1.

An interesting observation about Parshat, Balak and the preceding two, Chukat and Korach, is that they all have the letter kuf (ק) in the name. Korach in the beginning (קרח). Chukat in the middle (חקת) and Balak at the end (בלק).

The significance of this may be the following:

The letter "ק" is the first letter of the word kedushah — holiness (קדושה). The kufs at the beginning, middle and end represent past, present and future.

Korach’s attachment to holiness was a thing of the past. His genealogy is traced to Yaakov.

When one is defiled he is detached from holiness. Through being sprinkled with the ashes of the red heifer he now becomes cleansed of his defilement and thus regains his sanctity.

Balak’s attachment to holiness was a matter of the future. Among his future descendants would be Ruth, who was the ancestor to King David and Mashiach.

That Balak knew of this “yichus” is obvious from the word­ing of the message he sent with his agents to Bilaam. He instructed them to say the following “V’atah lechah na arah li et ha’am hazeh ki atzum hu mimeni” — “So now I beseech you, come and curse this people for me, for it is too powerful for me” (22:6).

Superficially, there are two difficulties with the way he expressed himself. Firstly, the word “li” — “for me” — seems superfluous; would it not have been sufficient to say, “Come and curse this people”?

When Balak sent his request to Bilaam he said “ki atzum hu mimeni — “for he is too powerful for me.” Since he was talking about the Jewish community he should have spoken in plural: “ki atzumim heim mimenu — “for they are more powerful than us.”

Moshe was commanded by Hashem not to be at enmity with Moav and not to contend with them in battle (Devarim 2:9). They merited this because a Moabite woman, the pure and righteous Ruth, would be the ancestor of King David and Mashiach (Bava Kamma 38b). According to the Gemara (Sotah 47a) Ruth was the daughter of King Eglon, who was a descendant of Balak, king of Moav (see Nazir, 23b, Tosafot).

Balak, the king of Moav hated the Jewish people and wanted to hurt them in any way possible. Consequently, he called upon Bilaam and beseeched him “arah li” — “curse me” — “pray that something catastrophic happen to me, and thus, there will be no Ruth, no David and no Mashiach. The lack of King David and Mashiach, G‑d forbid, would be the greatest curse against the Jewish people.

In accordance with the above, that Balak’s concern was to prevent the existence of King David, he asked for a curse against himself because he feared King David’s future power. Moav was destined to be destroyed by him (see 24:17 and II Samuel 8:2), but with Balak wiped out, King David would never be born.

He intentionally used the singular “Atzum hu mimeni because he meant that David’s strength is inherited — “mimeni” — “from me — since he is my descendent” — through Ruth.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, our parshah starts with alluding to Ruth (the kuf at the end of the name Balak) and towards the end Bilaam confirms that the arrival of David and Mashiach is imminent, and there is no way that he can stop Ruth’s existence. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you a beautiful message about Yiddishkeit that was conveyed to Ruth.

After Naomi’s sons died she decided to return from her sojourn in the fields of Moab to Bethlehem in Judea, and she encouraged her daughters-in-law to return to their native land. Orpah followed her advice, but Ruth decided to remain with her and accept her way of life. To all Naomi’s efforts to discourage her, she valiantly proclaimed “Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back from following you, for ba’asher teilchi eilech — wherever you go, I will go” (Ruth 1:16).

According to halachah, (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dei’ah 268:2), a prospective convert is informed of some difficult and some easy Torah laws. Therefore, the Midrash Rabbah (2:22) says that Naomi told Ruth, “It is not the custom of daughters of Israel to go to theaters,” to which she responded, “For wherever you go I will go.”

Why did Naomi particularly select this halachah?

Torah teaches the way of life for the Jew. Unfortunately, many people observe some of the traditions they find pleasant and enjoyable, but avoid committing themselves entirely to the ways of Torah. For instance, some will eat challah and gefilte fish on Friday night, but not observe Shabbat according to halachah. Some will eat latkes on Chanukah but fail to light the Chanukah Menorah. Some come to synagogue to hear the beautiful voice of the chazzan, but not to actually pray to Hashem or listen to the Torah reading. (There are many other examples to cite, but I will not elaborate here.)

Naomi, in preparing Ruth for her conversion, was conveying a basic principle about Yiddishkeit, Torah and mitzvot. It should not be viewed as a theatrical performance, and one should not observe only what is pleasant or interesting. It is a way of life which demands full dedication at all times and under all circumstances.

Ruth, fully comprehending her mother-in-law’s message, responded, “For wherever you go I will go” — i.e. “My approach to Torah and mitzvot will resemble yours; I will go about in yiddishkeit the same way as you do.”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, it is our fervent wish and prayer that during your entire life your attachment to Torah and Yiddishkeit will be with the utmost of dedication and devotion. Mazal Tov.


2.

In Bilaam’s debut to satisfy Balak to cast a curse on the Jewish people he makes reference to tzurim — rocks — and geva’ot — hills. To quote him he said “Ki meirosh tzurim ar’enu umigeva’ot ashurena” — “I see them from the head of rocks. I look at them from hills” (23:9). There are a number of explanations to what and whom he was referring to.

The simple one is that he was describing his location. He was standing on a high place, on the head of rocks and looked at them from hills, and had a very good view of all the Jewish people (Ramban).

