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19 July 2024

Mayim Achronim — Balak

 


Seventeen Tamuz and the Ten Plagues

Next Tuesday is the seventeenth of Tamuz, commemorating a handful of tragedies in Jewish history starting with the shattering of the Tablets following the sin of the Golden Calf. A careful examination of Torah chronology reveals that there may be one more major event that took place at this time, and it involves the Ten Plagues in Egypt. While the Torah describes in great detail how the Ten Plagues came about, it says very little about their timing. All we know is that the final plague upon the firstborn was on the fifteenth of Nisan. Can we work backwards from this point and create an exact timeline of when the Ten Plagues occurred?

The Mishnah (Eduyot 2:10) states that the judgement upon the Egyptians prior to the Exodus took place over a span of 12 months. Moshe arrived in Egypt from Midian around the fifteenth of Nisan, and led his people out of Egypt on that same date one year later. We are given a major timing clue in Exodus 7:25, which states that the first plague of blood lasted one full week. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki, 1040-1105) comments here that the Torah is actually providing us with a general rule: all the plagues lasted a week, just as the first one did. Each plague was followed by a three-week respite (and warnings) before the next plague. That means the Ten Plagues took place over ten months. With this in mind, we can reconstruct the entire timeline and make sense of why certain plagues occurred specifically when they did.

Our starting point is the only date given in the Torah: the fifteenth of Nisan. This is when the final plague upon the firstborn began. One might ask: how could each plague last a week if we know all the deaths of the firstborn took place over the course of that one night? One possible answer is that the Egyptians may well have observed a nation-wide mourning period, a shivaof seven days. Thus, even the final plague resulted in a full week of misery and suffering! At the end of their shiva, the officers arose from their mourning to pursue the Israelites once more, and catch them at the Red Sea. (Recall that the Splitting of the Sea took place on the seventh day following the Exodus.)

Working backwards, the ninth plague of darkness would have begun around the fifteenth of Adar. The Torah states that the darkness lasted three days. Intriguingly, centuries later this would be the time of Purim. To avert the dark decree of Haman, Esther had instituted a three-day fast. Haman’s evil plans crumbled, and “For the Jews was light and joy…” (Esther 8:16) Again, we have to say that although the thick darkness lasted three days, the entire terror spanned seven (it must have taken time to transition out of the darkness and restore normalcy). It is worth noting that according to tradition, Moses was born in Adar. Baby Moses glowed at birth, prompting his mother Yocheved to say that he is entirely tov, “good” and wholesome (Exodus 2:2). He would later glow again, so much brighter that he had to wear a mask (Exodus 34:29-35). It is therefore interesting to parallel the glowing light of Moses with the abject darkness of the ninth plague—both of which came in Adar.

A month earlier, around the fifteenth of Shevat came the plague of locusts. The Torah tells us that the locust was specifically directed to “eat all your trees that grow out of the field.” (Exodus 10:5) This is most appropriate, since the fifteenth of Shevat is the “New Year for Trees”! Similarly, the seventh plague of hail came around the fifteenth of Tevet, fittingly in the heart of winter. Egypt generally has no precipitation, even in winter, so the hail must have come as a great surprise. It served as further confirmation that Hashem is in charge of climate, and all natural cycles are under His control.

The month of Chanukah, Kislev, brought the plague of boils. This is appropriate, too, since the Greek descendants of Yefet (literally “beauty”) prioritized external appearance, vanity, and nakedness. (“Gymnasium” literally means a place to be naked, and athletes in the ancient Greek Olympics competed in the nude!) Egyptians had a similar preoccupation with the external, and were early pioneers in things like cosmetics and bodily ornaments. The boils were precisely an attack upon the skin of the Egyptians and their outer appearance.

Cheshvan, typically the start of the flu season, brought pestilence. This pestilence primarily affected the Egyptians’ livestock. It wiped out all the animals much like, centuries earlier, the Great Flood did in Cheshvan at the time of Noah (who saved only two of each to avoid their extinction). Next, we have the fourth plague—the mixed stampede of ‘arov—which would have landed around the fifteenth of Tishrei. This week of animal invasion mirrors the week that the Israelites would later celebrate Sukkot. Perfectly, a sukkah is literally a simple “animal hut” (while an ohel is a human one).

