30 June 2023

Eliezer Meir Saidel: a Tale of Two Monkeys

A Tale of Two Donkeys

Sefer Meir Panim says that the sin of Chava with the Tree of Knowledge was baking and eating a chametzbread – grinding the fruit of the tree (wheat) into flour, mixing it with water, and leaving it to become inflated with air. Chava was duped by the serpent into thinking she could “create” life on her own, similar to the way that Hashem created Adam HaRishon (the “challah” of the world) by taking dust of the earth mixed with water and inflating the “dough” with life.

This occurred during the tenth hour of the sixth day of Creation, almost as Shabbat was beginning. As a result of this sin, the path of history was altered and necessitated additional “last minute” adaptations to Hashem’s original plan of Creation. For this reason, Hashem created ten additional things in the twilight hours on the eve of Shabbat (Pirkei Avot 5:6), one of which makes its debut in this week’s Torah portion – the mouth of Bilam’s donkey.

M Donkeys in the Torah embody a kind of schizophrenia, a split personality.

On the one hand, a donkey is the symbol of materialism and impurity. The Hebrew word for donkey, chamor, has the same letters as the Hebrew word for materialism, chomer. Numerous references in the Torah to donkeys reflect this theme of material wealth; when Sarah is kidnapped by Pharaoh, Avraham is rewarded with much wealth, including donkeys. When Avraham travels to the Akeida, the Binding of Yitzchak, he leaves his two “boys” (Eliezer and Yishmael) behind with the donkey (materialism) while he and Yitzchak continue up Mt. Moriah. When Yaakov sends gifts to Eisav, these include twenty donkeys. When Yosef sends his brothers back to Yaakov, the procession includes twenty donkeys laden with food.

On the other hand, a donkey symbolizes dedication to Torah study. In Yaakov’s blessings, Yissachar is likened to a donkey. Of all the impure animals, the only one whose firstborn must be redeemed is a donkey (petter chamor). Our Sage tell us that the Mashiach will arrive riding on a donkey.

With this in mind, let us contrast two iconic figures in the Torah, both with donkey-related incidents. (It is not my comparison, but that of the Mishna in Pirkei Avot 5:19.)

The first is Avraham Avinu on his way to the Akeida. The verse says that Avraham woke early that morning and saddled his donkey. Avraham needed the donkey to carry the wood he had chopped down for the Akeida; he was not taking any chances that they might not find any wood when they arrived at their destination. Avraham could have lengthened Yitzchak’s life by taking his time, but no – eager to fulfill Hashem’s bidding, he awoke and set out at the crack of dawn.

Contrast this to Bilam in this week’s parsha, who also awoke (not early). Bilam had no qualms about sleeping in and enjoying every last ounce of material pleasure.

The donkeys mentioned in these two episodes have different names. Avraham’s donkey is referred to as a chamor, while Bilam’s donkey is referred to as an aton. What is the difference between the two types of donkeys? If you take the gematria of both chamorand aton, the difference between the two is the gematria for the words kesef gadol (lots of money) and ger (convert).

The Sage say that Bilam’s power of prophecy paralleled that of Moshe Rabbeinu. If Bilam had used the starting potential given to him at birth and become a ger, he could have become as great as Moshe Rabbeinu. Instead, Bilam opted for the kesef gadol, and dedicated his life to pursuing materialism and impurity.

The crux of the difference between Avraham and Bilam, mentioned in Pirkei Avot (5:19) is that Avraham was always striving to take something, elevate it spiritually and lift it up. Bilam, on the other hand, was forever striving to take something and tear it down, to lower it to the depths of impurity.

How is all this connected to the fact that the mouth of Bilam’s donkey had to be created just before Shabbat on the sixth day of Creation?

All the items created by Hashem in the aftermath of Adam and Chava’s sin served, each in its own way, to atone for a part of the sin. Since the sin was that of baking and eating chametz bread, this aspect must be repaired. The Sages liken chametz to the evil inclination, the yetzer hara. The gematria of the words “ochel machmetzet” (Shemot 12:19) – someone who eats chametz – is the same gematriaas “Pharaoh Balak Bilam” (in Hebrew).

No three figures more typified the essence of chametz than these three. Pharaoh and the ancient Egyptians were the first to glorify chametz. The first domesticated production of fermented bread was in ancient Egypt. Balak and Bilam were emissaries of the yetzer hara, both trying to destroy Am Yisrael and prevent the emergence of the lineage of David HaMelechThey worshipped materialism; that was their deity.

