Parshas Balak - the ingratitude of Bilaam

The medrash says (במדבר רבה כ' י"ד)

"ותרא האתון את מלאך ה' ותלחץ אל הקיר" "ויוסף מלאך ה' עבור" מה ראה לקדמו שלשה פעמים עד שלא נראה לו סימנין של אבות הראה לו. עמד לו בראשונה היה ריוח מכאן ומכאן ותט האתון מן הדרך ותלך. בשנייה לא יכלה לזוז אלא לצד אחד. בשלישית אין דרך לנטות ימין ושמאל.

ומה היו הסימנין האלה, שאילו בקש לקלל בניו של אברהם היה מוצא מיכן ומיכן בני ישמעאל בני קטורה, בקש לקלל בני יצחק היה מוצא בהן צד אחד בני עשו, ותלחץ אל הקיר בניו של יעקב לא מצא בהן פסולת ליגע בהן לכך נאמר בשלישית במקום צר זה יעקב, דכתיב (בראשית ל"ב ט"ו) "וירא יעקב מאד ויצר לו" "אשר אין דרך לנטות ימין ושמאל" שלא מצא פסולת באחד מבניו

The first time the malach stopped Bilaam the donkey was able to go on either side of the road. The second time the malach stopped Bilaam the donkey was only able to go to one side of the road. The third time the malach stopped Bilaam, the donkey stopped because it was unable to go either to the right or to the left.

This hints to the following allusion. Had Bilaam sought to curse the children of Avraham, he could have cursed the children of Yishmael or the children of Keturah. Had he sought to curse the children of Yitzchak then he could have cursed the children of Esav. But when he sought to curse the children of Yaakov he could not find any desultory children to curse. Therefore, the third time the passuk says that he was in a narrow (צר) place, which refers to Yaakov, as the passuk says, “ויירא יעקב מאד וייצר לו”, “And Yaakov was very afraid and he was pained.”

  • Why does the medrash refer to the incident when Yaakov was attacked by Esav in order to prove that Yaakov had no children who Bilaam could curse, why does the medrash not simply conclude that since all of the שבטים were צדיקים, there was no one that Bilaam could curse (unlike ישמאל and עשו)?

  • Why did Yaakov merit that all of his children should be צדיקים, due to his experience of being attacked by Esav?

The passuk says at the end of Parshas Vayetze (פרק ל"א, פסוק מ"ו)

וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב לְאֶחָיו לִקְטוּ אֲבָנִים וַיִּקְחוּ אֲבָנִים וַיַּעֲשׂוּ גָל וַיֹּאכְלוּ שָׁם עַל הַגָּל

“And Yaakov said to his brothers, ‘Gather stones.’

“And they took stones and they made a pile and they ate there by the pile.”

Rashi comments

"לאחיו" - הם בניו שהיו לו אחים נגשים אליו לצרה ולמלחמה

“His brothers – This refers to his sons who were as brothers to him and supported him at a time of travail or war.”

At the beginning of Parshas Vayishlach however, the Torah only refers to the shevatim as Yaakov’s children, and not as his brothers, who would have supported him in time of war. For example, the passuk says

וַיָּקָם בַּלַּיְלָה הוּא וַיִּקַּח אֶת שְׁתֵּי נָשָׁיו וְאֶת שְׁתֵּי שִׁפְחֹתָיו וְאֶת אַחַד עָשָׂר יְלָדָיו וַיַּעֲבֹר אֵת מַעֲבַר יַבֹּק

“And he arose that night, and he took his two wives and his two maidservants and his 11 children and he passed over the ford of Yabok.”
  • If Yaakov was prepared to wage war against Esav, then why does the Torah not refer to his children as his brothers, who would help him in battle, as it does at the end of Parshas Vayetze?

The Torah Ohr explains as follows:

One of the reasons that Avraham’s descendants had to endure galus in Mitzraim was because Avraham used talmidei chachamim to wage war, as the gemara says in Nedarim (31a)

אמר רבי אבהו אמר רבי אלעזר מפני מה נענש אברהם אבינו ונשתעבדו בניו למצרים מאתים ועשר שנים מפני שעשה אנגריא בתלמידי חכמים שנאמר וירק את חניכיו ילידי ביתו

Rabbi Avahu said in the name of Rabbi Eliezer, “Why was Avraham punished by his children being enslaved in Mitzraim for 210 years? Because he used talmidei chachamim to go to war, as the passuk says (when Avraham fought against the four kings) - וירק את חניכיו ילידי ביתו.”

Avraham should have determined that it was not possible that it was the רצון ה' for him to pursue the four kings using talmidei chachamim, because this would cause the talmidei chachamim to stop learning Torah. In other words, even if the outcome of the war would not have been favourable had Avraham not used the talmidei chachamim to fight, that could only have been what ה' wanted to happen. Nevertheless, Avraham did use the talmidei chachamim to wage war against the four kings, and thereby rescued Lot, who afterwards became the forefather of Amon and Moav.

When Yaakov was faced by Esav, he was hesitant to use the שבטים to wage war because he knew that there was already a decree of galus on the benei yisrael due to Avraham having used talmidei chachamim to wage war. Since Yaakov coming back into Eretz Yisrael after having been in galus with Lavan was a portend to the benei yisrael coming back into Eretz Yisrael after having been in galus in Mitzraim, it would not have been possible for Yaakov to repeat the same mistake that Avraham made, which caused the benei yisrael to go into galus initially, in the return to Eretz Yisrael which signified the benei yisrael coming back out of galus in the future. Therefore, Yaakov preferred to refer to the shevatim simply as ילדיו – his children, and not as אחיו – his brothers, who could have helped him in a war against Esav.

The reason that the passuk says “וירא יעקב מאד ויצר לו”, it was difficult for him, specifically, is because Yaakov chose to deal with Esav alone, without enlisting the help of the shevatim to do battle, which resulted in the struggle between Yaakov and the שר של עשו. However, it was exactly in the זכות that Yaakov chose to battle the שר of Esav alone, that Hashem promised him that all of his children, who were תלמידי חכמים whom he had not used in his fight to overcome עשו, would be צדיקים who would merit to return to Eretz Yisrael after being in galus in Mitzraim.

The reason that a malach was sent to stop Bilaam cursing the benei yisrael at the behest of עמון and מואב was because it was not appropriate for עמון and מואב to have a lack of הכרת הטוב to the descendants of Avraham, who had rescued Lot, their forefather.

By stopping Bilaam “בְּמָקוֹם צָר אֲשֶׁר אֵין דֶּרֶךְ לִנְטוֹת יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול” – the malach indicated to Bilaam that
  • He would be unsuccessful in his mission, because Yaakov had rectified the mistake that Avraham had made, by choosing to battle the שר of Esav alone, instead of involving his children, who were תלמידי חכמים, in a war against Esav.
and also that

  • It was inappropriate for מואב and מדין to hire Bilaam to curse the benei yisrael, since the whole reason that the benei yisrael were “הִנֵּה עַם יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם” – was because of a mistake that Avraham had made when he went to rescue their forefather Lot.


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