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Parsha Pearls: Parshas Balak

Don't be frumer than the Torah
Natural, But Only With Moshiach
What Pinchas Foresaw
Just Say No to the Army

"Like long streams, like gardens by the river, like spices planted by Hashem, like cedars by the water." (Bamidbar 24:6)

The Seforno on Bereishis 33:4 quotes a Gemara in Taanis 20a: “Faithful are the blows of a friend, and superfluous are the kisses of an enemy” (Mishlei 27:6). The curse that Achiya Hashiloni gave the Jewish people was better than the blessing that the wicked Bilam gave them. Achiya Hashiloni cursed them that they should be like a reed: “And Hashem will smite Israel as the reed bends” (Melachim I 14:15). A reed can withstand any wind in the world, because it bends with the wind, and when the wind dies down, the reed remains standing in its place. But the wicked Bilam blessed the Jewish people that they should be as strong as a cedar. The cedar can withstand most winds, but when a very strong south wind comes, it uproots it and turns it upside down.

The Seforno says that Yaakov Avinu’s bowing before Esav exemplified the quality symbolized by the reed. It is this quality that enables the Jewish people to survive, after all the winds die down.

Along the same lines, the Chofetz Chaim writes: “The Torah teaches us not to resist the nations even when they fight against us. We must follow in the footsteps of Yaakov Avinu in his encounter with his brother Esav. As the Ramban writes in Vayishlach, all that happened between Yaakov and Esav happens to us constantly with Esav’s children. We must adopt the methods of that tzaddik, to make the three preparations that he made: prayer, a gift, and escape through war, that is, to flee and take refuge. As long as we walked on that well-tread path, Hakadosh Baruch Hu saved us from their hands. But since we have strayed from the path and new leaders have arisen who chose new methods, leaving behind our ancestors’ weapons and adopting the methods of our enemies, we have fared worse and worse, and great travails have befallen us. May Hashem have mercy on our people and restore our judges as of old." (Chofetz Chaim Al Hatorah, Devarim)

And in another place he writes: "If the activists of our time were wise, they would understand that they must not provoke the nations or fight wars against them. Rather they must first study the parsha of Yaakov's meeting with Esav, the Parsha of Golus, and then follow in the footsteps of our wise ancestor. Then they would succeed in improving the lot of the sheep among the seventy wolves." (Chofetz Chaim Al Hatorah, Shmini)

"And Israel became caught up in the idolatrous cult of Baal Peor, and the anger of Hashem blazed against Israel." (Bamidbar 25:3)

In Parshas Va'eschanan, when retelling this story, Moshe Rabbeinu says, "Do not add to the words that I command you, and do not subtract from them... Your eyes saw what Hashem did in the case of Baal Peor, for every man who went after Baal Peor, Hashem your G-d destroyed from your midst" (Devarim 4:2-3).

What does the prohibition of "Bal Tosif" - not adding to the commandments of the Torah - have to do with worshipping the idol Baal Peor? The Alshich explains that anyone who interprets the commandments of the Torah according to his own ideas and not based on Chazal will eventually stumble into idolatry. This is true even when one attempts to add to the Torah and be more religious than the Torah commands. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 64a) gives us an example of this. The cult of Baal Peor involved doing very disgusting things in front of the idol. Once there was a Jew who wanted to degrade the idol, so he went into the temple and did something even more disgusting than usual. The priests were very pleased and remarked that no one had ever worshipped the idol as well as this Jew.

Therefore the Torah tells us, "Do not add to the words that I command you, because you own eyes saw the bitter results of adding using your own intuition. Hashem destroyed every man who went after Baal Peor, even those who did so with the intention of degrading it."

The lesson for us is that we must not do anything the Torah forbids, such as joining the Zionists, even if we plan to accomplish something good, such as to use our position to fight their influence. It may well be that, just as in the case of Baal Peor, we will actually be unwittingly worshipping the idol better than anyone - by giving it a religious Jewish appearance.

In the merit of our following the Torah, may we be zocheh to the next posuk (Devarim 4:4), "But you who cleave to Hashem your G-d are all alive today."

