Parshat Balak: Pilgrimage Power

7 07 2011

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Parshat Balak: Pilgrimage Power

When Bilaam set out on his donkey on a mission to curse the Jews, Hashem sent an angel to block the animal’s path.  Bilaam struck the donkey three times. The Torah then writes that the animal opened its mouth and complained, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me shalosh regalim-three times?” The commentators ask, why does the Torah use the peculiar expression regalim and not p’eamim? The donkey was warning Bilaam, “You will not be successful, as the nation you are trying to destroy celebrates the shalosh regalim, and it will be impossible to decimate them.”

Rav Yosef Albo writes that our tradition rests on three principal beliefs- the existence of Hashem, the divine origin of the Torah, and reward and punishment. Sukkot is recognizing Hashem’s existence and his involvement in our lives, Shavuot is the divinity of the Torah, and Pesach is  reward and punishment-i.e. the punishment of the Egyptians and the reward of the Jews. The donkey wasn’t referring to practical observance, but the acceptance of the three fundamental principles implicit in these festivals.

If we look deeper we find that these three holidays teach us emunah and bitachon. The Taam v’daat says that when a Jew would make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem he was not afraid to leave his property unguarded. He relied on Hashem. Emunah is knowledge in theory, bitachon is faith in practice. The shalosh regalim were not only a manifestation of emunah but demonstrated belief in Hashem in a very practical way. Shem Mishmuel says this is the difference between the Jews and non-Jews. While non-Jews may want a relationship with Hashem, they will forgo it in favor of their own pleasures. For Jews, closeness to Hashem is more precious than anything.

The real test of measuring how pure your motivation is when you perform a mitzva, is how much simcha you have when you do it. The Jewish people went up to Yerushalayim with passion and joy. Bilaam blessed the Jews, “Hen am k’lavi“-They are like a lion. Rav Rice explains that the Jewish people pounce upon mitzvoth like a lion hungry for its prey.  Napoleon’s war campaign was successful because he made sure that his soldiers were well dressed and fed. But his real secret was that he placed a klezmer band within each unit so that his troops would fight with electric energy.  Any war or struggle, even against the evil inclination, can be vanquished through simcha. Happiness opens the pathways inside of us to be ourselves. If we work on taking away the sadness, simcha will automatically enter.

 The second leg is middot. The Beer Moshe says Bilaam had three evil traits-a bad eye, a haughty spirit, and a wide soul. Corresponding to this, the Jewish people have three positive character traits, mercifulness, bashfulness, and kindness. The three avot, forefathers, represent these middot.  Avraham is chesed, Yitzchak is bashfulness, and Yaakov is merciful. If you are kind you cannot have a negative eye, if you are bashful, you cannot be desirous, and if you are merciful you cannot be haughty. Sukkot celebrates a time of mercy. Pesach negates desire which leads to bashfulness. Shavuot is chesed. When the Jewish people went up to Yerushalayim and left their fortunes behind they were saying, life is not about our material world. When a person has his priorities in order, his negative middot fall by the wayside.

The third leg is kedusha (holiness). The Shivielie Pinchas writes that Bilaam lifted his face towards the desert where the Jews had sinned with the Golden Calf. He hoped this gesture would help him destroy them. The influence of chait ha’egel is found in every generation, but Hashem in His chesed gives us a means of annulment through batel b’shishim. The sin took six hours. The moadim total fifteen days, 15×24=360, 60×6=360 hours of kedusha.  The three festivals of sanctity nullify the six hours of distance. Fifteen days of total connection to Hashem and of living life enveloped in sanctity gave us the invincible strength to overcome Bilaam’s evil designs.




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