Balak-Jews and Lions

In our parsha (Balak), the non-Jewish prophet Bilam says about the Jews, “He crouches and lies down like a lion, and like a lion cub, who dares arouse him” (Num 24:9).  Both Rashi and Onkelos say that the verse refers to the Jews in the land of Israel, where they will settle with power and might.  However, the Midrash (Raba 98:7) says that the verse refers to the Jews in exile, beginning with King Tzidkiyahu up until the time of meshiach (the Jewish messiah).  Since during that period, we have not been living in our own land, the verse must take on a more intimate, internal meaning…

The Tzemach Tzedek (third Lubavitcher Rebbe) points out that nobody can force a lion to lie down or to crouch.  It lies down or crouches only when it decides to do so.  The same is true of the Jews in exile; nobody could force us into exile – it occurred only because of our sins.  It is our own fault that we are in exile, and since that is the case, no nation has true control over the Jews even when we are not in our own land. Ultimately, we have no business being in exile, and when we fulfill mitzvoth, we remove ourselves completely from the influence of the exile.

The holy book, Likutei Shoshanim (R’ Shimon of Astropoli) points out an intrinsic connection between Bilam, who wanted to curse the Jews in our parsha, and between Amalek, the arch-enemy of the Jewish people.  Both could have claimed Jewish roots (Amalek from Esau and Bilam from Lavan).  And both could have ostensibly claimed that since they had Jewish roots and yet were opposed to mitzvoth, therefore it is not necessary to fulfill mitzvoth.  We see a hint to their intirnsic connection when we write their names together, one over the other.



For those who read Hebrew, it is evident that the names can be read both vertically and horizontally.  If one divides the letters in half, it can be seen that the first two letters of Bilam combine with the first two letters of Amalek to form the word, “Bilam” just as it is written in the top line.  And the second two letters of “Bilam” combine with the second two letters of “Amalek” to form “Amalek.”  This lets us see quite graphically how the two are related – and both wanted to persuade the people of their generation that it is not necessary to fulfill mitzvoth.

Our answer to them?  There are two words in Hebrew that are the source of all mitzvoth: love of God and fear of God, both of which were lacking by Bilam and Amalek.  Here they are in Hebrew:



Interestingly, we see the same vertical-horizontal relationship between these words (ahava – “love”, and yirah – “fear”) exists as between Bilam and Amalek above.  And that provides us with the answer to their claims – when Bilam and Amalek claim that we need not fulfill mitzvoth, we answer them that they are lacking “love,” which is the source of all positive mitzvoth, and “fear,” which is the source of all negative mitzvoth.  Both of them were lacking the essential ingredient that puts the Jews out of the reach of the other nations of the world – their love and fear of God that motivates them to fulfill mitzvoth.  There is a disconnect between their mind and their heart (Am-malek -“nation that is cut off”), or Godliness is simply “swallowed up” (Bila-am – “swallowed up nation”) within so that neither Amalek nor Bilam are able to fulfill mitzvoth.

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