Rav Moshe Tersky Hy”d On Parshas Balak

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By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

Uniqueness of “Parshas Bilam”        וישם ה’ דבר בפי בלעם    כג:ה

Moshe Rabbeinu wrote his sefer,” says the Gemara in Bava Basra, “and parshas Bilam.”  This seems like quite an enigmatic statement.  After all, what should distinguish “parshas Bilam” from any other part of the Torah?  What is distinct and unique about it?

There is a famous statement of Chazal on the pasuk, “v’lo kam navi od b’Yisrael k’Moshe (V’Zos Ha’Brachah 34:10).”  Chazal elaborate: b’Yisrael lo kam aval b’umos ha’olam kam…zeh Bilam, in the Jewish nation there will never arise another navi like Moshe but amongst the Gentiles there will…this is referring to Bilam (Medrash Rabbah, parshas Nasoh, 14:20).  Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin explains what this means as follows. The Gemara (in perek Ha’nechenakin) says that no two neviim prophesy with the same exact style and words.  The reason for this is that nevuah, in general, is not a word for word communication from Hashem; rather, there is a mareh nevuah – a prophetic vision – and the navi needs to use his power of intellect and imagination to decipher its meaning.  Nevuah is filtered, to an extent, through the personal understanding of the navi who received it.  Chazal say, just as no two faces are exactly alike, so too no two minds are exactly alike.  As such, no two neviim will say exactly the same thing, because each one has his particular angle involved.  This is what Chazal mean when they say that all neviim besides Moshe Rabbeinu looked through the aspaklarya sheh’einah meirah, the glass that is not perfectly clear.  According to the extent of the purity of the navi’s mind and heart is the extent to which his nevuah will be clearer.  The navi needs to receive the nevuah, interpret it, and then transmit it.  Moshe Rabbeinu, on the other hand, was on such a high level that there was no tint in his glass at all.  As the Ruach Chaim writes, his physical body did not present any chatzitza whatsoever.  Therefore, his nevuah was with 100% absolute clarity.

Now, when the Torah talks about different events that happened and things that various people said, it’s not that Moshe Rabbeinu was recording a historical occurrence.  Rather, Hashem specifically instructed him precisely what to write down in the Torah (and that is what makes those words Torah; that Hashem told him, write such and such in the Torah –Ed.-). Regarding Bilam, his nefesh was so terribly tainted that had he received a prophetic vision like regular neviim, his interpretation would have been so skewed that nothing truthful of the original nevuah would remain.  That being the case, Hashem had no choice, as it were, but to skip that step, and just give him the actual words of the nevuah.  Therefore, when it came time for Moshe to write the words of Bilam’s nevuah, in this one instance, he was in fact recording what already was, because those words were already explicitly stated by Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu, and all Moshe needed to do was to “copy and paste” what was already said (meaning, those words were already Torah even before Hashem instructed Moshe to write them in the Torah, because they were already a direct, word for word communication expressed explicitly by Hashem.  See Rambam in Hilchos Yesodei Ha’Torah 7:6, where he writes, “All prophets…see what they see in a mashal or chidah, Moshe Rabbeinu [though did not receive his nevuah] through a Malach, as it says, ‘peh el peh adaber bo’, and it says, ‘and the word of Hashem was to Moshe face to face’…meaning that there was no mashal, rather he would see the davar clearly without chidah and without mashal…”, see further Pirush Ha’Mishnayos on perek Cheilek in the 13 ikarim in the seventh yesod –Ed.-.)

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Can a nevuah be rescinded?                   ההוא אמר ולא יעשה ודבר ולא יקימנה    כג:יט 