Before that, on the fifteenth of Elul came the great plague of lice. This one was so significant that the Egyptian magicians gave up and admitted: “It is the finger of God!” (Exodus 8:15) Henceforth, they no longer tried to mimic the plagues. This is a critical moment, and we can deduce that by this point, Pharaoh lost the support of his cabinet and was left alone. In fact, the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 11a) points out that it was specifically on Rosh Hashanah, ie. the first of Tishrei, that the slavery for the Israelites stopped. So, the plague of lice was experienced between the fifteenth and twenty-first of Elul, after which the Egyptian soothsayers threw in the towel, the fearful taskmasters abandoned their posts, and just days later on the first of Tishrei the Israelite servitude was officially lifted.

A month earlier, on the fifteenth of Av, came the plague of frogs. The frog was a symbol of fertility in ancient Egypt, and the Egyptian idol of fertility was frog-headed. God punished the Egyptian idolaters measure-for-measure with super abundant and extra fertile frogs. Beautifully, this same date later became the Jewish holiday of Tu b’Av, a day of matchmaking and marriages, love and fertility. (The Arizal sees within the word for “frog”, tzfarde’a [צפרדע], the root de’a [דע], meaning “knowledge” and being the Biblical term for intimate union between husband and wife. Note also that the name of the month, Av, is literally a parent.) 

Finally, we get to the first plague, blood, which would have begun around the fifteenth of Tamuz. This, too, is precise because the Nile River actually reaches its shallowest point in June, and then begins to rise again in July. Just as the Egyptians were awaiting the water levels to be restored and bless their land, they instead got a surging river of blood. It is here that we come back to the start of our discussion:

The plague of blood took place between the fifteenth and twenty-first of Tamuz, and just one year later this would be a tragic week in which a group of wicked people constructed a Golden Calf (on the sixteenth) before Moses returned and smashed the Tablets (on the seventeenth), followed by a brief civil war and a plague upon the Israelites (Exodus 32:35). God had earlier warned them that if the people heed God’s voice, and “do what is upright in God’s sight, giving ear to God’s commandments and keeping all God’s laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the plagues that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I am YHWH, your healer.” (Exodus 15:26) The people failed, so exactly a year after God had brought the first plague upon the Egyptians, He brought a plague upon the Israelites—just as He warned he would.

So, we have yet another significant thing to commemorate and mourn on the Seventeenth of Tamuz. We should not lose sight of the fact that, as a people, we ultimately bring suffering upon ourselves. We should never forget that it is God who is our Healer. I am reminded of the accurate words of Isaac Newton who said: “Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician gives because we need them; and the proportions, the frequency, and weight of them, to what the case requires. Let us trust His skill and thank Him for the prescription.”

Now, what about those first two months of Moses in Egypt? What happened before the plagues began in Tamuz? Moses arrived in the middle of Nisan. He first met his brother and convened with the Israelite elders. He showed them the three signs that God had previously given him at their initial encounter on Sinai (Exodus 4). It would have surely taken some time for word to spread that the Redeemer had arrived, both among the Israelites and among the Egyptians. It is therefore reasonable to suggest that Moses and Aaron first came before Pharaoh about a month later, in the middle of Iyar. The result of this encounter was that the Israelite slavery actually got worse, and the people experienced the most difficult period of their oppression (Exodus 5). Indeed, Iyar is considered a month of Gevurah and Din, the bulk of Sefirat haOmer, and the period in which our Sages state the wicked in Gehinnom are most harshly judged. (This is found in that same Mishnah, Eduyot 2:10, from which we learn that the pre-Exodus sequence lasted one year).

