The name of this week’s Torah reading: Balak, raises a question: Balak was a wicked man, an immoral king who hated the Jewish people and wanted to destroy them. Our Sages state that a person should not be named after a wicked man. Surely, this applies with regard to the name of a Torah portion. Why then is his name immortalized as the title of this week’s reading?

In resolution: The Torah reading relates how Balak hired Bilaam, a perverse and perverted mystic, and asked him to curse the Jewish people. G‑d, however, frustrated Bilaam’s intent. Whenever he sought to call down Divine curses upon the Jewish people, G‑d forced him to shower powerful blessings upon them instead, including blessings which will become manifest with the coming of Mashiach.

Naming the Torah reading “Balak” is a means of negating and transforming the forces associated with him. The name Balak serves as an eternal source of positive influence, frustrating any power that seeks to harm the Jewish people and showing how it can be transformed into blessing and goodness.

This reflects the Torah’s ultimate purpose: not only to protect and safeguard us from undesirable influences, but to transform those very influences into contributory forces, enabling them to play their part in G‑d’s purpose.

This answer, however, raises a further question, for then it would seem appropriate to name the Torah reading Bilaam and not Balak. After all, Bilaam was also an evil man and it was he and not Balak who actually pronounced the blessings upon the Jewish people. Why then is Balak the one whose name is immortalized as the name of a Torah reading?

Herein lies an important lesson: Without Balak, Bilaam wouldn’t have done anything. True, Bilaam hated the Jews, but he would not have bestirred himself to attempt to curse them had not Balak invited him. Moreover, he initially declined Balak’s offer. It was only Balak’s persistence — sending messengers again with an offer that Bilaam could not refuse — that motivated him to come and attempt to curse the Jews. Simply put, Balak was the catalyst. Without him, the story would never have happened.

Naming the Torah portion Balak teaches us that we all have to use the potentials we possess to instigate positive activity. It is not enough to sit back and wait until we have been asked to contribute, to give of ourselves. Like Balak, to be immortalized in our Torah heritage, you have to take the first step.

To initiate something is hard; you have to battle inertia. For that reason, the Torah uses this example to heighten our awareness of the necessity to be proactive. Not only should we respond to our environment in a manner that the Torah desires, we should take steps to change that environment according to the Torah’s guidelines.

Looking to the Horizon

According to Jewish law, the Haftorah portion of the week reflects the content of the Torah reading as a whole. Now the connection between the weekly reading, Parshas Balak, and its Haftorah is obvious. The Haftorah relates how G‑d commands the Jewish people: “My nation, remember the counsel given by Balak, King of Moab, and the response Bilaamthe son of Beorgavehim from Shittim.” Nevertheless, obvious as it is, that point of connection also appears superficial, because seemingly all it does is mention the chief protagonists of the Torah reading. It does not appear to relate to its general theme.

The connection between the two readings stems from the fact that they both deal with an impending transition. The Torah reading, Parshas Balak, speaks of the time when the Jews were “in the plains of Moab, across from Jericho at the Jordan,” ready to enter Eretz Yisrael. And the Haftorah speaks about the time at the beginning of the Redemption when the last preparations for the complete Redemption will take place.

This period of transition will be fraught with challenges. Therefore, the Haftorah tells us: “not [to] hope from man, nor expect from a mortal.” Instead, one’s faith and trust should be focused above.

This enables us to understand the connection to the entry of the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael. In the desert, the people were sustained by manna, i.e., their lives were controlled by a miraculous pattern of existence. It was not possible to err and think that human input could make a difference. Moreover, each day, only enough manna for that day descended, emphasizing how one must have absolute trust in G‑d that He will provide for one’s needs day by day.

In contrast, the entry into Eretz Yisrael brought about the beginning of a new phase of human activity. They had to sow their own crops and earn their livelihood through their own efforts. In such a situation, it is possible for man to err and think that his livelihood depends on other factors and he should “hope in a man.” We are not speaking of a person doing anything forbidden, just thinking that if one works harder and invests his time, energy, and resources properly, he will prosper. Taken simply, that is an improper thought. Instead, a person must appreciate that the same utter reliance on G‑d that prevailed in the desert is still necessary.

Does that mean we should sit idly by and hope for miracles? No; the Torah teaches “G‑d will bless you in all you do,” i.e., that man must “do;” he must create a medium for G‑d’s blessings to be manifest. But why must he “do”? Not because the natural order has any significance in and of itself. It is nothing more than “an ax in the hand of the chopper,” the medium G‑d uses to convey His blessings. True, we must employ that medium — work and indeed, work hard — but realize that the source of our success is not our own efforts, but G‑d’s blessings.

The transition we are to face as we proceed to the ultimate redemption to be led by Mashiach is of a reverse nature. Then, the Jews were departing a miraculous setting and entering a natural one. We, by contrast, will be leaving the state of exile where G‑d’s providence is not openly visible and entering an era when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover up the ocean bed.” “There will be neither famine nor war, envy or competition, for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust.”

At the time of the first entry into Eretz Yisrael, the awareness of G‑d engendered during the journey through the desert was intended to influence the Jews’ conduct as they took possession of the land.Similarly, in our time, the knowledge of the G‑dly nature of existence that will prevail during the era of Mashiach should impact our present lives. For we can experience a foretaste of that future era at present, realizing that we have been granted unique blessings and prosperity due to G‑d’s generosity.