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Balak Summaries

Balak 5778-2018

The would-be curses of Bilaam, that became blessings, have served as a source of great inspiration for the Jewish people throughout the peoples’ challenging history.

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Balak 5777-2017

“Influencing the Will of G-d”

Balaam seems to be able to influence G-d’s will. Despite G-d’s initial decision not to allow him to go with Balak to curse the Jews, he is eventually allowed to go.

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Balak 5776-2016

“Balaam Sees the Kenites”

It is fascinating to see how the Kenites, one small nation, who seems to play a rather insignificant role, has a profound impact on Jewish destiny and on the stage of world history.

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Balak 5775-2015

“Uncovering the ‘Layers’ in the Biblical Narrative”

Students of the Bible need to be keenly aware of the different levels of study and the subtle messages, as they read the words of scripture.

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Balak 5774-2014

“Upstaged by a Donkey”

What are the lessons to be learned from Balaam’s extraordinary confrontation with his own donkey?

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Balak 5773-2013

“Balaam’s Second Vision: Lo, a People that Rises Like a Lion”

The commentators differ widely on the meaning of Balaam’s second vision, in which Balaam compares the Jewish people to a young lion who leaps up and does not rest until it has feasted on its prey.

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Balak 5772-2012

“Balaam, the Sorcerer, Becomes a Prophet”

When Balaam comes to curse the People of Israel, he arrives as a sorcerer. By the time he departs, he is transformed by G-d into a prophet!

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Balak 5771-2011

“Taking the Law Into One’s Own Hand”

In response to a lewd sexual act performed publicly by Zimri and Cozbi, Pinchas the son of Elazar responds zealously, spearing the perpetrators and killing them. How does tradition look upon Pinchas’ decision to take the law into his own hands?

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Balak 5770-2010

“A Nation that Dwells Alone”

There are those who argue that the concept of a nation that dwells alone is a very dangerous and harmful model. On the other hand, the nation that dwells alone is a truly special nation, and that specialness is a great blessing and privilege. When the nations of the world start expecting less of us, then we are in trouble.

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Chukat-Balak 5769-2009

“The Ultimate Value of Human Life”

In the first of this week’s double parashiot, a battle takes place. Described in only three verses, it is a battle between Israel and the Canaanite king of Arad. The commentators suggests that in the battle only a single maidservant is captured from Israel. Israel vows to defeat the enemy, and G-d delivers the enemy into their hands. This obscure battle teaches us about the great lengths that our enemies would go to deceive us and how precious human life is to the people of Israel, regardless of whether the person is Jewish or not.

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Balak 5768-2008

“The ‘Mazal Tov’ Conundrum”

Balaam, the prophet of the nations, states clearly that there is no divination in Jacob and no sorcery in Israel. Yet, we often find references to sorcery and astrology in many mainstream Jewish texts. Given Judaism’s strong stand against sorcery, how can the popular expression “Mazal Tov!” possibly be reconciled?

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Balak 5767-2007

“The Enemy Within”

Who were Balak and Bilaam? According to Midrashic sources, they are both descended from Abraham’s family. Balak was the son of Lot, while Bilaam was Laban’s son and brother to Rachel and Leah. Jewish history has a long pattern of evil emanating from good and good emanating from evil. What accounts for this perplexing pattern?

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Chukat-Balak 5766-2006

“The Sanctity of Human Life”

The laws of the Red Heifer recorded in parashat Chukat seem archaic and antiquated. But, in truth, the ritual of the Red Heifer is an extraordinarily important ritual that drives home the invaluable life lesson regarding the principle of the sanctity of human life and the major role that this principle plays in every aspect of Jewish life and practice.

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Balak 5765-2005

“Bilaam, Prophet to the Nations”

The Midrash says that G-d gave the gentile nations a prophet of the stature of Bilaam so that the nations would not be able to say, “If we had a prophet, we would be as righteous as Israel.” Instead of leading his people to good, Bilaam led the people to evil and corruption. But is it truly Bilaam and others like him who fail, or is it the failure of the Jews to provide a proper role model?

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Balak 5764-2004

“How Goodly are Your Tents O’ Jacob?”

Targum Jonathan, the Aramaic translation of the Torah, says that Bilaam saw the schools of the Jewish people and was moved to say: “How goodly are your tents O’ Jacob?” The “number one” priority in Jewish life is to ensure that committed Jews remain committed. There is no better way of ensuring that commitment, than by providing outstanding intensive Jewish education for our children. If we fail to do so, then our Jewish future is in jeopardy.

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Chukat-Balak 5763-2003

“How to Market G-d!”

In parashat Chukat, the Jewish people, once again challenge G-d by speaking against the Al-mighty and Moses and asking, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness…?” In response to this arrogant display of lack of faith, G-d sends fiery serpents to attack the rebellious hordes, and a large number of people die. To stop the plague, Moses builds a fiery serpent and places it on a tall pole so that all who are bitten will look at the serpent and live. What is the role of this serpent? After all, it seems to be very much akin to voodoo.

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Chukat-Balak 5762-2002

“The Paradox of the Red Heifer”

In the first of this week’s two parashiot, parashat Chukat, we read of the paradox of the Red Heifer whose ashes were used to purify those who were ritually contaminated. The Red Heifer rendered those who were impure, pure, and those that were pure, impure. Perhaps it is teaching us that there is a significant price to pay for trying to improve others. But, we must be prepared to pay that price. It is, after all, the only way to achieve ultimate perfection.

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Balak 5761-2001

“Words of Eternal Truth from the Evil Prophet Bilaam”

Despite Bilaam’s best efforts, his prophecies turn into blessings. While Balak, the king of Moab, is terribly disappointed with Bilaam’s words, Bilaam’s prophecies actually contain amazing and enduring insights into the nature of the Jewish People.

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Chukat-Balak 5760-2000

“History Repeats Itself! Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

According to tradition, the nations of Moab and Midian were mortal enemies. As usual, as we see once again is parashat Chukat, the one thing that unites our enemies is the enmity of Israel, which is greater than their hatred for each other. That pattern has repeated itself throughout Jewish history. Indeed the deeds of the fathers are the signposts for the children.

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