Based on this understanding of the difference between the nevuah of all other neviim and that of Moshe Rabbeinu, we can understand why it is that Chazal say the decree of a regular navi can be rescinded.  Since there is an independent influence mixed into the communication from Hashem – seeing that the navi has to interpret it according to his understanding – it is possible for it to become nullified. The Rambam (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 10:4) says, however, that only a negative prophesy can theoretically not come true (if the people do teshuva, as in Ninveih), but a positive prophesy has to come true.  The reason for this, says the Rambam, is that the Torah explicitly says that the way to know if someone is a false prophet is if his prophesy does not come true (parshas Shoftim 18:22), so there must be a category of nevuah that has to come true no matter what.  And what’s with the Gemara in Brachos (4a) that says Yaakov Avinu was scared of Eisav – despite Hashem having promised him protection – because of “shemah yigrom ha’cheit” (perhaps sin will cause an annulment of the guarantee)?  That is because it was a private communication from Hashem to Yaakov Avinu, not a prophesy to a navi who was commanded to transmit it to the People. The Medrash Tanchuma (in parshas Masei), though, seems to imply not like this Rambam. The Medrash says that the words “lo ish Keil v’yechazeiv” are talking about a positive nevuah, and the words “diber v’lo yekimenah” are talking about a negative nevuah. The Medrash elaborates further that “heref mimeni v’ashmideim” (when Hashem told Moshe “Leave me be and I will destroy them” by the sin of the eigel ha’zahavparshas Eikev 9:14-) is an example of a negative prophesy. “Heref mimeni”, though, was a private communication from Hashem to Moshe, not a nevuah meant to be transmitted to the People (as such, that brings us back to the question of how it could be that Yaakov Avinu was concerned that Hashem’s promise to him could be annulled –Ed.-).  Yeish l‘ayein.

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Are the brachos of Bilam enduring?                 וברך ולא אשיבנה  כג:כ

In the Yalkut it says that everything Klal Yisrael consumes in this world is from the brachos of Bilam.  Bilam’s nevuah encompassed the entire history of Klal Yisrael. This apparently diverges from the Gemara in Sanhedrin which says that all of the brachos of Bilam reverted to curses except for what he said about Shuls and Batei Medrash: “mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov…”.  Yeish l’ayein.

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Is Mashiach near or far?             אראנו ולא עתה אשורנו ולא קרוב  כד:יז

Awaiting Mashiach is counted by the Rambam as one of the 13 ikarei emunah.  The least common denominator of all the various interpretations of the word “mechakeh” (which the Rambam employs in expressing the need to await Mashiach) is knowing that he could come any day.  Beyond that, there is the concept of anticipating his coming.  The Chafetz Chaim would say it is like waiting for a bus in the middle of the day that is running late.  The longer you’ve been waiting, the more certain you are that it’s just around the corner and will arrive any second.  The Baal Ha’Tanya adds that when one davens for the geulah – that is called being mechakeh.  Part of that is knowing that our teffilos can make a difference, that it works. The Daas Zekeinim says that it is Bilam who says “not now, it is not close”, but Moshe says “chash asidos lamo – the future is soon to come”.  By a Goy, a gap in time is like ancient history.  If you talk to a Goy about George Washington, for example, they don’t feel any connection to him or his time period at all.  By a Yid, though, a gap in time does not really mean all that much.  For us, Rabi Akiva Eiger, the Ketzos and the Nesivos, the Nefesh Ha’Chaim…we feel close to them.  Yidden are very clear about the past and the future.  Time does not separate a Yid from the past or from the future.  We live with both the past and the future.  Just look at how all the Rishonim expressed themselves regarding Mashiach’s imminent arrival – they were living in a time that was the lowest of the low for Klal Yisrael, with constant persecution both religious and physical, and yet their words reflect an unmistakable emunah b’chush that Mashiach is just around the corner; as if they are just sitting and waiting for him to come.  Another explanation of the dichotomy between Bilam’s “v’lo karov” and Moshe’s “chash asidos lamo” is the well-known two possibilities that Chazal derive from the words “b’itah achishenah” (Sanhedrin 98a).  Furthermore, even within the b’itah there exists an achishenah, as the Gra says that there are numerous, possible end-points of the galus aside from the definitive, final keitz.

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Quotables

“Always be in the middle of a project – a person should never have to ask himself, “What do I do now?”

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Vignettes

Rav Twersky once expressed the fact that everything in life is meant to serve as a mashal for avodas Hashem.  This was not just something he spoke about, but something he lived.  Passing through the area of Rechov Yirmiyahu one day, Reb Avrohom Twersky remarked to his father how amazing it is that so many buildings are under construction and progressing at such a rapid pace. Whole new neighborhoods sprouting up right before our eyes!  “If they are building,” Rav Twersky responded, “then we should also be building.  And by the time they are finished, we should have completed Maseches Yevamos.”

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{Matzav.com}

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