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Parashat Balak

We read in the Haftarah this week. עַמִּ֗י זְכָר־נָא֙ מַה־יָּעַ֗ץ בָּלָק֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ מוֹאָ֔ב וּמֶה־עָנָ֥ה אֹת֖וֹ בִּלְעָ֣ם בֶּן־בְּע֑וֹר מִן־הַשִּׁטִּים֙ עַד־הַגִּלְגָּ֔ל לְמַ֕עַן דַּ֖עַת צִדְק֥וֹת יְקֹוָֽק My nation, please remember what Balak, King of Moab advised, and what Bilaam, son of Beor, answered him from the Shittim until the Gilgal, in order to know the Righteousness of G-d. (Micha 6)   Our Rabbis learn that Bilaam had a most powerful weapon: the knowledge of the arrival of the split moment when G-d “fumes”, each day. If Bilaam would have leveled his accusations against the Jews at that split moment, there would have been very serious ramifications to his claims. But G-d tells us that He did not fume all those days that Bilaam tried to present a case against the Jews (Berachot 7a). And G-d asks us never to forget this.

The Chida adds this “remembrance” to the remembrances that we recite each day, mentioned in the Siddur after Shacharit.  “And I am fulfilling the Mitzvah, to remember that Hashem saved our fathers from Balak and Bilaam.” (Kaf Ahat 25 9).

The Zohar says something so powerful regarding this. The reason why G-d does not listen to us, when we beg Him to remember the good we used to have in the times of the Bet HaMikdash  זְכֹ֤ר יְקֹוָק֙ מֶֽה־הָ֣יָה לָ֔נוּ (Eicha 5), and the reason that He does not listen to us when we cry out to Him to remember the brutal destructions of the Temples, זְכֹ֤ר יְקֹוָ֨ק׀ לִבְנֵ֬י אֱד֗וֹם אֵת֘ י֤וֹם יְֽרוּשָׁ֫לִָ֥ם הָ֭אֹ֣מְרִים עָ֤רוּ׀ עָ֑רוּ עַ֝֗ד הַיְס֥וֹד בָּֽהּ: (Tehillim 137) is because G-d is asking us, begging us, that WE first remember how G-d did not let Bilaam curse the Jewish Nation behind their backs! (Zohar, Behukotay 112)

Why is it so important to remember something that we were not even witness to?! The Exodus, the splitting of the sea, Har Sinai, the Mannah, the Well of Miriam, the Clouds of Glory, the war with Amalek and the other miraculous wars – those were all known to the people. They saw it, they lived it, and they could remember it and pass it on to their descendants. But we know of the episode with Bilaam, only because G-d told it to Moshe! Of all things, why was it so important to remember G-d’s having prevented the curse? And why is it that if we do not remember His prevention of that curse, G-d doesn’t want to remember the good times of the relationship between Him and His People, and the brutal destructions?

The answer is that the Jews knew nothing about this whole episode of Bilaam’s attempt to curse the Jews. It all was completely “behind their backs”, and nonetheless, G-d saved them. Without even a single Jewish prayer, a single Jewish tear! G-d had no problem saving us – even though we had no idea that we were in such hot water – because G-d loves us more than we realize!

The lesson that G-d watches over us even when we are not watching over ourselves is such an important lesson to keep in mind and remember. It is so important, that our Rabbis wanted to incorporate it into the recitation of the Shema – Bilaam’s words describing our Nation  כָּרַ֨ע שָׁכַ֧ב כַּאֲרִ֛י וּכְלָבִ֖יא מִ֣י יְקִימֶ֑נּוּ  He crouches, and lies like a lion, and like a lion, who can make him rise?  (Berachot 12b) Bilaam compared the way the Jews go to sleep and how they rise to the way lions go to sleep and awaken. When we go to sleep, we are not afraid, because we know that G-d takes care of the things that we cannot take care of.

This is what happened with the city of Cheshbon. Cheshbon was a metropolis on the border of E Yisrael and in a strategic location. Cheshbon belonged to Moab and it was impossible to conquer. Sihon, king of Emori, hired Bilaam to curse the first Moabite King who ruled over the mighty Cheshbon city. Bilaam’s curse was so strong that Sihon was able to conquer Moab and take the city of Cheshbon for his possession. Imagine Sihon’s feeling of success!!! But G-d let all of this happen, because He wanted the Jews to be able to capture and take possession of Cheshbon. G-d did not let the Jews fight Moab. So, as long as Cheshbon was in the hands of Moab, the Jews could not fight for it. But now that Cheshbon was owned by Sihon and the Emori, the Jews were allowed to capture it!

Who would ever think of thanking G-d for letting Sihon take Cheshbon from Moab?! But, that is precisely what was needed for the Jewish People to be able to capture Cheshbon. G-d pulled the strings behind the scenes in a way that had long-term ramifications. And He always does.

We thank HaShem only for “good” that we can perceive with our senses. Something we feel, see, taste or smell. But what about the good things that “happen”, the good things that Hashem does for us that we do not even know about? How many times has G-d twisted reality behind the scenes to serve your needs, changing the outcome for the better, and you had no inkling that He was changing the script?

Life is filled with the greatest irony. Things that we fear most in life turn out to be not as bad or scary as we assumed, while things to which we paid only a minimum of attention, such as health issues, interpersonal relationships or stress levels actually present the biggest problems that we have to deal with. I asked my friends who are 65 years old or more what they had to say about this irony in life, and they all told me that it is so true. The things that hit us the hardest are the things that we least expected. So many times in life, we find ourselves in a rut over things that are, in fact, completely out of our control. Just when we thought we had things under control…

We would do much better if we were to perceive our reality with a drone’s eye view, and accept the fact that that there are many things over which we have no control that we are not even aware of. And still, everything is fine. Because even though we are not in control, G-d is always in control. And this is something that G-d begs us to remember.

If only we lived this way, G-d would remember the good Temple days, and G-d would remember all the suffering of our Nation in the days of the destruction of our Temples.

This one thought, that G-d takes care of the things that we are not even aware of, can be the most powerful thought we have as a Nation.  It might even bring the Moshiach.

About the author, Yosef

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