The following month, in Sivan, Moses and Aaron appeared before Pharaoh the second time, and now revealed that they come as representatives of God Almighty (Exodus 7). It is here that they first start working their miracles, and turned the staff into a serpent. This initial divine revelation mirrors the much grander Revelation at Mount Sinai one year later at the same time. Again, the parallels in timing are striking! A month later in Tamuz came the first plague of blood, completing the entire sequence of events. To summarize:

Nisan 2447: Moses returns to Egypt.
Iyar: Moses and Aaron first appear before Pharaoh, following which servitude worsens.
Sivan [6?]: Moses and Aaron appear before Pharaoh a second time, first revelation of God, duel of the serpent-staffs.
Tamuz 15-21: Plague #1 – Blood
Av 15-21: Plague #2 – Frogs
Elul 15-21: Plague #3 – Lice
Tishrei 1, 2448: Servitude Ends
Tishrei 15-21: Plague #4 – Animals
Cheshvan 15-21: Plague #5 – Pestilence
Kislev 15-21: Plague #6 – Boils
Tevet 15-21: Plague #7 – Hail
Shevat 15-21: Plague #8 – Locust
Adar 7: Birthday of Moses
Adar 15-21: Plague #9 – Darkness
Nissan 15: Plague #10 – Firstborn, the first Pesach, followed by Exodus
Nissan 21: Splitting of the Sea
Sivan 6: Sinai Revelation
Tamuz 16: Golden Calf
Tamuz 17: Moses returns and smashes the Tablets
Tamuz 19: Moses goes back up Sinai for the second forty-day period
Av 29: Moses returns from Sinai
Elul 1: Moses ascends Sinai for the third and final forty-day period
Tishrei 10, 2449: Moses returns, God forgives the Israelites, establishing Yom Kippur
https://www.mayimachronim.com/seventeen-tamuz-and-the-ten-plagues/#more-8436


From the Archives, on Parashat Balak:
The Kabbalah of Kippah
Did Bilaam Prophesize 9/11?
The Other Bilaam
Gog u'Magog and the Zohar on Balak (Video

Eliezer Meir Saidel – The Wisdom and Morals of the Goyim – Balak

 

 וַיִּצָּמֶד יִשְׂרָאֵל לְבַעַל פְּעוֹר וַיִּחַר אַף ה' בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל (במדבר כה, ג).

 

After Balak and Bilam's failed attempt to curse Am Yisrael, they switched to plan B, the only plan that has ever worked when the goyim want to harm us – to get us to sin against HKB"H.

 

The evil Bilam advised Balak that the only way to inflict harm on Am Yisrael was to arouse HKB"H's anger against us. Bilam's primary source of power was connected with manipulating HKB"H's anger. Bilam fully understood that HKB"H controls everything and the only way to possibly harm someone is if HKB"H wants that party to be harmed. Bilam knew the exact time each day when HKB"H is "angry" and he abused that knowledge to damage his enemies.

 

Bilam's plan was well contrived.

 

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 106a) describes how he advised Balak to take advantage of Am Yisrael's desire for flax clothing. Am Yisrael were צְנוּעִים and not flamboyant. They did not seek expensive fabrics and loud colors, but rather simple, pure white flax clothing.

 

Am Yisrael had been many years in the desert wearing the same clothes that they left Egypt with. Miraculously these clothes never wore out and the עַנְנֵי הַכָּבוֹד would launder and press them every day, as new. These miraculous clothes also changed sizes as you grew. Similarly with their shoes/sandals (Devarim 8,4).  It was equivalent to opening a brand-new pair of pants/shirt/dress every morning straight from the classiest fashion stores in the mall. However, albeit brand-new, it was the same old, familiar pants/shirt/dress every day. Am Yisrael desired something different, out of the ordinary – to break the monotony.

 

Bilam advised Balak to build a bazaar, where vendors would sell flax clothing of all types and varieties. In the storefront sat a wizened old woman with the clothes for sale on display, hanging on hangers, according to sizes, S, M, L, XL, XXL, etc. The men in Am Yisrael would go there to shop for clothes, a new shirt for their son, a new dress for the wife. When they had selected an item to purchase, they would approach the old woman to pay. 