The Jewish way is not to ostracize the donkey, the materialism, but rather to elevate it in spirituality. When materialism is used in the service of G-d, it becomes something holy and desired. The blessing of Yaakov to Yissachar “Yissachar chamor garem,” (Bereishit 49:4) means that Yissachar is “facilitated” (garam) by materialism. The Torah study that Yissachar excels at is facilitated by the material financial support of the tribe of Zevulun. The donkey is the only impure animal whose firstborn must be redeemed in the Beit HaMikdash, to elevate the materialism in spirituality.

By giving Bilam’s donkey the power of speech, Hashem was teaching Bilam that the purpose is to lift up the donkey to a higher level, not to use the donkey to descend to the depths of depravity. This is one vital facet of the tikkun, atonement for Adam and Chava’s sin.

Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: Bilam in his prophecy refers to Amalek as “Reishit Goyim,” the first of nations. What does that mean?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: What happened to all the copper pans used by Korach’s followers to offer their ill-fated Ketoret? Since Ketoret was offered upon them, they acquired holiness. Hashem therefore directed Moshe to use them as plating for the copper mizbeach, as an eternal warning to never again contest the status and role of the Kohanim.

Danny Ginsbourg: Learning Mussar From a Donkey


Balak: Learning mussar from a donkey

Are the donkey's words important enough to take up room in the Torah? Why?

We read in Parashat Balak of one of the wonders that Hashem created at the twilight of Creation: the power of speech that He gave to Balaam’s donkey (Avot 5:6).

The Parasha relatesthat Balaam’s donkey diverted three times from the path - due to seeing the angel that Hashem had sent, to dissuade Balaam, from continuing with his evil intent to curse Bnei Israel - an angel that Hashem precluded Balaam from seeing.

In his anger, Balaam struck his donkey on each of the three occasions - whereupon (22:28-31)’Hashem opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam:’What have I done to you that you struck me these three times?.

Balaam said to the donkey:’Because you mocked me! If only there were a sword in my hand, I would now have killed you!’. The donkey said to Balaam:’Am I not your donkey that you have ridden all your life until this day? Have I been accustomed to do such a thing to you?’. He said:’No’. Then Hashem uncovered Balaam’s eyes and he saw the angel of Hashem standing on the toad with his sword drawn in his hand.’

The Zohar Hakadosh brings the wonder of Rabbi Yehuda, as to the ‘need’ for relating these events, ‘as the donkey’s words are not ‘words of wisdom’ that we needed to know, ‘as all the donkey said was:’What did I do to you?’, and what need was there for Hashem to endow the donkey with the power of speech, to utter these words?’.

Adds Rav Zalman Sorotzkin:’In view of this, why did Hashem trouble Himself to create the miracle of the speaking donkey, at the end of Creation, for it to utter these words of so little import? Would it not have been sufficient for the angel - who spoke to Balaam in any event - to have uttered these words, and not the donkey?.

Answers Rav David Hofstedter:’Since Hashem saw the ‘need’ to create this miraculous power - of speech of the donkey - we learn that there was great importance to the matter, and, therefore, we are obligated to seek to learn what ithe ‘need’ was, and what we are to learn from it.

A wondrous Midrash gives us the opening:’Balaam could not answer the words of rebuke of his Donkey; Said Abba Kohen Bardala: Woe to us from the Day of Judgement, woe to us from the Day of Rebuke! Balaam, the sage of the nations, could not stand up to the words of rebuke of his donkey:’הסכן הסכנתי לעות לך כה ואמר: לא: Have I been accustomed to do such a thing to you? He said:’No’.

‘When Hashem will come to rebuke each one לפי מה שהוא: according to what he is, how much more so!’.

Adds the Midrash Hagadol:’Balaam said:No, against his will, and at that moment, he was greatly ashamed. Our rabbis, when they reached this passuk, would cry, and say: Woe to us from the Day of Judgement, woe to us from the Day of Rebuke.’

The Beit Halevi, elucidates the deeper meaning of the words ‘according to what he is’:’On that awesome Day, Hashem will show each one, how his own deeds contradict one another, as, for each transgression, on its own, the person finds some justification for his actions. Thus, a person who is miserly in giving charity, excuses himself, on the grounds that his other pressing needs limit his ability to give charity.

‘But, he has no answer, when he is shown, that he still managed to expend considerable sums on luxuries for his pleasure - this is the meaning of the Midrash, that his own deeds on other occasions,m give lie to his excuse:’each one will be rebuked by his own deeds!’.

Rav Yosef Salant similarly expounds:’It is human nature, that when one does something improper, or transgresses, that he makes allowances for himself, so that his action becomes ‘permissible’; however, Hashem, before Whom all is revealed, shows the person on the Day of Judgement, that the person’s own actions, on another occasion, showed that he acted in an opposite manner.

‘This is the meaning of the words of the Midrash, that ‘each one will be rebuked according to what he is’: by his own actions, on another occasion.