And now that I am going to my people, let me counsel you what this people will do to your people in the end of days." (24:14)

Rashi explains that the "counsel" refers to Bilam's advice on how to cause the Jews to stumble in immorality. Rashi is thus forced to split up the verse and say that "what this people will do to your people" is a separate statement. The Satmar Rov once said that perhaps we could understand the connection between the two halves of the verse. Bilam said to Balak, "The Jews are a holy people, scrupulously moral; every one of them can trace his lineage back to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. It would be impossible to get them to sin among themselves. The only way to get them to sin is to offer them your daughters. This is now. But with my prophecy I can see far into the future, and I see that in the end of days, before the coming of Moshiach, there will be a Jewish group who will be worse in immorality than the worst of nations. They will draft girls into the army, something no other country does, and their country will be a center of immodesty and perversion. They will murder unborn babies at a higher rate than any other western nation (one million babies in the first 30 years of their statehood). At that time, the tables will be turned, and it will be this Jewish group influencing your people to become worse. So let me advise you now to cause the Jews to sin, just as they will do to you in the end of days." (Toros Ve'uvdos Mibeis Raboseinu, p. 330)

* * *

When the Satmar Rov lived in Eretz Yisroel in 1946, he was once walking at night from the Montefiore neighborhood where he lived during the summer to the Bayis Vegan neighborhood, to visit the Belzer Rov. It was 1:00 at night, and he was walking with his talmid Reb Chaim Mordechai Steinberg. They passed the Beis Hakerem section, and there they saw on one street a long line of parked cars. “What’s this?” asked the Rebbe. “It’s a nightclub where the Zionist youth are spending the night in dancing and revelry,” said Reb Chaim Mordechai. They walked on, and a while later, they noticed an area in an open field, lit up brightly with electric lights. “What’s over there?” asked the Rebbe. “Just as the Zionists spend their nights at the club, the Arabs have a place over there where they hold parties late at night,” said Reb Chaim Mordechai. The Satmar Rov then commented with a pained expression, quoting Tehillim 106:35: “‘They mingled with the gentiles, and they learned their ways.’ The Arabs never had this kind of culture, but they learned from the ways of the Zionists." (Peulas Tzaddik Lechaim, p. 67)

I see it but not now, I look upon it but it is not close: a star will shoot from Yaakov and a tribe will arise from Yisroel, and he will smite the corners of Moav, and gouge out all the children of Shais." (24:17)

The Ohr Hachaim interprets this verse as referring to the two possible redemption scenarios discussed in the Gemara, Sanhedrin 98a. The Gemara there quotes the verse, "I am Hashem, in its time I will hasten it" (Yishaya 60:22) and expounds: if the Jewish people deserve it, G-d will hasten the redemption, and if they do not deserve it, it will come in its time. If the Jewish people deserves it, moshiach will come "with the clouds of heaven" (Daniel 7:13); if not, he will come as "a poor man riding a donkey" (Zechariah 9:9).

Here too, says the Ohr Hachaim, Bilam foresaw these two possibilities and said, "I see it but not now" – it will happen not now but soon; this refers to a speedy redemption that the Jews deserve. "I look upon it but it is not close" refers to a redemption at the latest possible date, when the Jews do not deserve it. (This means they do not repent before the arrival of moshiach. However, they will certainly have to repent before moshiach begins gathering in the exiles; see Parsha Pearls Rosh Hashanah 5767.) In the speedy scenario, "a star will shoot from Yaakov" - moshiach will appear from heaven like a star. In the delayed scenario, "a tribe will arise from Yisroel" – in a natural way, like a poor man riding a donkey. The rest of the verse – "and he will smite the corners of Moav and gouge out all the children of Shais" – as well as the other verses, apply to both scenarios.

Some Zionists mistakenly think that the Ohr Hachaim is painting a picture of a natural redemption, similar to the process leading up to the Zionist state and its exploits. Nothing could be further from the truth; he is merely explaining the scenario mentioned by the Gemara of moshiach coming "as a poor man riding a donkey." He is not talking about any part of the redemption happening before the coming of moshiach.

Furthermore, the Ohr Hachaim only says that if the Jewish people do not deserve an early redemption, moshiach will arrive in a natural way. But what moshiach does after he arrives will not be natural – we see that the Ohr Hachaim says that the rest of the verse about conquering the entire world applies even to the scenario of a natural arrival of moshiach.

Similarly, the redemption from Egypt, with the Ten Plagues and the Parting of the Sea, was certainly not natural. Yet when Moshe first arrived on the scene, he came in a humble way, riding a donkey, appearing before Pharaoh respectfully and asking him to free the Children of Israel. At the beginning, Pharaoh and his magicians just laughed at Moshe and Ahron and refused to listen.

