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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Parshas Balak 5760

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Bilaam had a special kind of power. Forces of impurity, the sitra achara imbued him, with the power to curse. Not everyone can make his or her curses come true but Bilaam was a proven commodity. He cursed and G-d
listened. He had what it takes to make negative things happen.

The Slonimer Rebbe in Nesivos Sholom writes that the forces of impurity that Bilaam tried to unleash could only affect lone, solitary individuals. Bnei Yisroel as a group and all those connecting themselves to that nation as a whole were immune.

When Bilaam saw Klal Yisroel dwelling as tribes, peacefully, without jealousy, united as one large group with each sub-group contributing their unique talents and assets - he lost his power. Impurity turned to purity and curse turned to blessing.

What words then came from his mouth?

“Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishk’nosecha Yisroel {How good are your tents, Yaakov, your dwellings, Israel.} [24:5]” The Sforno writes that these
“tents” and “dwellings” refer to our learning centers and synagogues. The places where we join together as one and where every Jew feels himself as a part of the nation at large. These tents and dwelling saved us from Bilaam!

Ultimately, when Bilaam saw that he was unsuccessful in cursing Bnei Yisroel, he needed to come up with some creative way of dividing the people. He advised Moav to send their daughters to seduce Bnei Yisroel, leading to adultery and idol worship. Twenty four thousand Jews could not withstand the temptation and separated themselves from the “tents of Yaakov and from the dwellings of Israel”.

The twenty four thousand people who succumbed to their desires and thus separated themselves from the nation all died and Klal Yisroel was severely weakened. The Ariza"l writes that Rebbi Akiva’s twenty four thousand students who died because they didn’t honor one another sufficiently had the souls of the twenty four thousand mentioned above.

How can we compare these two groups? One was involved in the gravest of sins while the other fell short in honoring one another!

The Nesivos Sholom explains that at their roots, both groups shared a common, fatal fault-- they were divisionists. They lacked the necessary unity needed to be part of Klal Yisroel. They failed.

As a Kehilla there is an issue that must take precedence over all other issues. As a Shul we must be an Ohel Yaakov and the larger community must be the Mishkan Yisroel. Every part of the whole is beautiful, every person is valuable, and every opinion should be expressed. But before expressing that opinion please think ten times whether your words are constructive or divisive. is So much division takes place in the name of unity. If you ever feel driven by ego, by personal comfort or if you find yourself asking, ‘what’s in it for me?’ change your position. Bilaam taught us that division makes us all vulnerable.

This week, Thursday, we commemorate the breaking of the Luchos. What difference did it make if the large stones that Moshe carried broke into little pieces? The word of G-d was still whole. Surely Moshe remembered all Ten Commandments. My friend Rabbi Doniel Lerner of Baltimore pointed out that the message of Moshe was that the whole is greater the sum of its parts. Before we had the Luchos Habris, now we have a pile of stones. Moshe pointed out the outcome of divisiveness. The Bais Hamikdash, the ultimate “tent of Hashem” could not stand in pieces. It turned into stone and we divided into Golus.

As we enter once again into the period of the “Three weeks” let us pray that we will all see the day that an outsider can peer into our community and only say “Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishk’nosecha Yisroel”.

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