‘In this way, we can understand the rebuke of Balaam’s donkey, according ‘to what he is’. Theoretically, was Balaam wrong in striking his donkey, when it diverted from his instructions on the three occasions? Didn’t Hashem, at Creation, specifically empowered man to rule over all the animals - where, then, did Balaam err in this respect, and merit the rebuke of his donkey?

‘The answer is that this power was given when the person acts as ‘man’, being distinct and superior to the animals; when, however, a person descends to the level of an animal, when, like a Balaam he descends to the morass of behaviour - even, as our Sages comment, to being intimate with his donkey - he has lost the right to rule over animals - his deeds on another occasion, show his true standing.

‘This underlay the rebuke of the donkey:’Why did YOU strike me these three times?’.

Rav Azaria Figo proffers a different view on the words of our Midrash:’judge a person according to what he is’.

Expounds the Rav:’Why did the donkey - instead of explaining that she strayed three times, because the angel stood in her way - ask:What have I done to you, that you struck me these three times?.

‘However, this was her rebuke to him, her intention being:’What have I done for you, all the past years, ‘until this day’? Have I been accustomed to do such a thing to you’? apart from on this occasion - and, this being the case, you should have judged me favorably, and understood that there must be some reason - and enquire.

‘Balaam, in his rage, did not understand what his donkey was saying, and therefore thought that the donkey was denying having done anything improper on these three occasions.

‘He therefore replied:’you mocked me’, so the donkey had to explain her rebuke:’Have I been accustomed to do such a thing to you?.

Expounded Abba Kohen Bardla: if the ‘wise’ Balaam was struck mute, and unable to answer his donkey’s rebuke - that he should have judged her ‘on her deeds’ - how are we going to answer, on our Day of Judgement, for our conduct throughout our lives.’

A beautiful parting mussar insight, from Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl:’This year, after sixty years of reading this Parasha, a new thought struck me.

‘Balaam’s donkey’s unanswerable rebuke was: ‘Am I not the donkey that you have ridden all your life until this day? Have I been accustomed to do such a thing to you?’.

‘So! in your mind, Balaam, today I acted improperly, but where is your הכרת הטוב: gratitude for all my years of faithful service? And, not enough that you struck me three times today, you declared that I merited to be killed because of this:’If only there was a sword in my hand I would now have killed you!’.

‘We have to be struck by the terrible wrong that the donkey felt had been done to her, after all the years of faithful service.

And even Balaam was struck dumb, and unable to respond to this awesome rebuke.’

Israelis Getting Fed Up With Protesting ... Finally ‘Getting’ It

Pushback: Mainstream Israelis Distancing Themselves from the Anarchists
On Saturday and Sunday, the two most vociferous leaders of the anarchist “protests,” Ehud Barak and Yair Golan, spoke decisively about the urgent need to take the resistance to a higher level––without outright advocating violence, but getting pretty close. Barak spoke about “civilian mutiny,” which is more extreme than the more common, “civil disobedience,” and Golan spoke of the need to use “illegal means” in the fight against the judicial reform.

On Sunday, the Likud party filed a criminal complaint with the police demanding an investigation of Barak’s statements “whose content constitutes crimes of incitement, sedition, and damage to law and order.”

According to the complaint, “Barak tried, to be sure, to disguise the criminality of his statements with the phrases ‘non-violent,’ and ‘civil disobedience,’ but these phrases do not change the specific essence of the act which is a call to disobey the law, to violence, and the violation of the government and social order in the country.” (Likud Files Criminal Complaint Against Ehud Barak for Incitement to Uprising)

On Tuesday, the police announced that it is investigating allegations of incitement to a mutiny against both men, one of who served as deputy IDF chief of staff and a Meretz MK, the other as chief of staff and prime minister.

Both men belittled the police announcement, saying, “It’s not suspicion of a rebellion, it’s an attempt at political intimidation of the lowest kind which is used in rotten regimes.” He suggested it was merely an “attempt to scare Yair, me, and you,” and added: “So, I have news for Netanyahu and Ben Gvir: we are not afraid of anyone or anything.”

It turns out some in the anarchists’ camp are afraid of public opinion, which is clearly shifting from exuberant and massive support to mostly annoyance. The anarchists alienated many Israelis on Memorial Day, some two months ago, when they interrupted mourners in several military plots with their anti-judicial reform slogans and the fingernails-on-the-blackboard repetition of “De-Mo-Crat-Ya,” and the ad-nauseam “Shame, shame, shame.”

On Sunday, one of the anarchists’ leaders, Ami Dror, tweeted a call to his ilk to crash both graduation ceremonies of the IDF’s officers’ school and pilots’ school. He encouraged protesters to overwhelm the prime minister’s speech in both events with their familiar rendition of relentless yelling and catcalling.
Dror instructed his troops: “This is a holiday for graduates and their families, therefore the protest is focused against the Prime Minister only (while he is walking to the ceremony’s clearing, and while he is speaking) –– we do not protest during the rest of the ceremony.”