Zionists make a similar error regarding the Yerushalmi (Berachos 4b), which says that Rabbi Chiya Rabbah and Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta were walking together at dawn, and Rabbi Chiya Rabbah said that the redemption of the Jewish people will be similar to the dawn: "So is the redemption of Israel. At first, little by little; and as it continues it gets bigger and bigger."

Many Zionists have used this passage as a basis for their claim that the redemption is a long process that will begin before the coming of moshiach, through natural means. However, nothing in this passage or anywhere else indicates that this slow redemption will happen before moshiach comes. The Sages are teaching that the redemption process initiated by moshiach – not beforehand - will have to be in stages so as not to overwhelm us with the full light of redemption all at once, just as the sun rises slowly so as not to overwhelm the eye with so much light all at once.

We find the same concept in the redemption from Egypt. The process began humbly with Moshe and Ahron standing before Pharaoh. The revelation became greater with the miraculous plagues, then greater still at the Parting of the Sea, and it reached its climax at the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. It had to happen this way because otherwise, the Jewish nation, after so many years of living in the defilement of Egyptian society, could not have tolerated the great, blinding light of the revelation at Sinai. (Vayoel Moshe, Chapter 69)

And Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon Hakohein saw, and he rose up from the midst of the congregation, and he took a spear in his hand. (25:7)

Rashi says, “He saw the event and remembered the law. He said to Moshe, ‘I have learned from you that if a Jewish man takes a gentile woman, zealots may kill him in the act.’ Moshe said, ‘He who reads the verdict should be the one to carry it out!’ Immediately, he took a spear in his hand.”

The source for this Rashi is Rav’s opinion in Sanhedrin 82a. However, there is another opinion there, that of Shmuel. According to Shmuel, Pinchas did not ask Moshe’s permission before he took action. “And Pinchas saw” means that Pinchas remembered the principle that “wherever there is a desecration of Hashem’s name, one need not give honor to his teacher” by asking his permission. Had he asked Moshe’s permission, he would have wasted precious seconds, during which someone might have seen Zimri’s sin and followed his example.

According to this, the word “saw” is not literal; it really means “remembered.” But we could add that Pinchas, with his powers of prophecy, saw that there would come a time when others would need to use this same principle, and take it to a new level. At least Pinchas knew that Moshe would certainly have given him permission to do what he did, and all he would have lost would have been time. Furthermore, in his quest to save time he was violating only the principle that one may not rule halacha in front of one’s teacher, even when the teacher himself would have ruled the same way. But Pinchas saw that there would one day come a generation in which rabbis do not speak out against the pervasive heresy of their time, due in part to their fear of the people. Then it would be up to smaller individuals to be the zealots and speak out, even if they know that some of the rabbis would not officially put their stamp of approval on what they are doing.

One should not think it strange that rabbis would refrain from speaking out due to fear of the people. Even one of the greatest tzaddikim in history, Shaul Hamelech, failed in this aspect. When Shaul let the people take from the sheep of Amalek for offerings, Shmuel took him to task. At first, Shaul didn’t understand what he had done wrong, and he said, “I have listened to the voice of Hashem, and walked in the path on which Hashem sent me” (Shmuel I 15:20). But when Shmuel finally made him understand that Hashem desired obedience more than all the offerings in the world, Shaul said, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the mouth of Hashem and your words, because I feared the people, and I listened to their voice” (v. 24).

We see here that Shaul, at first, did not consciously see himself as acting out of fear of the people. He had his reasons, based on Torah, for what he did. It was only after Shmuel showed him the flaws in his reasoning that he thought to himself, “How could I have made such a mistake? How could I have mistaken an aveirah for a mitzvah?” And he realized the answer: that he had been influenced by his fear of the people. He said, “I sinned - and mistook an aveirah for a mitzvah - because I feared the people.”

The Shulchan Aruch recognizes that rabbis on a beis din may be influenced by their fear of the people. In Choshen Mishpat 14:1 at the end, the Rema writes, “If the man on trial is wealthy and influential in his city, he must be tried before a beis din in a different city, even if the beis din of his own city is greater.” The Rema thus treats the fear of this influential man like a bribe, which can influence a rabbi to rule the wrong way. It should therefore come as no surprise that many rabbis today feel the pressure of their wealthy and influential congregants and do not speak out against the heresy of our time. (Al Hageulah V’al Hatemurah 117-118).

