriarchs (Avot); “and from the hills”- these are the Matriarchs”,
but rather, as Rashi precisely states in his wording,
“I look at their origins and the beginning of their roots, and I see them – the Yidden - established (in their roots) and powerful, like these mountains and hills”.
In other words, that the Yidden are those (who are strong like) “mountains and hills”; and the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are “from the top (מראש) (of the mountain peaks)”. They are the “beginning” (ראשית) and the “roots” of the Yidden (which make the Yidden “rocks/mountains” (צורים) - strong).
Therefore, Rashi precisely states,
“Through the Patriarchs and Matriarchs”,
not that that the mountains and hills are the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, but rather that becoming a mountain – strength - comes to the Yidden through (their “origins” (ראש) and roots) -the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
However, it remains not clear. This itself require a reason:
Since, in any event, Rashi learns (not like the simple meaning but rather) that, “from the top of the mountain peaks” refers to the strength in connection with the Patriarchs and Matriarchs – why does he change from the Midrash, and instead of learning that “mountains” refers to the Avot,
(and as cited earlier, that this is a complete verse, “look at the rock (צור) . . Avraham your father etc.”)
explains that mountains and hills refer to Yidden, and that the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are just the source-“the top of the mountain peaks” (ראש צורים)?
4. The explanation of this, simply is:
As a preface to Bilaam’s words Scripture states,
“He took up his parable and said”.
Rashi does not explain the word, “his parable” here. From this, it is understood that according to Rashi, the explanation is literal, as it appears. Namely, that Bilaam spoke with a parable, in the simple understanding - “a parable to which this may be compared”.
(As we see in each of the following (triple) statements of Bilaam, where it states “He took up his parable”, that Bilaam praised the Yidden using parables:
The question arises, which of his words, were in the manner of an actual parable?
The beginning of his words,
"Balak the king of Moab has brought me from Aram . . (saying), 'Come‘ . . How can I curse etc.‘?”,
are not a parable, but rather are things that happened.
And the following words of Balak and praise:
“it is a nation that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations”,
are also not a parable.
Seemingly, one could say that “his parable” refers to the (following) words,
“Who counted the dust of Jacob”.
As the commentators explain that this means that due to the tremendous multitude of Yidden, they cannot be counted, similar to the analogy of “dust” which cannot be counted. As it states in a previous verse,
“I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man can count etc.”
Yet, Rashi himself negates this explanation:
On the words, “Who counted the dust of Jacob”, Rashi brings (in his first comment):
“As the Targum renders, “the children of the house of Jacob etc.”
This means that the word “dust” (Jacob) in this verse,
(is not an expression of a parable referring to Yidden, to note their multitude, but rather)
means literally the small children (of Jacob).
(This is due to that which “dust” (עפר, yid. שטויב) is from the wording “dust particles” (עפרורית) Therefore “small children” are called “dust”. Or alternatively since dust (in this verse) is from the wording “a fawn (עופר) of the hinds” which means youth).
It is also certainly literal according to the second explanation of Rashi:
“The number of Mitzvot they fulfill with dust are innumerable”,
where according to this explanation, the translation of “dust” is literal, actual dust. However, it refers to the Mitzvot which one fulfills with dust).
Similarly, also the other words:
“or the number of a fourth of (or, of the seed of) Israel”,
are not a parable. For according to the first explanation of Rashi (according to the Targum) this refers to the four (banners). And according to the second explanation, this refers to the “seed which emanates during their intercourse”.
The only words, among Bilaam’s statements, which can be explained as being a parable are,
“For from the top of the mountain peaks I see them, and from the hills I behold them:”.
For this reason, Rashi does not wish to explain it literally, but rather in the manner of analogy:
“I look at their origins (בראשיתם) . . and I see them established and powerful, like these mountains and hills etc.”.
5. According to this, that Rashi’s explanation is based on the necessity to explain, “from the top of the mountain peaks” as a parable – it also becomes clear why Rashi cannot learn like the Midrash that “from the top of the mountain peaks” refers to the “Avot” (אלו אבות).
(Like in the other verses where the Avot are called “rock” and “mountains”).
