June 12, 2024
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How to Sustain All of Bilaam’s Blessings

At Mincha last Shabbos, no one knew how to lein Parshas Balak. It was awkward. It was my yeshiva, so…I volunteered. Leining is not my forte, but it was my older brother’s bar mitzvah portion, so I heard it many times. Baruch Hashem, I was able to read the parsha without any errors! For a brief moment I left my comfort zone of giving shiurim to reading from the Sefer Torah. It was a transformative experience! But honestly, I’m fine leaving this as a one-timer!

Parshas Balak is all about transformation. Bilaam attempted to curse klal Yisrael multiple times unsuccessfully. Upon each attempt, Hashem transformed his words to a blessing. However, the Gemara quotes Rav Abba bar Kahana who says Bilaam’s wicked intentions did play out, as his involuntary blessings were short-lived, with most reverting to the intended curses. Only one blessing remained in effect. In the pasuk, “Hashem replaced the curse with a blessing because of Hashem’s love for you (klal Yisrael),” the words “curse” and “blessing” are written in singular tense. This means that only one of Bilaam’s curses was permanently turned into a blessing.

But if Hashem loves klal Yisrael, why didn’t He make all the blessings remain in effect? The Slonimer Rebbe explains that the Gemara states the one blessing that remained was “Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishkenosecha Yisrael, How beautiful are your tents, Yaakov, and the sanctuaries of Yisrael.” The Gemara explains that “tent” refers to the beis midrash and “sanctuary” refers to the shul.

There are two primary vital organs in a human body: the heart and the brain. If they are healthy, the body can fight off the disease and stay healthy. But if either heart or brain are impaired, the rest of the body is prone to sickness. The beis midrash corresponds to the brain of the Jewish nation, as Torah is learned with the mind. The shul corresponds to the heart, as prayer in the shul is referred to as “the service of the heart.” Therefore, Hashem with His love for the Jewish nation chose this specific blessing—that the yeshivos and shuls of klal Yisrael always remain strong and vibrant. By way of individuals dedicating themselves to diligent Torah study along with heartfelt prayer, all the blessings of Bilaam remain in effect for them. The key to the vibrancy and “health” of all Bnei Yisrael are the yeshivos and shuls.

The Chofetz Chaim had a granddaughter who was raised in Russia during the communist era in the 1920s. She planned to attend university, but her parents feared for her Jewish identity there. They asked her to first visit her saintly grandfather. She took a train from the big city of Warsaw. As she got closer to her destination, she needed to use a horse and buggy and finally, she walked the last segment into the small village of Radin. When she entered her grandfather’s home, she was startled. The only furniture was a table and chairs. There was no electricity or running water. The Chofetz Chaim was sitting at the table learning from a sefer by candlelight.

She greeted her grandfather and asked, “Zeidy, why do you sit here in the darkness?” Her message had a dual meaning: why sit in a dark room…and why study these archaic laws? The Chofetz Chaim sat quietly and then responded. “Man invented airplanes and soon they will invent a plane that can fly to the moon. Man invented bombs, which at first were primitive, causing more fright from the noise rather than actual damage, but soon they will invent a bomb that can destroy the entire world. What you perceive as advancing and enlightening the world is really just making the world darker. Torah study is about developing a person to be wholesome and complete. The world produces machines of destruction, but the Torah produces people of distinction. You ask why I sit here in the darkness, but in reality, everything is lit up around me because the Torah illuminates the entire world!” The granddaughter told people that this encounter saved her Jewish identity.

Let us recognize and utilize the sources for all blessings that Hashem gave us—our yeshivos and our shuls—to their maximum potential. May we merit to see all of Bilaam’s blessings once again come back to the entire klal Yisrael with the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.


Rabbi Mordechai and Nina Glick are living in Bergenfield after many years of service to the Montreal Jewish community. Rabbi Glick was the rav of Congregation Ahavat Yisroel as well as a practicing clinical psychologist in private practice. He also taught at Champlain Regional College. The Glicks were frequent speakers at the OU marriage retreats. Nina coordinated all Yachad activities in Montreal and was a co/founder of Maison Shalom, a group home for young adults with special needs. They can be reached at [email protected].

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