And G-d came to Bilam at night, and He said to him, "If the men have come to call you, arise and go with them, but only the word that I speak to you, you shall do." And Bilam arose in the morning, and he saddled his donkey, and he went with the notables of Moav. And G-d became angry because he was going... (22:20-22)

We know, of course, that Hashem does not change His mind. In the words of Bilam's own prophecy, "He is not human, that He should change His mind" (23:19). So how could He tell Bilam to go, and then become angry with him for going?

The answer is that Hashem told Bilam, "Only the thing that I speak to you, you shall do" - and nothing else. But Hashem saw that Bilam had no intention of obeying this command. His own words to Balak were, "The word that G-d will place in my mouth, I will speak." He promised to say what G-d would tell him to say, but he did not promise not to add his own words. And he did indeed add something of his own: he advised Balak on how to bring punishment upon the Jews by tempting them into sin with the daughters of Moav.

That is why "G-d became angry because he was going." A man is always going somewhere - either he is getting better or worse. When Bilam decided not to obey Hashem, he began going in the direction of wickedness.

And this advice was not the only thing Bilam added. The posuk says (Mishlei 28:23), "One who rebukes a man to follow Me will find grace more than one who smooths his tongue." Rashi quotes the Midrash: "One who rebukes a man to follow Me" refers to Moshe. "One who smooths his tongue" refers to Bilam. Bilam said only good about the Jews: "How goodly are your tents, Yaakov..." He inserted a false interpretation into his own prophecy: "G-d is not a man that He should lie," said Bilam, only refers to the gentile nations, but regarding the Jewish people it says, "He said [i.e. threatened punishment] but does not carry it out, He spoke and did not fulfill it." With this flattery, Bilam convinced the Jewish people to sin.

Why does Scripture need to tell us that Hashem loves someone who rebukes people to follow Him more than someone like Bilam who flatters them into sinning? Isn't this obvious? The answer is that the word אחרי ("after Me") in the posuk has another meaning, as Rashi points out: it means "later on." Thus the posuk can be translated, "One who rebukes a man will later on find grace more than one who smooths his tongue." Someone who rebukes the people will be disliked by them at first, whereas they will love the flatterer. But in the end, they will prefer the one giving rebuke, for only truth stands forever, while lies inevitably fall apart.

One of the major justifications given by those religious Jews who advocate participation in the Zionist electoral system is that this is the only way they can guarantee that yeshiva boys will continue to be exempt from the draft. However, haredi representatives in Knesset have always felt forced to take the route of the "one who smooths his tongue." To say openly that Torah Jews are opposed to the existence of the state, are opposed to waging wars, and therefore refuse on principle to serve in the army, seemed too difficult for them - it might appear treacherous and endanger their right to serve in the Knesset in the first place. Therefore they chose a smoother, more palatable excuse: "Just as the state needs an army and weapons, it needs the spiritual merit of the Torah learners."

Today, we see how that falsehood has led Torah Jewry in Eretz Yisroel into an almost irreparable mess. They are suffering from a terrible handicap that no other Jewish community in the world experiences. There is no other country in the world in which 65% (or even close to that) of haredi Jewish men are not working. This phenomenon is only found in the Zionist state, because the state, in effect, does not allow them to work. The only way they can escape conscription into the army (other than by feigning insanity) is by remaining full-time yeshiva students for their entire lives. These men and their wives are struggling to make ends meet. With their large families, their burden is unbearable.

Had they simply told the truth and rejected army service on principle, they would not be suffering today. In most countries (including the one calling itself "Israel") conscientious objectors are exempt from army service. The state does not force Arabs to serve in the army. Why then should it force service upon haredi anti-Zionist Jews, who are just as opposed to the goals of the state as are the Arabs, if not more?

This is besides the tragedy that the lie that "we want to help the state through the merit of our Torah learning" has been accepted as truth among many of the haredim themselves. As the Nazi propagandist Goebbels said, if a lie is repeated often enough, everyone thinks that it is true, even the liar himself.

It is time for the truth to be told. It may not be comfortable, but we must summon the self-respect and confidence to say a principled "no" to the state and its army. There are some irreligious Jews who are dodging the draft and sometimes sitting in jail for it, because it conflicts with their principles. Do we have less confidence in our Torah principles than they have in the their secular principles? It is only by correcting this problem that the spiritual and physical condition of Torah Jews in Eretz Yisroel can be saved.