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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Still Travelling - Why Bilaam’s Curse Didn’t Work

By Rabbi Sender Haber

Bilaam and Balak did not see eye to eye. Bilaam had a simple problem; he needed someone to get rid of the Jews. He did some research and found that the way to do it was by cursing them and that the best person to curse them would be Bilaam. He sent messengers to Bilaam and gave him an offer that he should not have been able to refuse. Bilaam refused.

Although Bilaam later decided to follow along with Balak’s plan, it backfired and was doomed to failure. It is worth understanding what it was that scared Balak.

Rav Moshe Feinstein points out a small but significant difference in Bilaam’s perception of the Jews vs. Balak’s perception of the Jews. Balak characterized the Jews as a “Nation who had left Egypt”; Bilaam characterized them as “a nation leaving Egypt”.

Balak knew about everything that Hashem had done for the Jews in Mitzrayim, but he was not fazed. He didn’t even mention the miracles in Mitzrayim and at the Yam Suf. He was only concerned with the current status of the Jews: a nation that was grabbing all of the lands that it passed through. “And Balak saw all that the Jews had done to the Emori”.

Bilaam understood that the Jews were different. They were on the warpath and winning only because they were on their way out of Mitzrayim. Later, when he explained why he could not curse the Jews he reiterated, “the G-d who is taking them out of Mitzrayim is strong as a bull”. Leaving Mitzrayim is an ongoing event.

There are two aspects to keeping Shabbos. In the first Luchos we are told to remember Shabbos itself. Shabbos is the day on which Hashem rested. In the second Luchos we are commanded to keep Shabbos and to remember that we were slaves in Mitzrayim and that Hashem took us out.

On the one hand we need to remember the creation of the world and the fact that Hashem created us in six days. On the other hand we need to remember that we are on a journey and that we have already come far. Shabbos is a time for us to rest and remember that we are on a journey and to reflect on how far we have come and that we can proceed.

Life is full of ups and downs. We start books and projects and then we lose our resolve before we finish them. Reb Chaim Shmuelvitz gave a piece of advice to yeshiva Bochurim experiencing ups and downs: When you get back to learning always start from where you left off. Never, ever, start again from the beginning.

Balak believed that our strength was dependent on Prayer and Curses. Bilaam realized that our success was based on the fact that the present is only one small part of our Journey.

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