April 16, 2024
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Opportunities Not to Be Missed

The parsha of Balak can be thought of as the parsha of missed opportunities. The rabbis point out that Balak, rather than asking Balaam for a blessing, instead asks that Bnei Yisrael be cursed. This is the first of many missed opportunities.

Balak sends emissaries to Balaam to induce him to curse Bnei Yisrael. That night Hashem appears to Balaam telling him that Bnei Yisrael are blessed. Balaam fails to take this moment to reveal Hashem’s message and save Balak and his people from defeat by urging them to come over to Hashem’s side. Indeed, rather than tell the messengers that Bnei Yisrael are blessed from the mouth of Hashem, Balaam instead uses the moment as one of self aggrandizement. He reports only that Hashem appeared to him but does not report the message.

Balaam, having obstinately determined to go and try to curse Bnei Yisrael, fails while en route to appreciate the miracle of a talking beast and an angelic encounter. This unprecedented event of a talking pack animal does not cause Balaam to realize Hashem’s power. Neither that wonder nor his rescue from a sword-wielding angel evokes any change on Balaam’s part. He fails to learn from the encounter. Indeed, Balaam proceeds with his intent to curse Bnei Yisrael. Even after Hashem frustrates his plans he fails to change his ways. He fails to bless Balak, he fails to voluntarily bless Bnei Yisrael.

Bnei Yisrael are also guilty of missing opportunities. On the eve of entering the land, rather than take time to prepare themselves either spiritually or militarily, what do Bnei Yisrael do? They sin. Not only do the people sin, but one individual does so in open defiance of Hashem.

The parsha does not, however, only tell of missed opportunities. It also teaches that although opportunities may be missed, they are not lost. As is true with physical energy, spiritual energy or potential is not lost but gets converted and preserved. Balak’s failure to have his people blessed becomes an opportunity for Bnei Yisrael to be blessed. Balaam’s failure to declare that the nation of Israel is blessed by Hashem sets the stage for Israel to be blessed by man so that other men might know of it. The sin of Bnei Yisrael, and the remedial measures it forces Pinchas to take, results in Pinchas being granted a Covenant of Peace.

The parsha teaches that every missed opportunity leads to a new opportunity. The question becomes one being able to see and seize that opportunity. We also see the contrast between Balaam and Moshe. Hashem gives Balaam multiple opportunities, offered unambiguously, not to curse Israel and to voluntarily bless them. Balaam refuses. Moshe, on the other hand, is seen in Chukat, the first parsha of this double parsha, preparing the people to enter the land and begin its conquest. He does this knowing that he will not enter the land, and that the sooner the people enter the sooner he will pass away. Thus, even though self-interest would dictate proceeding slowly, he forges ahead. Chukat gives us still another example of new opportunities. We learn that if a person becomes ritually unfit, another mitzvah, that of the red heifer, provides the means to correct the problem.

This makes reading Chukat and Balak together most appropriate. From Chukat we can learn that setbacks that might make us unable to perform one mitzvah does not mean we are unable to perform another mitzvah. Indeed, the very setback might be a means to set the stage for that other mitzvah. In a sense, there are no missed opportunities to do a mitzvah, only different opportunities. We merely need to have the common sense and dedication of purpose to pursue, execute and achieve the opportunity and our potential. Balak shows us what happens when we fail to see the options Hashem places before us.

Does not then this parsha truly relate to the present day? The obvious answer is the understanding, applicable to any type of human relationship, that when something goes awry that disruption of the accepted order can be used as an opportunity to rebuild with a stronger base or framework. To not just repair, but to reexamine and improve. There is, however, a deeper lesson to be learned. From the parsha we see that Hashem’s plan will not be frustrated. It will be brought about. The question is whether or not a given individual will be a part of its attainment. In the parsha, Bnei Yisrael were going to be blessed. Balaam had the option of willingly blessing Bnei Yisrael and being praised for that act, or, to his eternal shame, being forced to offer the blessing against his will. You can be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can bless or curse. You can be blessed or be cursed. The choice is yours.


William S.J. Fraenkel received a Bachelors of Arts in religion and a law degree from NYU, and served as a board member and officer of several Orthodox shuls. The opinions expressed in this dvar Torah are solely his own.

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