But on Tuesday, presumably after being bombarded with objections from rank-and-fire Israelis, Dror tweeted: “Important update: at the request of the families, we ask all the participants not to disturb the course of the ceremonies. Although the presence of the defendant (that’s Netanyahu – DI) is unbearable for many of you, please try to hold back.”

MK Hili Tropper (National Unity) said on Tuesday: “Ehud Barak and Yair Golan have a lot of merits and were brave IDF commanders, and I have gratitude for the years they fought for the country while risking their lives. However, their statements are dangerous to the internal cohesion of the State of Israel and I deeply disagree with them.”

He continued: “I am also opposed to the government and its moves, but those who are committed to democracy must be the first to accept the democratic rules of the game. ‘Civil mutiny’ according to Barak, and ‘large-scale mutiny by illegal means’ as defined by Golan exacerbate the internal rift and should be discouraged by anyone who values democracy, especially anyone who wants us to continue living here together, despite our differences of opinion.”

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the IDF’s elite cyber combat Unit 8200 reservists issued a statement condemning any effort to involve reserve service in the military with the politics of judicial reform. The group called for severe punishments for reservists who refuse to serve. There were similar announcements from other elite reserve soldiers, including from the Air Force.

Only three months ago, threatening petitions from elite reserve duty soldiers opposing the reform was the main driving force of the protests.

Last Saturday night, the main demonstration against the reform, on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv, barely drew 10,000 protesters. A few months ago, their number reached tens of thousands, perhaps even 100 thousand. It’s part of the reason the anarchists’ leadership is pushing the ante on the severity of the protests. The demonstration outside Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s home in Modiin on Tuesday morning involved two or three dozen, but they came armed with wire fences and burning tires.

Two weeks ago, Channel 14’s political correspondent Motti Kastel revealed messages from a secret WhatsApp group whose members are the founders of the anarchist groups “Crime Minister,” the Balfour Street protests in Jerusalem, and the Kaplan Street protests in Tel Aviv. The closed group includes senior officials, former chiefs of staff, and former heads of government, who are all looking for ways to revive the dwindling protests and are planning, among other things, to block Ben Gurion International Airport. The goal is the same as always: overthrow the Right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Exposed: As Protest Numbers Dwindle, Anarchist Leadership Pushing for Violence).

With that in mind: over the past two sessions, the Netanyahu government has met stiff and harsh resistance against every single piece of legislation, but when they passed them with their considerable 64-seat majority, the protests died down miraculously. This was most notable in the case of the real estate excise law, transferring funds for housing from wealthy to poor municipalities. As soon as the bill passed, the uproar died down.

Anyone thinking maybe this is the way to proceed with one item of the judicial reform after another? They’ll yell, and they’ll burn stuff, but the majority of Israelis have realized already that their democracy is not in danger. The anarchists lost.

Rabbi Winston – Parashas Balak and Amalek

 Illuy Nishmas Yisroel Ya’akov ben Tzvi, z”l, whose yahrzeit is on Tammuz 7 of this week, b”H. May his soul have aliyah after aliyah, and may he always be a meilitz yoshar for his family whom loved him dearly and learned from him much, as well all of Klal Yisroel.

THE STORY OF Amalek begins, at least in the Torah, in Parashas Beshallach. That is where he first attacked the Jewish people and went down in history as the antithesis of the Jewish people and nemesis of G–d. Like most anti-Semites he did some serious damage, but eventually the Jewish army prevailed, and Amalek was almost completely destroyed.

Who was Amalek? Where did they come from? Why did they go out of their way to attack the Jewish people and earn the wrath of G–d? The Torah doesn’t answer those questions, but the Gemora does somewhat: 

“What is the reason for [writing the verse], ‘And Lotan’s sister was Timna’ (Bereishis 36:22)? 

Timna was a royal princess…Wanting to become a convert, she went to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov, but they did not accept her. So she went and became a concubine to Eliphaz, the son of Eisav, saying, ‘I’d rather be a servant to this people than a mistress of another nation.’ From her Amalek descended who afflicted the Jewish people. Why? Because they should not have rejected her.”(Sanhedrin 99b)

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face! It’s a troubling gemora because we can assume that Avraham Avinu, who lived to make “converts,” must have had a pretty good reason to reject Timna into the program. Yitzchak and Ya’akov too. 