Rashi, (according to the Rebbe in Likkutei Sichot, vol. 28), explains that Bilaam was citing tzurim and geva’ot in his parable as a metaphor for the spiritual strength of the Jewish people. He was saying “Meirosh — I look at the “head” and beginning, i.e. at their roots — and I see that thanks to the spiritual powers inherited from their Patriarchs and Matriarchs they are well founded and powerful [in their faith] and are tenaciously attached to Hashem, like these rocks and hills.”

The Midrash (Bamidbar 20:19) says he was referring to the Patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and the Matriarchs Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. He calls them tzurim — rocks — and geva’ot — hills respectively, and their zechut — merit — stands the Jewish people in good stead and is a source of their strength and his inability to curse them.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of the Lubavitch dynasty said “Men darf leben mit der tzeit” — “One should live according to the times” which was explained to mean one should live according to the parshah of the week. Namely, one should derive lessons and guidance for his daily life from the portion of the week.

Thus, when we gather here to celebrate the milestone you have reached, I feel it appropriate to apply the pasuk we are discussing to our time and say “Meirosh tzurim ar’enu umigeva’ot ashurenu” — your luck and Divine gift is that Hashem gave you such wonderful avot and imahot — parents and grandparents — who have raised you in the ways of Torah and Chassidut. They have fortified you with the spirit and strength to be a dedicated, proud member of Klal Yisrael.

The best way for you to remunerate them for what they did to make you the young Talmid Chacham — scholar — and Chassid that you are beginning to be, is by giving them the nachas to see you continue in this path and go meichayil el chayil — from strength to strength — and be a full-fledged Chassid, yirei Shamayim — G‑d fearing Jew — and lamdan — Torah scholar. Mazal tov.


3.

In today’s parshah we learn of the two enemies of the Jewish people who teamed up together. Balak, fearing the powerful people of Israel, commissioned Bilaam to cast a curse upon them. Thus, he would be able to chase the Jews away from his land and spare his people harassment or conquest. Bilaam’s greed for money and aggrandizement got him to agree. His hatred for the Jewish people was far greater, for Balak only sought to drive the Jews away from his land while Bilaam hoped to drive them away from the world — total destruction (see Rashi 22:10).

Fortunately, Hashem intervened on behalf of the Jewish people and in lieu of chanting a curse, Bilaam pronounced a series of blessings while his heart was permeated with a strong desire to curse, but he had no control over his tongue.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 105b) says that “from the blessing pronounced by that wicked man (Bilaam) you can deduce what was in his heart.” The Torah states “and Hashem your G‑d transformed [Bilaam’s] curse into a blessing for you” (Devarim 23:1). This indicates that Bilaam’s blessings were actually the reverse of what he really planned to say. Thus, by examining the blessing, we can extrapolate to Bilaam’s true intentions (Rashi).

Permit me to analyze one of Bilaam’s laudatory remarks about the Jewish people, which I believe conveys an important message to you, my dear Bar Mitzvah.

In his poetic language, Bilaam declared the uniqueness of the Jewish people. He described them as “Hein, am l’vadad yishkon u’bagoyim lo yitchashav” — “Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations” (23:9).

In the sefer Degel Machneh Ephraim by Rabbi Moshe Ephraim of Sudikov (1748-1800). (A grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, the older son of his daughter Odel. His younger brother was Reb Baruch of Mezhebuzh. Before his death he returned from Sudikov to Mezehbuzh and is buried alongside his grandfather), he relates that his grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, once went to a mikveh in a gentile neighborhood. When he came out, he was very careful that a gentile not touch him. While walking he overheard two goyim say one to the other, “be careful not to touch this contaminated (טמא) Jew.” Hearing this he went on to interpret Bilaam’s words to mean, “They are a nation that dwells alone [and does not assimilate with the contaminated goyim, thanks to the fact that] u’bagoyim lo yitchashav — the goyim have little regard for them.”

It could also be said that Bilaam was saying that the success of the Jewish people lies in the fact that they direct their lives according to the teachings of their Torah, “u’bagoyim lo yitchashav” — they do not “reckon” (care or worry about) what the nations of the secular world think or say about them.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, make no mistake: Bilaam is not our friend. He definitely is not out to praise and extol us. He hoped that the Jews would assimilate with the nations of the world and be left with neither nationhood or renown.

Fortunately, Hashem loves us and He converted Bilaam’s evil thoughts of curse into blessing (Devarim 23:6). Consequently, according to both abovementioned interpretations of the words “u’bagoyim lo yitchashav” that Bilaam was forced to say in praise of the Jewish people, Hashem gave us a glimpse of what they think of us and how we can avoid falling into their net.

Hence, if the cunning Yeitzer Hara approaches a Jew and tries to encourage him with the concept of “niheyeh kagoyim” — “let us be like the nations” — arguing that being like them will enhance our relationship and success, one should know that they have no respect or liking for the Jew. And on the contrary, our salvation is our connection to Torah and not pay attention to what they think or say about us.

In lieu of any efforts to satisfy the secular world and hope to gain their recognition, one should rather live the lifestyle Hashem designed for the Jewish people. This will merit one Hashem’s recognition and thus, His blessings begashmiyut uberuchniyut — materially and spiritually.