The old woman would give them a wink and say "If you want to purchase this exact same garment, but at a 30% discount, go inside the tent, there you will also find the higher quality merchandise". The man would enter the tent and indeed the wares there were more upbeat and classier – and unbelievably – cheaper than those outside. Inside the tent, attending the customers, was the old woman's younger, more attractive daughter.

 

After a few times returning to the same vendor and entering the tent, familiarity set in and the Israelite man and the young female Moabite store attendant would engage in conversation. She would offer him water to drink on such a hot day. Such visits became routine and the norm. One day, instead of offering him water, she offered him wine to drink, delicious wine that her family had just made, from the recent grape harvest – vintage 2486 (it was a good year!). 

The man had a sip or two and complimented the vintner. On his next visit was a full cup of the same wine waiting for him, he drank and became intoxicated. This led to promiscuity and from there it was a slippery slope that caused him to sleep with the young, attractive Moabite woman and serve her idol – ba'al peor.

 

When you consider the elevated spiritual status of the generation of the Midbar (discussed in previous shiurim), it defies all reason how Am Yisrael of that stature could descend to the "bottom of the barrel" that was ba'al peor - perhaps the most bizarre and obscene of all idol worship.  Rashi, quoting the Gemara (Sanhedrin 64a) briefly describes what this idol worship entailed. You will excuse the disgusting and graphic description.

 

Prior to serving this idol, one would eat and drink specific foods to "loosen the bowels". The ritual service of this avodah zara involved pulling down your pants and defecating in front of the idol. The Gemara above relates an episode when a Jewish man (with the intention of demeaning the idol) performed the ritual and then used the idol as toilet paper. The priests for ba'al peor, not only were they not upset by this, on the contrary, they considered this an elevated form of the idol service.

 

What kind of warped mind could possibly come up with such a bizarre and obscene concept? And how is it possible that Am Yisrael descended to such an animalistic level of debauchery.

 

Another question, on a purely technical level, is how Am Yisrael could have technically performed this idol worship? Am Yisrael in the Midbar were eating Mann and we know that the Mann left no waste products. How is it possible to defecate if there are no waste products?

 

Again, I apologize for the graphic descriptions above, that seemingly have no place in a shiur Torah, let alone in the Gemara. However, in order to grasp the thought provoking conclusion of this shiur, it is first necessary to examine the gory details.

 

To begin to understand this, we need to backtrack a little to last week's parsha, Chukat. Towards the end of the parsha we read how Moshe sent messengers ahead from Kadesh to the king of Edom, requesting safe passage through his land (Bamidbar 20, 14). Moshe first says that Am Yisrael will not touch any food or water in Edom – they will simply walk through (ibid. 17). 

When the king of Edom refuses to allow them entry, Moshe changes his tune a little and says that if Am Yisrael or their livestock partake of any of Edom's resources, they will pay top dollar for them (ibid. 19). Even so, the king of Edom refuses a second time and threatens to attack Am Yisrael militarily if they enter his land. Am Yisrael subsequently had to make a detour, taking the longer route to Eretz Yisrael.

 

Moshe thought that perhaps the reason for Edom's refusal was because Am Yisrael would not boost their economy by davka buying food and water from them, so in his "counter bid" Moshe offered to buy water from them even though they had the Well of Miriam. Edom, however, was not worried about Am Yisrael drinking their water or eating their produce, or their economy. They saw this as a threat to their יְרֻשָּׁה. Se'ir was given as an inheritance to the descendants of Eisav until the time of Mashiach when HKB"H will destroy them. Edom thought that this was imminent and thus threateningly refused.

 

Although Am Yisrael never passed through Edom, while they were taking a detour around their border, Edomite merchants went out of Edom and gave food and water to Am Yisrael. As a result, HKB"H commands – if you want to eat and drink the Edomite food, it has to be fully paid for, you may not take any freebies (Devarim 2, 6).

 

This was the "next generation", not "Gen Z", but "Gen M" - the baby boomers from the Midbar, who were either born in the Midbar or were under age 20 when the sin of the meraglim took place – the new generation that would be entering Eretz Yisrael. Until now, all they had been eating was Mann. Suddenly they encountered food they had never seen before (they never ate, or were too young to remember, eating such food in Egypt).