And even if they had been mistaken about her, why should her union with Eliphaz result in the quintessential anti-Semite? If ever there was an example of Alillus

You remember alillus, right, from last week’s parsha? That’s when G–d uses a pretext to fulfill a more hidden agenda, like the Jewish people being “strangers in a land that is not theirs…for 400 years” (Bereishis 15:13). Ever since G–d told Avraham about that we knew it was coming. We just didn’t know that the sale of Yosef was Divinely-arranged just to make it happen. 

Therefore, it is a safe bet that Amalek was Divinely-destined to live and be Amalek, and that Timna was meant to approach and be rejected by the Avos so that she would “marry” Eliphaz and give birth to him. But when it comes to G–d there is always method to the “madness,” just as there was in the sale of Yosef. 

The sale of their brother may have led to the fulfillment of the prophecy of 400 years of exile,  but it also built Yosef into the leader he had to become for the rest of the family. However, what did the Timna story add to the historic narrative of the Jewish people?

THE ZOHAR EXPLAINS that the combination of the names of Balak and Bilaam provide the letters for two other words: Bavel (Babylonia) and Amalek. This of course is not random gematria, but a hint to the spiritual origin of both characters, and how their unholy alliance actualized the reality of Amalek.

It’s like taking two inert chemicals and combining them to make an explosive. Balak and Bilaam on their own were bad enough. But together, they could have destroyed the entire Jewish people had G–d not neutralized them. We thank G–d to this very day for that great miracle. 

But then again, who brought Balak and Bilaam together in the first place if not G–d Himself? That took a different kind of “miracle”:

“But did they not always hate each other, as it says, ‘who defeated Midian in the field of Moav’ (Bereishis 36:35), when Midian came against Moav in battle? However, because of their mutual fear of the Jewish people they made peace with each other.” (Rashi, Bamidbar 22:4)

It is somewhat wondrous that two nations that hated each other so much could temporarily bury the hatchet to destroy the Jewish people. But as the verse says, “This is from G–d, that which is wondrous in our eyes” (Tehillim 118:23), implying that it had been G–d who had unified such mortal enemies. 

And how did G–d do it? Hashgochah Pratis. It was Divine Providence that made Moav turn first to Balak to be their king, and then to Bilaam to be their savior. Furthermore, both Balak and Bilaam became who they were because of all the Divine Providence that shaped them. All of it was just for their encounter with the Jewish people in this week’s parsha

To what end? To shake up the Jewish people to avoid complacency? To give Zimri and his 24,000 followers a chance to blow everything and die in the process? To provide Pinchas with his chance to rise to the occasion and save the day…and become Eliyahu HaNavi along the way? Yes, yes, and yes…and more, as in a Plan B. 

Plan A may have failed miserably, but Plan B had a disastrous impact, resulting in the deaths of 24,000 from the tribe of Shimon by plague, and the 176,000 by capital punishment for idol worship. 

And it didn’t end there. In fact, their original plan had really been to hold off the final redemption. They knew, as did Amalek, that once redemption happens, evil will be gone for good. With only a partial redemption, not only does evil still exist, it must exist. So the real success came later when the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and the half-tribe of Menashe chose to stay outside of Eretz Yisroel, and push off the final redemption for millennia to come. 

It may have been Balak and Bilaam who engineered that, but it was the Amalek within them that made it work. More specifically, it was the union of Timna and Eliphaz, and we need to know why.

IT’S KIND OF like milk and meat, or wool and linen. On their own, milk and meat are no problem. Wearing wool or linen is perfectly fine. It’s the combination of the two that creates the prohibition. Not every mixture is a safe combination, and some can even be deadly.

The combination of Timna and Eliphaz was one such example of the latter. In fact, Timna was not only the concubine of Eliphaz, she was also his illegitimate daughter from an adulterous relationship with the wife of Seir. That certainly makes it more understandable why the Avos rejected her, despite their conversion program at that time. 

It is one thing to be a mamzer, as Timna technically was. But as a “gentile”—it was still before Mt. Sinai—mamzeress, she could have lived a relatively “normal” life. It was not like being a Jewish mamzer, who can only marry another Jewish mamzer. In those days, most people probably wouldn’t have cared about her spiritual status. When she went ahead and had a child from her own corrupt father however, that was a choice she herself had made and the spiritual perversion was compounded and resulted in an embodiment of it, Amalek. This made him the very antithesis of the Jewish people. 

As the Midrash reveals and Rashi brings down, Bilaam not only rode his donkey for transportation, it was also his female companion, a tremendous Amalekian perversion. Balak had his own Amalekian tendencies, which is why he had no problem prostituting his own women to trap the Jewish people in sin. And when these two perversions of man came together, they compounded the spiritual distortion, like Timna had done when she chose to become Eliphaz’s concubine.