For since the word “mountain peaks” is (according to the Midrash) a sobriquet (in Torah) for the Avot, it is therefore not a parable (whose aspect is an example of another thing). Rather, it is a name with which the Avot are called.
Therefore, Rashi must learn that the words “mountains” and “hills”, were said by Bilaam as a parable referring to the strength of the Yidden – that they are “established and powerful, like these mountains and hills” - like physical mountains and hills.
6. According to this, one can explain another comment of Rashi, in our Parsha, that is puzzling:
On the verse:
"Amalek was the first of the nations",
“He came before all of them to make war with Israel, and so Targum Onkelos renders. And his end shall be to perish by their hand, as it says, “You shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek” (Deut. 25:19).
One must understand:
“Considered the first (בראש) of the nations, because they were ‘mighty men, and valiant men for the war’” (Jer. 48:14)
(Thus, translating the word “first” (ראשית) as a praiseworthy expression (note: meaning the best of them, which are counted first, in quality). As we find in a previous comment of Rashi, “’the chief’ spices - of highest quality” (בשמים ראש: חשובים)).
“and his end shall be everlasting destruction”
from a later verse,
“You shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek”
and not from the previous verse:
“I will totally obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens”?
Plainly, the reason is because Rashi wishes to bring a proof that “And his end shall be to perish by their hand” (namely, through Yidden). Therefore, he cites the proof from the verse: “You shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek”.
However, this itself is not understood:
Why must Rashi include the word,
“by their hand”
and thereby be forced to bring a proof from the later verse, “You shall obliterate etc.”? The verse just states, ”his end shall be everlasting destruction", without mentioning through whom this will occur. It could mean that it will be through G-d, as it states, “I will totally obliterate”.
The Maharal, in explaining Rashi’s comment, says that one cannot say that “everlasting destruction" means that it will be “through G-d Himself” (or by itself?) (מעצמו). For “if so, what is the aspect of ‘Amalek was the first of the nations’”? Therefore, Rashi states that this will be “through war with Yisroel”.
However, this answer is seemingly not sufficient:
For how does one know the necessity (דמנ״ל ההכרח), that just as “the first of the nations” refers to (the war with) Yidden, that therefore the end of the verse, “his end shall be everlasting destruction” must also be so – through the Yidden?
One could explain it literally, that since Amalek was the first to wage war with Yidden, his punishment will be “everlasting destruction"– that he will be (completely) destroyed (similar to what it states further regarding another nation, “but he too will perish forever”).
7. One could say that the explanation of this is – similar to the aforementioned:
The verse prefaces,
“When he saw Amalek, he took up his parable and said, "Amalek was the first etc."
To Rashi this is difficult:
Seemingly, there is no parable in this verse. The words, “Amalek was the first of the nations” are simple and clear. Namely, that Amalek is the “first”, the first praiseworthy (in strength) of all the nations, “and his end” – his end will be “everlasting destruction”!
Therefore, Rashi explains,
“Amalek was the first of the nations: He came before all of them to make war with Israel”,
that “First of the nations” here, does not mean the literal explanation. Rather, this is a description (תואר) that evokes, in the manner of an analogy, another thing about Amalek, which does not lie in the plain meaning of the words.
“The first of the nations” alludes to that which “He came before all of them to make war with Israel”. Therefore, the words, “he took up his parable and said” are fitting.
With this, the continuation of Rashi,
“his end shall be to perish by their hand”
is also understood:
Since the words, “Amalek was the first of the nations” is a parable which depicts a unique aspect, namely, in relation to the Yidden, as aforementioned. It is probable that even the continuation, “his end” is understood,
(not (just) literally: “his end” but rather)
as a parable to emphasize a new aspect.
Since the understanding of, “the first . . his end” is a parable, it is probable to say that both are a parable pertaining to the same aspect. There is the “first” and “the end” of one aspect: war between Amalek and Yisroel.
Therefore, Rashi precisely notes,
“his end shall be to perish by their hand”
“His end” is like a conclusion (אויספיר-ענין) of “the first”. Namely, that Amalek was the “the first” in war – to attack the Yidden. Therefore, “his end” will be “to perish by their hand” - in war.