 

In the Midbar, the Mann could taste like anything you imagined it to be. If you wanted the Mann to taste like pizza, it had the flavor of pizza. But if you had never experienced pizza before, how could you imagine what pizza tasted like? Similarly with hamburgers, sushi, black forest cake, etc. The generation that died in the Mibar remembered the food from Egypt, so they could imagine it and the Mann would taste like it, but "Gen M", never knew what the "old food" tasted like.

 

For the first time, "Gen M" encountered earthly food, and suddenly, even though the Mann could duplicate its taste, if they wished, the Mann suddenly became "inferior" to this earthly food. This is what they were complaining about - וְנַפְשֵׁנוּ קָצָה בַּלֶּחֶם הַקְּלֹקֵל (במדבר כא, ה) … Why eat Mann if you can eat "real pizza". It was not a physical necessity to eat the Edomite food, but a psychological desire, as the Ramban (Devarim 2, 6) describes it - אִם תִּתְאֲווּ לֶאֱכֹל מִפֵּרוֹת אַרְצָם.

 

 From this we see that already before the episode with Balak, Bilam and ba'al peor, some of Am Yisrael were eating "earthly food". Combine this with some vintage Moabite wine to get the digestive system going - this answers the "technical" question above, how they could technically serve this idol at all.  

 

HKB"H punished them by sending הַנְּחָשִׁים הַשְּׂרָפִים, which killed many in Am Yisrael. Why davka snakes? We will address this a little later.

 

It is interesting to note the phrase in Gemara (Sanhedrin 106a) describing Am Yisrael's desire for flax clothing וְהֵם מִתְאַוִּים לִכְלֵי פִשְׁתָּן, the same word used for the Edomite food – תַּאֲוָה. Neither the food, nor the flax clothing were physical needs, they were both psychological desires.

 

The Mefarshim say that the יֵצֶר הָרַע never tries to tempt a person with something that he knows he stands no chance with. For example, the יֵצֶר הָרַע will not try to tempt a charedi living in Me'ah Shearim to eat pork. I believe that the יֵצֶר הָרַע knows that with such a ruse, he stands little to no chance. Instead, he will pull other tricks where his odds are higher, like tempting someone to sleep a little later and instead of davening at the vatikin minyan, to daven later at one of the "shtiblach" minyanim.

 

The יֵצֶר הָרַע knew he stood no chance of tempting Am Yisrael to serve ba'al peor. The emissary of the יֵצֶר הָרַע, Bilam, knew that in order to bring Am Yisrael to the level of ba'al peor, it would have to be a gradual, multistage process. First tempt them with something much less severe. What adult male in Am Yisrael in the generation of the Midbar would ever go to a clothes store attended by a young Moabite woman in provocative clothing? 

They would run a mile! In parshat Korach, the wife of On ben Pelet saved her husband by uncovering her hair so that Korach's rebels would run a mile from their house and not take him with them. This was the level of Am Yisrael in the Midbar – to look at a married woman with her hair uncovered, was unthinkable, let alone a young, nubile Moabite prostitute. But if the attendant in the clothes store was an ugly, old, wizened woman, what harm is there in it? Drinking a glass of water on a hot day? What harm is there in it? Tasting a little of the Moabite family's new wine and being polite? What harm is there in that?

 

This is the modus operandi of Bilam/יֵצֶר הָרַע, to tempt with something that seems harmless and insignificant, pass one hurdle and then slowly and gradually up the ante until you get to the unthinkable.

 

What warped and sick mind could have thought up a disgusting concept like ba'al peor? What person in their right mind would ever stoop to doing such a thing? Even animals have some instinct of modesty when going to the bathroom. Chazal say, that if we didn't have the Torah, we could learn all the midot from the animals - industry from the ant, modesty from the cat, etc.

