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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Balak (Pinchas in Israel)

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The Torah portion of Balak tells[1] of Bilam’s numerous attempts to curse the Jewish people. G-d did not allow him to utter any curses and instead forced him to bless the Jewish people. As the verse says, “And G-d did not desire to listen to Bilam, and G-d transformed the curses to blessings because G-d loves you.”[2]

Blessings of Simple People

The fact that G-d did not allow Bilaam to curse the Jews and insisted that he bless them indicates that even the blessing or curse of a wicked man can have power. For this reason, our sages say,[3] “Never consider the blessing of a simple person insignificant as two leaders of their generations were blessed by simple people and their blessings were fulfilled.” These two leaders were King David and the prophet Daniel.

King David and Aravna and the Purchase of the Temple Mount

The book of Shmuel II[4] recounts how, towards the end of King David’s reign, there was a plague that devasted the Jewish people. (This was a punishment for the improper counting of the Jewish people taken by King David and his general Yoav.) 70,000 people died of the plague throughout the land of Israel. The angel of death then came to Jerusalem intending to destroy its inhabitants. G-d, in His mercy gave David a way to avert the punishment: the prophet Gad informed King David that he could appease G-d’s wrath by purchasing a particular field and offering sacrifices there. This site belonged to the local king of the Jebusites whose name was Aravna, and it later became the site of the first and second temple. (This Jebusite tribe were not part of the seven nations which the Jewish people were commanded to eradicate. They were descendants of the Phillistines who had accepted upon themselves to keep the seven Noahide Laws. King David therefore chose to allow them to live in Jerusalem rather than eradicate them[5]. Some say that Aravna had been the king of the Jebusites up until King David conquered Jerusalem. From that time on the Jebusites, including Aravna, were considered subjects of King David. Still, out of respect, the prophet referred to him as a king.
Although Aravna offered the field for free, King David insisted on paying full price for it. In fact, David, as the conquering king, could have taken the field by force, but he did not want the future Bait HaMikdash to be built on property that anyone could later claim as their own. In addition, King David wanted all of the Jewish people to have a portion in the area of the Bait HaMikdash.[6] Aravna included in the sale his oxen, his threshing tools[7] and the wheat he had been threshing. He then blessed King David and said, “May G-d accept your sacrifice.” King David proceeded to offer the oxen as sacrifices to G-d while using the plowing tools as fuel and the flour as a meal offering. Indeed G-d accepted his offering, and a fire descended from Heaven and consumed it. More importantly, G-d instructed the angel to return his sword to his sheath, and that was the end of the plague. Thus, the blessing of (the non-Jewish) Aravna to David, King of Israel, was fulfilled.

Daniel, King Belshatzar, and the Lions[8]

After the Babylonian royal house was exterminated, the Median king Darius assumed control of Mesopotamia. Darius appointed 123 advisors and was considering appointing his wisest advisor Daniel as his main advisor. (Daniel, was a descendant of the house of King David and had been an advisor to the Babylonian kings after being taken into captivity by them.) The other advisors were jealous of Daniel and sought to get rid of him. So they prevailed upon the king to sign a decree that for the first 30 days of his reign no one may pray to any deity or make any request to any man but to the king (Darius) himself. Anyone who disobeyed was to be thrown into the lion’s den. In addition, by the law of the land, the king had no right to pardon any offenders of this law. They did this knowing that Daniel was wont to pray to G-d three times a day, and they expected that he would continue his practice despite the decree. Indeed, Daniel continued to pray to the Almighty three times a day while facing Jerusalem. His enemies made sure to report this to the king. Although the king was very fond of Daniel, he had no choice but to have Daniel thrown into the lion’s den. Before doing so, however, he blessed him and said, “May the G-d to whom you constantly pray, save you.” He then had him thrown in the pit, and he sealed it with a stone so that Daniel’s enemies could not kill him themselves.
That night the king went to sleep without eating dinner. He was so disturbed that he could not sleep. He rose early in the morning, removed the stone from the pot and called out in a sad voice, “Daniel, worshipper of the living G-d, was the G-d to whom you constantly pray, able to save you?” Daniel answered and said, “May the king live forever! G-d sent an angel who closed the mouths of the lions. They did not injure me at all. This is a sign that I never sinned against you.” (This was a fulfillment of the king’s blessing.) The king was overjoyed. He had Daniel brought up from the pit and had his enemies thrown down in his place. Before even reaching the bottom of the pit, they were ripped to shreds by the lions. The king wrote a letter describing this miracle and sent it to all of the lands under his control. Once again, the blessing of a simple (see below as to why these kings were called simple) person given to a great leader among the Jewish people was fulfilled.

Curse of a Simple Person

Conversely, the Talmud continues, one should also not take the curse of a simple person lightly. As King Pharaoh cursed our matriarch Sarah by saying that her eyes should be covered[9] and indeed later her son Yitzchak became blind in his old age.[10]

How Simple is Simple?