This is why Amalek will always show up on the scene, just before the Jewish people are going to accept another level of Torah. What makes a ba’al teshuvah stronger in some respects than a person who has been righteous all their life is that they know, firsthand, the evil that Torah fights against, of which Torah is the opposite. Amalek epitomizes spiritual impurity, but Torah is the basis of kedushah.

As the expression goes, “there is nothing worse than a reformed sinner” because that is what they are, someone who previously sinned and left it behind. It tends to make them more vigilant against sin everywhere (which is why others often find them annoying). This is why Amalek was destined to be an integral part of Jewish history, regardless of what the Avos did, until Moshiach comes. 

Ain Od Milvado, Part 56

I LEARNED A lot from Yisroel Ya’akov ben Tzvi, z”l, whose yahrzeit is this week, b”H, and not just because he was my father, but because he was also my employer.

It didn’t happen often, but we had times when things were tense in the office, which I managed. It could have been a downturn in the economy, which is felt first and usually hardest in the building industry, of which we were a part. Or it could have been a client who had a temper tantrum and sued us because that is what people do in the business world to get what they want.

Whatever the reason, there were times when I felt like panicking, and it was my father, z”l, who was usually the calm one and reminded that G–d would take care of us. And He always did. I don’t think I ever saw my father panic once while working with him, which has had a calming effect on me to this very day, over 10 years since his passing. 

Somehow, despite his upbringing and all that he had to go through to reach the level of success he did in his profession, ain od Milvado was part of his daily outlook on life, whether he realized it or not. Problems for him really were just solutions waiting to be discovered, challenges ready to be met. And as he told me many times over the years, he was able to do so because G–d always helped him out.

I’m better at dealing with panic these days than I was in my younger years, partly because I am old enough now to recall how many times G–d has bailed me out too, sometimes literally at the last second. After a while, you feel immature for not hanging in and waiting for Him to do so, even as time seems to be running out. 

But the other part of my growth in ain od Milvado has to do with, what I gained from my father over the many years together, for which I am eternally grateful. 

Some of it came through long philosophical discussions about life, and some just through osmosis. For all I know, he’s still helping me grow in the right direction from above to reach even higher levels of ain od Milvado. One thing is for certain and worth remembering: it is amazing how much a parent’s attitude towards trust in G–d can spill over to their children. 

Reb Neuberger: Parashas Chukas (chu”l)



Recently former Police Commissioner William Bratton was quoted regarding New York City drug-use policy with the words, “The world has turned upside down.” 

This reminds me of an encounter I had with a philosophical highway patrolman. (See “From Sinai to Yerushalayim,” page 345) I had pulled off the road to speak with him, and we had a memorable conversation, the highlight of which were his words to me, “Today, ‘crazy’ is the norm!” 

Yes, my friends, “crazy” is the norm.

Someone expressed shock to me recently about the use of surgical procedures to alter the gender in which children are born. We try to undo what Hashem has decreed. This person asserted that such a thing has never existed before in history, but I pointed out that similar insanity existed before the Great Flood which destroyed the world in the time of Noach. 

“Noach worked for one hundred and twenty years constructing the Ark. Building this great boat in public was equivalent to announcing that the world was about to be destroyed, but no one paid attention. In fact, they … made fun of [Noach]. But he was right. Nearly all human life was wiped out. [Humanity] had caused its own destruction by rejecting the rules Hashem had given them to live in this world. The situation is repeating itself now.

“Moral corruption … has become the law of the land in many countries which consider themselves civilized. The Torah makes it clear that this spells certain doom. Hashem made human beings as man and woman…. Through their union, life continues on earth. If mankind tries to uproot the order in which Hashem made the world, the result is not life but death. Thus the Death of the World through the Great Flood occurred as a result of moral degradation, as it says, ‘All flesh had perverted its way on the earth.’ (Beraishis 6:12)

“It is taught in a Baraisa: ‘the waters of the Flood were harsh…. Rav Chisda said, they acted corruptly and [therefore] they were punished with boiling water.’ (Sanhedrin 108b) The accepted way of life of the present generation includes a complete rejection of the order by which Hashem created the world. This phenomenon is occurring around the globe. The behavior which directly caused the destruction of the world in the time of Noach is recurring, and we are not willing to acknowledge what is happening.” (From my book, “Hold On: Surviving the Days Before Moshiach”)

It used to be a joke when I was a kid: the New Yorker Magazine would run cartoons of crazy men with beards on street corners holding a sign which read “The End of the World is Coming.” Actually, it wasn’t such a joke, because that was during the Cold War when people were actively afraid of atomic warfare and imminent world destruction. We used to have air raid drills in elementary school during which we would hide under our little desks.

Some protection!

My own uncle moved with his young wife to Northern California because their Long Island home was next to the Brookhaven National Laboratory, which was considered a prime target of Russian Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. 

My uncle was killed shortly thereafter in a car crash in California. 