 

Incredibly, the philosophy of ba'al peor was well thought out and aspired to lofty, purist ideals. Although ba'al peor hasn't existed for thousands of years, the base principles, when the layers are peeled away, bear a disturbing resemblance to some of the modern, "neo-pagan" life philosophies, such as Woke/LGBT etc.

 

It is the intrinsic belief in natural human nature, that it should be afforded full and uninhibited expression and not suppressed in any way. According to this philosophy, human nature is pure and true and good and should not be channeled by will or thought, but allowed to flow freely without guilt or shame. Going to the bathroom is not something bad, it is a natural and essential bodily process, so why hide it? Quite the opposite, ba'al peor sought to glorify it.

 

According to the ba'al peor philosophy, shame is a pointless, "artificial" construct, imposed by "unnatural" societal norms and devoid of substance. There is no shame in being who you are - from beginning to end. If sexual intercourse is a natural necessity to perpetuate the species, then why hide it? Why be ashamed of it and hide it in a dark, closed room? Quite the opposite, it is admirable to flaunt it, to glorify it! This was the philosophy of ba'al peor, of Moav and Midyan!

 

Obviously, we know that the philosophy of the Torah is in diametric opposition to this.

 

The Torah does not deny the existence of animalistic needs and urges in humans. The Torah seeks to distinguish between humans and animals, the 1% of our human DNA that is different to the rest of the animals (99% of human DNA is identical to animal DNA). It seeks to emphasize and glorify this 1% and not the other 99%. It seeks to elevate us above the rest of the animals so that we can accomplish our human destiny, the reason for which HKB"H created us. If HKB"H simply wanted us to be another one of the animals, He would not have created us with the 1% difference - the ability to think, to reason, to make our own choices.

 

Shame and modesty are not an artificial, man-made societal construct, they are a protection mechanism given to us by HKB"H to allow us to achieve our destiny as the human species, not the animal species.

 

The Torah philosophy does not seek to eliminate or ignore the 99% of our animalistic nature, but to transcend it and aspire to more resemble angels than monkeys.

 

Descent into a ba'al peor philosophy does not occur instantaneously. It is a slow, gradual process of the יֵצֶר הָרַע whittling away at our resolve, appealing to and submission to our animalistic urges, instead of the much more difficult path of constantly battling and controlling our urges.

 

Throughout history, civilization has been a struggle between societies that glorify our animalistic nature vs. societies that glorify our human nature that elevates us from the animals - spearheaded by the Jewish/Torah philosophy, upon which most of the major religions in the world today are based.

 

It is therefore not surprising that the majority of society in the world today frowns upon the ba'al peor philosophy and its modern equivalents (at least in public) and is backlashing at attempts to revive this philosophy and make it mainstream.

 

Since the origins of the anti-ba'al peor philosophy originated with Judaism, it is highly disturbing to see that some of the most ardent supporters of the neo-ba'al peor philosophy today are (misguided) Jews who pride themselves as "pioneers" of this new world trend. Perhaps this is why Am Yisrael is plagued today by so many צָרוֹת, because so many of us have strayed from our path and are causing a חִלּוּל ה' of an unimaginable degree, that HKB"H cannot allow to go unpunished. It is a de-facto realization of the arch-evil plan of Bilam and Balak to destroy Am Yisrael.

 

After coming to the conclusion that they cannot destroy us through annihilation and persecution, the goyim have wised up and reverted to the Bilam modus operandi. Welcoming us with open arms, "embracing" us and slowly inviting us in, progressively further in. Selling us food, clothing, technology, entertainment, culture, literature – that on the surface seems harmless and so attractive ... until we are trapped and cannot escape, until we become the diametric opposite of who we really are.

 

This is not to say that we should totally reject the wisdom of the goyim. Chazal encourage us to study and apply the חָכְמַת הַגּוֹיִים (Brachot 58a, Avodah Zara 28a, Shabat 85a, Pesachim 94b, Sukkah 7b, etc. etc.), because it is in fact not their wisdom, but the wisdom of HKB"H in Creation, that He decided to reveal to them. For this reason, Judaism and science are not enemies, science is derived from the Torah and HKB"H's natural world.