The Rashba was asked how the blessing or curse of a truly simple person could have any effect? He explained that when the Talmud says a “hedyot/simple person,” it means a person who has good qualities but is of a lower stature than the person receiving the blessing.[11]
Others hold[12] that it goes without saying that the blessing of every Jew is effective. This can be learned from the blessing given by the old women to Naomi in the merit of which the House of David was able to survive.[13] Even the gentiles know that the blessing of a Jew is effective.[14] The point of the above Talmudic teaching is that even the blessing of a non-Jew, can have a positive effect.

How do we Know?

The Maharsha questions how we know that it was the blessings of Aravna and Darius (and the curse of Pharaoh) that were effective? Perhaps G-d saved Jerusalem in the merit of King David’s sacrifice, and Daniel in his own merit and struck Isaac with blindness for other reasons?
He explains that if this were the case, the Torah would not inform us of these blessings and curses. The reason the Torah informs us is indicate that there is a causal relationship between these blessings and the success (and failures) of the recipients.

How Does It Work?

The commentaries explain that a blessing can be effective even if the recipient isn’t deserving simply because G-d is kind and beneficent even to those who are undeserving. But, they ask, how can a curse be effective if the recipient of that curse has done no harm? And if he has sinned, then he deserves punishment regardless of the curse.
The Ohr HaChaim[15] explains that even if a person has sinned, G-d is often patient and delays punishment in the hope that the person repents. If another person utters a curse, however, this can hasten the punishment and cause it to come sooner.

Seek Out Blessings[16]

King Solomon said,[17] “One with a good eye will be blessed.” According to our sages[18] this verse also means that one with a good eye is quick to bless others. One who blesses others is blessed as the verse says, “I will bless those that bless you.”[19] Whereas one who (G-d forbid) curses another Jew is damaging his own soul. As the above verse continues, “And those who curse you will be cursed.” One should therefore always seek to bless other Jews as it is possible that it is an auspicious time and his blessing will be fulfilled.

Same to You

When one receives a blessing, one should say to the person who bestowed it, “And the same for you/Vechen LeMar.” This is evident from the following story in the Talmud:[20]
The Talmud tells how Rav once blessed Rav Huna with great wealth to the extent that he be clothed in silk. This blessing was fulfilled and Rav Huna became wealthy. On one occasion he was actually covered with silk. On the wedding day of his son, Rav Huna, who was short, fell asleep on the couch. His daughters and daughters-in-law didn’t notice him there and threw their silk garments on him. Thus, the blessing was even fulfilled in a literal sense. When Rav heard that his blessing was completely fulfilled he was upset at Rav Huna. He said, “Why didn’t you bless me by saying ‘Vechen LeMar/and the same by you’ when I blessed you?” (Rav meant since his blessing was fulfilled it was evident that the time that he uttered the blessing was an auspicious hour. Had Rav Huna said “VeChen LeMar” the blessing would have also been bestowed on Rav as well.

Don’t Fight

The Pele Yo’etz advises that in order to avoid being cursed by others (which can be effective, as explained above) one should refrain from fighting with another Jew.

Bless G-d First

The Zohar[21] recommends that before giving a blessing to a fellow man one should first bless G-d. For example, one should say “May Hashem’s name be blessed. And may He, in His mercy, guard you from all evil.”

Mean What You Say

The Pele Yo’etz points out that one who gives a blessing should mean what he is saying in order for it to be fulfilled. For example, when saying “Shalom Aleichem,” one should think that the other person should be blessed with peace. When saying “Shabbat Shalom,” one should think that, in the merit of Shabbat, the person should be blessed with peace.

Seek Out Blessings[22]

One should seek the blessings of poor people since the verse says,[23] “G-d hears the poor.” Similarly, one should seek to be blessed (and never cursed) by Torah scholars and by one’s parents.
May we merit to bless and be blessed!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!
Copyright 2019 by Rabbi Aryeh Citron
[1] Numbers, chapters 22-24
[2] Deut. 23:6
[3] Megillah 15a
[4] Chapter 24. The story is also recounted in Divrei HaYamim (Chronicles) I, chapter 21 with some added details.
[5] Radak on Shmuel II, ibid
[6] Yalkut Me’am Loez
[7] According to one opinion in the Talmud (Menachot 22a), only new wood may be used for fuel on the Altar. This opinion explains the above story by saying that the threshing tools which Aravna gave to King David were new and had not yet been used. Some say (Abaye in Zevachim 116b) that the above rule only applies to the regular communal altar and not to the one built by David which was considered (for the time being) to be a private altar.
[8] Daniel, Chapter 7
[9] See Gen. 20:16. This is not the literal meaning of the verse. See Rashi there.
[10] Gen. 27:1
[11] Responsa vol. 5, Siman 50
[12] Meromei Sadeh by Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin on Megillah ibid
[13] See Ruth 4:14 and Yalkut Shimoni on the verse.
[14] See Yoma 54b
[15] Number 23:8
[16] Pele Yo’etz, Erech Brachot
[17] Mishlei 22:9
[18] Sotah 38b
[19] Gen. 12:3
[20] Megillah 27b
[21] Vol. 1 page 227
[22] Peleh Yo’etz
[23] Tehillim 70:34
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach from the Holy City of Yerushalayim!

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