8. From this aforementioned explanation – that according to Rashi,
“from the top of the mountain peaks”
is a parable, one attains an enjoyable (געשמאקער) aspect in “the homiletical aspect” (Yayina Shel Torah) in Rashi’s comment:
The necessity of a parable is specifically when one speaks about an aspect that is (very) deep, and the matter, as it is by itself, cannot be described and explained. Therefore, one gives a parable to it – one finds another aspect in which one can have an understanding and picture, whose subject has a semblance and is analogous to the lesson (הנמשל). Through this, one can achieve (somewhat of an) understanding of the lesson (הנמשל).
The same is in our case:
Bilaam’s words that the Yidden are, “powerful, like these mountains and hills” is just a parable. For the true strength and power of Yidden (which they receive “from the Patriarchs and Matriarchs”) is completely incomparable to the power of “mountains and hills”. It is a much higher power that Balak cannot picture. However, in order for him to have somewhat of an understanding and grasp of this, he was given a parable of “these mountains and hills”.
9. The explanation of this is:
The true strength of a Yid is not, “the hands (are the hands of Esav)” – the power of the body and the strength of one’s hand. Rather, it is his spirituality – the powers of the soul, and primarily the power of one’s Mesirat Nefesh which overwhelms (איבערוועלטיקט) all of one’s powers,
(even the physical - “the hands”) -
He sacrifices it all.
In the levels of the soul, this is, as the Tzemach Tzedek explains:
“The top of mountain peaks” (ראש צורים) alludes to the level in the soul, of which each Yid has the preparedness,
“To sacrifice his soul for the sanctification of G-d’s Name, without any reason or comprehension .. Therefore, it is called “The top of mountain peaks” which is very powerful level”.
This power of a Yid, is his faith in G-d, for which a Yid is prepared to have Mesirat Nefesh for the sanctification of G-d’s Name, “not to deny G‑d’s unity”; and in a manner of “as though it were absolutely impossible to renounce the one G‑d”.
This is why Rashi says:
“I look at their origins . . I see them established and powerful . . through their Patriarchs and Matriarchs”.
For this “power” of Mesirat Nefesh for the sanctification of G-d’s Name, has been inherited from the Patriarchs (and Matriarchs).
This very power of Mesirat Nefesh is exactly the opposite of the understanding of “power” with regard to the aspects of the world.
The boundary of the world is - existence and being (פאראנענקייט און ומציאות). A strong thing in the world means that the existence of the thing is strong (בתוקף).
However, the aspect of Mesirat Nefesh is the opposite, one is completely nullified (מבטל), one gives himself completely over to G-d.
Therefore, the Alter Rebbe explains that the power to have Mesirat Nefesh comes from that which the “One G-d” (בה' אחד) illuminates each Yid (in one’s soul, which is a “veritable portion of G-d Above“).
From this, a Yid is imbued with the aspect of faith and Mesirat Nefesh. For Mesirat Nefesh is contrary to the nature of a created being – a created being does not do something which will destroy himself (his being). Rather, the power to have Mesirat Nefesh is a G-dly power and strength.
This is the continuation of the verse:
“For from the top of mountain peaks I see them . . it is a nation that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations”.
This power of Yidden (“mountains”) is in a manner which makes them completely “alone”,
(higher. So much so, that they are completely)
not in the scope of all the nations – as it states, they “will not be reckoned among the nations”.
10. This is the explanation of Rashi’s words:
“I look at their origins . . and I see them (the Yidden) established and powerful. . through their Patriarchs and Matriarchs.”
Namely, that the power of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs will be given to the Yidden (until the end of all the generations), without changes.
If the verse would have been speaking about a strength, as a created being, it is not applicable that the power should be given from generation to generation, in the same manner. For according to nature, a thing becomes weaker and weaker through the course of time.
However, since this power of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs is taken by which they are illuminated by the “One G-d”, and this is what is bestowed to “their descendants after them, forever”. In this, there are no changes. This is given over with the same power to each Yid until the end of all the generations, in a manner of “I have not changed “.
M’Sichas Shabbat Parshat Chukat-Balak 5732
|Date Modified:||Date Reviewed:|