April 15, 2024
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וַיַּעֲמֹד מַלְאַךְ ה’ בְּמִשְׁעוֹל הַכְּרָמִים גָּדֵר מִזֶּה וְגָדֵר מִזֶּה: (במדבר כב:כד)

“And the malach of Hashem stood in the path of vineyards with a fence on this side and a fence on that side.” (Bamidbar 22:24)

Zera Shimshon asks: Why is it important for the Torah to mention that the malach stood on a path of a vineyard—b’mishol hakramim? Why wasn’t it enough to simply say that the malach stood on a path?

Zera Shimshon answers—in light of the Midrash Rabbah (parshas Noach)—after Noach left the ark and planted a vineyard, he met a female demon. She said to him, “Let’s be partners (in the vineyard). However, be careful …” she warned, “because if you take from my portion, I will strike you, and injure you.”

From this midrash, we learn that vineyards and wine are not simple things; there are two sides to them. They have an element that is kosher—for instance, we make kiddush on wine and we even pour wine on the Mizbeach. However, there is also another side to them; if a person drinks “a little too much” or “a lot too much,” he can do very bad things that can sometimes even lead to the total destruction of a family, Hashem yerachem. Therefore, when someone drinks wine, he must follow the advice the female demon gave to Noach, “Be very careful not to ‘cross lines’ and take from the ‘other’ half because if you do, I might strike and injure you.”

According to this—Zera Shimshon explains—the reason the Torah mentions that the malach appeared to Bilam in a vineyard was to allude to him that his situation is similar to a vineyard; he also has two parts in him. On the one hand, Hashem gave him prophecy, and on the other hand, there is an evil part of him that belongs to the Satan. The malach—who was a malach of mercy—was warning him to be careful and not to fall into the hands of Satan, but to carry out the wishes of Hashem.

This idea can answer two other questions: Why did the Torah stress that there were walls on each side of the path and why did the Torah mention that the malach moved to a place that was narrow: “… v’yahahmode b’makom tzar?”

According to the above we can explain, the Torah mentions that the malach stood on a narrow path to stress to Bilam that the two options stand very close to each other—like two people walking together on a very narrow path—and, therefore, it is very easy to slip from the “kosher” side to the other side. This is true with regards to wine, drinking at a kiddush can lead to bad things—even though making kiddush is a mitzvah. This is also true with regard to Bilam, who used the present of prophecy that Hashem gave him for bad things.

Since it is so easy to cross sides, it is not enough to simply say to oneself, “I’ll be strong and only drink a little,” or “I’ll use my prophecy only for good things.” Rather, a person has to build a wall between the two options and must be extremely careful not to go to the other side, which is alluded to, by saying that the path had walls on each side.

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