My friends, we cannot run away from the abnormal world being created by those who hate Hashem and His Torah. “Stop the world; I want to get off” doesn’t work. 

Sodom was obliterated by Hashem, but angels were sent to rescue Lot and his family. 

Ancient Egypt was destroyed by the Hand of Hashem, but those who clung to Moshe Rabbeinu were saved and brought to Har Sinai. 

The same thing will occur to this impure culture in the end of history, but we can be among those who cling to Hashem in order to save ourselves. As the Novi says, “A sun of righteousness will shine for you who fear My Name, with healing in its rays ….” (Malachi 3:20)

We have to know that Hashem will save us if we hold tight to Him and His Torah.

This week’s parsha (outside Israel) is called Chukas. It discusses the remedy which the Torah prescribes for tumah, impurity. The world is swimming in an ocean of tumah. It cannot – and will not – continue to exist in this way. It is only a matter of time before the forces unleashed by those who hate the Master of the World bring about the destruction of the world as we know it. 

What comes after that will be beautiful and pure, a world in which "ki mi Tzion taitzai Torah u’d’var Hashem mi Yerushalayim … the Torah will go forth from Tzion and the Word of Hashem from Yerushalayim.” But we have to merit to live in it. We have to be like Noach in the Days of the Flood, the followers of Moshe Rabbeinu in Mitzraim and those who “fear Hashem’s Name” in our own days. That means swimming against the tide, which is exceedingly difficult. 

The Torah keeps us afloat. We have the formula for the Parah Adumah. We have to kill and burn the Red Heifer of rebellion against the Master of the Universe. We have to close our eyes and ears to the tumah around us and strive to dwell in the purity of Torah. It can be done and Hashem assures us that those who cling to His Name will survive to enter the beautiful and perfect world of Moshiach ben Dovid and the Bais Hamikdosh, may we see it soon in our days! 

Highway Patrol

Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark rested

Red Heifer


Noach: Noah

Novi: Prophet

Parah Adumah: Red Heifer 

Rabbi Kahana: Parashat Balak – Three Questions

BS”D Parashat Balak 5783

by Rabbi Nachman Kahana | Jun 28, 2023

Three Questions


The parasha relates the episode of Bilam, the arch anti-Semite who was invited by Balak, King of Moav, to use his supernatural powers to curse the Jews who were threatening the Moabite nation. And it became apparent that Bilam hated the Jews even more than the threatened Moabites.

Bilam knows the secret of cursing. The Gemara (Brachot 7a) informs us that there is a split second each day when HaShem, as it would be, shows anger. Bilam was aware of this phenomenon and would synchronize his curses with HaShem’s moment of rage.

The Gemara continues:

אמר רבי אלעזר: אמר להם הקדוש ברוך הוא לישראל: דעו כמה צדקות עשיתי עמכם שלא כעסתי בימי בלעם הרשע, שאלמלי כעסתילא נשתייר משונאיהם של ישראל שריד ופליט;


Rabbi Elazar said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Am Yisrael, ‘know you – how much compassion I had for you at the time of Bilam, when I refrained from that moment of anger; and if not for that, Bilam would have succeeded in destroying the entire Jewish nation.’”

Question: What motivated HaShem to refrain from His usual “routine” of momentary anger for the sake of Am Yisrael?



Life After Death.

On the unanswerable eternal dilemma: Why did HaShem create this world and all the others before us and those after us?

There are Kabbalists who attempt to answer this question, but as the adage goes, “Every problem has a solution, and every solution creates a problem”.

One school of thought claims that the essence of HaShem is goodness (if we can speak of HaShem having an essence) and it is the nature of goodness to share the good with deserving entities.

HaShem, as the epitome, zenith, and apex of goodness, created our souls (neshamot) to rejoice in the pleasure of HaShem’s goodness in a spiritual realm compatible with these rewards; in the place we call Gan Eden. And this material world was created to purify our souls with HaShem’s mitzvot to determine the degree of spiritual pleasure and goodness that we shall be receiving in the eternal next world.

This also implies that those who do not deserve this good will suffer or return to nothingness, or as in the words of Mark Anthony in his inspirational speech given at the funeral of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”.

Now, what is the spiritual reward that awaits a Jew after 120 years?



No human being has ever had all his worldly desires fulfilled, as stated in Midrash Kohelet chapter one:

אמר ריודן בשם ראיבו אין אדם יוצא מן העולם וחצי תאותו בידו

No man has left this world with even half his desires fulfilled.


Every person experiences the lack of some subjective desire. A car owner feels the need for a newer model, while a homeless beggar dreams of a tin roof over his head but doesn’t feel the lack of a new car. The Wall Street investor kicks himself for not having invested 50 million dollars in yesterday’s hot stock, something which the shamash in your shul does not feel. And that’s how it continues from individual to individual, each with his complaints to HaShem for not filling his “urgent” needs.

