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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Parshas Balak: Unterpersönlichkeit

Bilaam had a very personal relationship with Hashem. He spoke to Hashem and Hashem spoke back. The poetry and prose found in this week’s parsha is very possibly the most beautiful Poetry found in the Torah. From a poetic perspective, his words seem to be even more beautiful than the words of Moshe or Aharon or any of the Neviim – prophets- at the time. Bilaam could hear the word of Hashem and he could convey it beautifully. He had all of the tools necessary to be a truly great man. And he wasn’t. 

Hashem told Bilaam personally, “Don’t curse these people, they are blessed”. Bilaam knew that Hashem did not want the Jews to be cursed and that He would not allow the Jews to be cursed. Any of us would have left it right there, but Bilaam didn’t get it. Bilaam completely ignored the fact that the Jewish people were Hashem’s chosen people. He made light of the fact that the whole world trembled when Hashem gave the Torah, and he spent his time finding loopholes. He searched for some strategy, someway, somehow, that he would be able to curse the Jewish people despite the will of Hashem.

How could a person who is able to transmit Hashem’s words so eloquently and who knows that his power to curse comes from Hashem be so oblivious to the will of Hashem and to the obligation of Man to fulfill the will of Hashem?

Who was Bilaam? Was he a prophet who spoke to Hashem or was he a wicked person, oblivious to the words of Hashem?

The Torah is making a point with Bilaam: A person can hear the קול ה’ – the literal voice of G-d, he can understand G-d better than any of the people around him, he can speak more beautifully than any prophet in history, and he can still be an idiot. The path to true greatness is by looking within ourselves and concentrating on improving ourselves. If we can do this we can become great people. If we cannot, we can be very impressive and say all the right things, but we cannot become great.

Bilaam had knowledge and talent, but he did not have the will or desire to look inward and evaluate himself. He was a vain, arrogant, greedy, impatient man who had power struggles with his donkey – and refused to give in even after the donkey opened her mouth and talked to him!

We see this in the difference between the way Bilaam spoke to Hashem and the way we are supposed to talk to Hashem. Bilaam and Balak put a lot of emphasis in choosing a spot from which to curse the Jewish people. When Bilaam was unsuccessful in his cursing, he changed spots. When he was unsuccessful again he changed to yet another spot. Each time his prayers weren’t answered he went and tried a different location.

Avraham Avinu also davened many times – he invented shacharis – but whenever he davened he always returned to the same spot. Our sages tell us that anybody, anywhere, who makes a permanent spot for his or her davening is following the path of Avraham and will be assisted by G-d of Avraham.

Bilaam was a superficial person; He had no depth of character. When he was unsuccessful, he tried changing his location and the view and blamed everything and everyone around him.

If we want to follow in the path of Avraham, we need to get beyond the external. Instead of trying to change all of the circumstances and people around us we need to try changing ourselves.


Posted on 07/02 at 04:29 AM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at