Classic Questions

What did Balak "see"? (v. 22:2)

Rashi: He said: "If these two kings [Sichon and Og] in whom we placed our trust could not stand up to [the Jewish people], then we certainly cannot." Therefore, "Mo'av became terrified" (v. 3).

Sifsei Chachamim: Rashi was troubled about why the verse states that only "Balak saw everything that Israel had done to the Amorites." Surely others also saw?

Rashi thus explains that it was Balak in particular who meditated upon the significance of what had happened, and therefore the Torah describes him as the one who truly "saw" what had happened.

Gur Aryeh: Rashi is teaching us that verses 2 and 3 are connected: "Balak...saw everything that Israel had done to the Amorites—and therefore—Mo'av became terrified of Israel." For if one does not interpret scripture in this way, what is verse 2 teaching us?

The Rebbe's Teachings

The Fear of Balak & Mo'av (v. 2-3)

In his comments on verse 2, Rashi explains the connection between verses 2 and 3: It is precisely because "Balak... saw everything that Israel had done to the Amorites" that "Mo'av became terrified of Israel," (as Gur Aryeh writes).

However, this fact appears to be obvious even without Rashi, as Gur Aryeh himself notes: "If one does not interpret scripture in this way, what is verse 2 teaching us?" Verse 2 does not appear to stand on its own; it merely records Balak's observation without his subsequent conclusion or reaction. Therefore, the only reasonable explanation for the sequence of verses 2 and 3 would appear to be that Mo'av's terror in verse 3 was the result of Balak's observation in verse 2.

What, then, is Rashi adding here that the reader could not have understood for himself?

According to Sifsei Chachamim, verse 2 teaches us that Balak alone meditated on the significance of what had happened ("Balak... saw") and he thus alerted the people to the apparent danger at hand (in verse 3).

However, it is difficult to accept at the literal level that the Jewish people's defeat of Sichon and Og was appreciated as a military threat only by Balak and not by his people. Why would this require special meditation or deep thought?

The Explanation

Verse 3 states the reason for the Mo'avite people's fear: "Mo'av became terrified of Israel because they were numerous." Clearly, the large population of the Jewish people was known to Mo'av well before the war against Sichon, especially as the Jewish people "had passed round the southern and eastern sides of the land of Mo'av" (Rashi on Bamidbar 21:13) before the war.

So verse 3 appears to be speaking of an occurrence before verse 2: Verse 3 describes the general fear that Mo'av had for the Jewish people even before they defeated Sichon and Og, whereas verse 2 describes Balak's fear that arose after the Jewish people's victory: "Balak...saw everything that Israel had done to the Amorites."

Since "the Torah is not in chronological order" (Rashi to Bereishis 6:3), it is conceivable that verse 3 could predate verse 2. On the other hand, at the literal level it is preferable to presume that Torah is in chronological order unless there is a good reason that indicates otherwise.

Thus, in our case, Rashi understood that it would be more appropriate to accept that verses 2 and 3 are, in fact, in chronological order, and so he explains that Mo'av's terror (verse 3) was indeed a result of the Jewish military victories which Balak saw (verse 2).

What Only Balak Saw

However this begs the question: Why does verse 2 stress that only Balak saw the Jewish people's victories? Surely this would have been public knowledge to all the people of Mo'av?

To answer this question, Rashi writes, "He said, 'If these two kings [Sichon and Og] in whom we placed our trust could not stand up to [the Jewish people], then we certainly cannot.'"

Here, Rashi is referring to a prior statement he made in Parshas Chukas, to explain why "Sichon did not permit Israel to pass through his borders" (21:23). Rashi writes that this was "because all the Cana'anite kings paid him a levy for protecting them against invading armies. Thus, when Israel said to him, 'Let me pass through your land' (ibid. v. 22), he said to them, 'My entire purpose is only to protect them from you, so how can you say such a thing?' [Thus] 'he went out...toward Israel' (ibid. v. 23)."

Now, if it had been public knowledge that the Cana'anite kings paid Sichon a levy to protect their borders, then the Jewish people would never have made a futile request to "let me pass through your land." Evidently, the non-Jewish kings kept Sichon's protection a secret among themselves.

Thus, when Balak saw Sichon and Og defeated by the Jewish people, he realized that the national security of Mo'av was threatened, since Sichon and Og were the "two kings in whom we placed our trust." However, since the levy to Sichon and Og was not public knowledge, the people of Mo'av would not have been aware of the significance of what had occurred.

And since the Jewish people circumvented the entire land of Mo'av, it appeared that they were not planning to attack Mo'av at all. Consequently, the size of the Jewish people and their victory over Sichon and Og were not likely to have been the cause of significant concern to the people of Mo'av. So verse 2 stresses that Balak alone "saw everything that Israel had done to the Amorites," for he alone realized its implications for the security of Mo'av.

Thus when Rashi innovated that verses 2 and 3 have a cause and effect relationship (as explained above), he was informing the reader that Mo'av's terror in verse 3 was caused by Balak's making his own personal knowledge and fears public, i.e., that Sichon and Og had actually been paid to protect Mo'av. And then "Mo'av became terrified of Israel, because they were numerous." Beforehand, the size and military might of the Jewish people had not been perceived as a threat to the Mo'avites, because they did not see Israel as an enemy; but when Balak suggested to them that Israel was indeed an enemy, and the only reason they had not attacked before was because of Sichon and Og's protection, "Mo'av became terrified of Israel."

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 8, p. 141ff.)