But despite the universal subjective feelings of deprivation, there is one thing that all people feel a lack of, from the lowest of society to the most prominent who don’t know where else to spend their money.

It is the need to feel true absolute sincere love. The opportunity to give total love to another who feels the same about you, true reciprocal love.

The kind that transcends logic, as in the case of Rachel, daughter of the multi-millionaire Ben Kalba Savu’a, who expelled Rachel from the family for marrying the lowly peasant, shepherd named Akiva ben Yosef, later to become – because of her – the illustrious Rabbi Akiva. Or our father Ya’akov who toiled 14 years under the miserable Lavan for the hand of his daughter, Rachel. Or men who would swim the largest ocean or climb the highest mountain for the love of his or her “beshert” (the one person whom an individual is divinely destined to marry).

The sort of feeling that some new couples share in the period of engagement and some married couples feel when standing under the chuppah. But the sad reality is that these intense feelings are limited in time, after which they turn into something less than passionate love.

Society is overflowing with love songs, love movies and love stories, which only demonstrate the lack of love.

Question: Why does the euphoria of passionate total love dissipate?


The Answer

The above three questions share the same answer.

Shlomo Hamelech in chapter 8 of Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs) speaks of the mutual love between the Creator and Am Yisrael in a metaphor of the unquenchable love and passion that a man and woman can feel for each other. So that whatever the gentile nations would do to us, or give to Am Yisrael in order to break the holy bond that HaShem and our father Avraham and all his future descendants entered into, would be totally rejected:

ו- שִׂימֵנִי כַחוֹתָם עַל לִבֶּךָ כַּחוֹתָם עַל זְרוֹעֶךָ כִּי עַזָּה כַמָּוֶת אַהֲבָה קָשָׁה כִשְׁאוֹל קִנְאָה

רְשָׁפֶיהָ רִשְׁפֵּי אֵשׁ שַׁלְהֶבֶתְיָה

ז- מַיִם רַבִּים לֹא יוּכְלוּ לְכַבּוֹת אֶת הָאַהֲבָה וּנְהָרוֹת לֹא יִשְׁטְפוּהָ אִם יִתֵּן אִישׁ אֶת כָּל הוֹן בֵּיתוֹ בָּאַהֲבָה

בּוֹז יָבוּזוּ לוֹ


Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong (absolute) as death, passion fierce as the grave.

Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.

Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.

If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned.

Olam Haba is a concept wrapped in a secret, covered in a dilemma and packaged in a mystery.

What can HaShem give to a tzadik for eternity without becoming boring, tedious, and drab?

And its mirror dilemma: What is the punishment for evil doers? What can Hitler and all the former murderers of tens of millions of Jews get in the world to come to equal their demented hatred?

The spiritual reward that HaShem measures out to the souls of the righteous is the profound and enduring feelings of absolute intense love. Feelings which are fleeting in our earthy world because they are totally spiritual in nature and cannot survive in the lowly impure place in this world.

Olam Haba is the never ending overpowering and reciprocal sense of love between the Creator and His chosen Am Yisrael. And conversely, the ultimate punishment for the evil doers are their eternal feelings of rejection, contempt, disgust, loathing, revulsion, abhorrence, repulsion, and abomination.

So, the single answer to the above three questions is:

1- HaShem did not have His moment of rage at the time of Bilam because of Hashem’s eternal love for the Children of Yisrael.

2- What awaits a Jew after 120 years is the intense feeling of mutual love with the Creator.

3- The euphoria of total love is the essence of Gan Eden and cannot exist in this material world.

Conclusion: If one wishes to know what has kept the Jewish nation alive for over three thousand years, while great and mighty empires came crashing down? Or our unprecedented return to our ancient homeland? The answer is the eternal love that the Creator has for His greatest creation – Am YIsrael and our unfathomable loyalty to Him.

Before reciting the three verses of the Kohanic blessing, Kohanim say a bracha:

ברוך אתה האמלך העולם אשר קדשנו בקדושתו של אהרן וציונו לברך את עמו ישראל באהבה.


Blessed are You HaShem King of the universe who has sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon and commanded us to bless His (HaShem’s) nation Yisrael with Love.

The final two words “with love” are usually understood to mean that we Kohanim should utter these blessings not as an unemotional ritual but out of love for our fellow Jews.

But I would add an additional meaning to them: that we Kohanim are blessing the Jewish nation that they should all experience the ultimate love that awaits the Jewish soul in Gan Eden.

Shabbat Shalom

Nachman Kahana

Copyright © 5783/2023 Nachman Kahana

Mayim Achronim — Balak

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