 

Therefore, we are allowed to use electricity, drive in cars, fly in planes, speak on the telephone, etc. all the "technology" and wisdom of the goyim – as long as its goal is בִּנְיַן עוֹלָם, creating a reality in which we may better serve HKB"H, which is our purpose in this world.

 

While Chazal encourage us to embrace the wisdom of the goyim that promotes בִּנְיַן עוֹלָם, they strongly admonish us and warn us against embracing the morality of the goyim in preference to the morality of HKB"H and the Torah. The former is man-made and fallible, while the latter is Divine and eternal. There is nothing we can learn from the former that improves on the latter.

 

Familiarity is part of human nature. We learn to become accustomed to things until we begin to accept them as normal and take them for granted. The first time Am Yisrael ate Mann and the first day we received fully laundered clothing in the Midbar by the עַנְנֵי הַכָּבוֹד, it was a huge deal! However, after 40 years of the same-old, same-old … it was no longer such a big deal. Those born into that reality in the Midbar never knew any other reality, for them, this was normal. Until they were faced with and exposed to other realities. Then suddenly, what was truly miraculous, seemed mundane and inferior.

 

This was the lesson of the Midbar – that it is all a miracle. The Mann, the עַנְנֵי הַכָּבוֹד, the Well of Miriam, the food of the Edomites, the clothing of the Moabites …  cell phones, electricity, space travel, subway trains, the internet, Saidel's challahs, etc. – they are all the same miracle. Everything in this world is a miracle and the only reason it does not appear to be is because of familiarity. The internet for any six-year-old today is nothing at all, it is just part of the norm. The first time it started, back in the 1970's and 80's, for old fogies like me, it was a huge deal.  

 

Lehavdil, this is the challenge of the Torah, coping on a daily basis with routine and familiarity and at the same time preserving and keeping alive the same sense of awe and wonder you experienced when you encountered the thing for the first time. The same sense of wonder and awe of your spouse after 30 years of marriage, as if you were meeting for the first time. The same sense of wonder and awe of your children as when you witnessed them being born in the delivery room. The same sense of wonder and awe when you daven Mincha in shul this afternoon, as if Mashiach had just arrived and you were davening in the Beit HaMikdash for the first time.

 

This is what the HKB"H demands of us – quid pro quo. Just like HKB"H is continually injecting energy and life into this world, the same way as He did during the six days of Creation and has never stopped, He demands from us that we inject the same amount of effort and energy by living every moment as if it was brand new, wondrous and miraculous – and to continually express our gratitude to Him for it, by living as humans and not animals, by elevating ourselves above the animal part of us with our gift of humanity and thus realizing our true destiny. That is our service of HKB"H and that is the entire Torah in a nutshell.

 

When we stop exerting the continual effort, when we lapse into familiarity - that begins the downward spiral that can end in ba'al peor and our destruction.  

 

The first time it happened was in Gan Eden with Adam and Chava, when the miraculous became the familiar and was discarded for "something new", the עֵץ הַדַּעַת. It began with familiarity and תַּאֲוָה and the נָחָשׁ. The לֶּחֶם הַקְּלֹקֵל incident in last week's parsha was a fast action replay of this and therefore the punishment was accordingly with הַנְּחָשִׁים הַשְּׂרָפִים.

 

Similarly, today, when Am Yisrael are so entangled in the plot of Bilam and its modern manifestations, it can be paralyzing, so much so that our leaders, even Moshe Rabbeinu himself, are unable to respond. It is then when HKB"H throws a curveball and gives us a Pinchas to shake us out of our reverie and return us to the straight and narrow. It is not painless, it has a high cost in human life, but it works. Right now we have a few tens of thousands of Pinchas's shaking us out of our reverie and the cost is high, but it will have a happy end. Back then it was with Pinchas and in our time it will again be with Eliyahu HaNavi בבי"א.

 

Shabbat Shalom

Eliezer Meir Saidel

Machon Lechem Hapanim

www.machonlechemhapanim.org 

Mayim Achronim — Balak

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