Excerpt Browser

This page displays the full text of excerpts.  When viewing a single excerpt, its “Share,” “Switch Article,” and “Comment” functions are accessible.

NUMBERS — 22:5 Petor

NUM277 … the chief hindrance to humility is ignorance or a little knowledge. You will observe that the more ignorant a man is, the more conceited he is. Our Sages said, "An arrogant disposition betrays ignorance of the Torah." Sanhedrin 24a "When a man boasts, it is a sign that he knows nothing." Zohar on this verse. "When there is only one penny in the pitcher, it makes much noise." Baba Metzia 85b "The trees that bear no fruit were once asked, 'Why can one hear your rustling?' 'So that we might be heard and noticed,' was their reply." Genesis Rabbah 16:3 We have already mentioned that Moses, who was the chosen of men, was also the meekest of men.


NUMBERS — 22:6 curse

NUM278 We should not seek to curse for our enemies, rather we should pray that they should become our friends. The Children of Israel encamped in the plains of Moab. The Moabites were frightened, and Balak, their king, sent messages to Bilaam, requesting him to destroy the Israelites with a curse [this verse]. The Chofetz Chayim commented that from here we see how wicked Balak was. Balak believed that Balaam had the power to bless. If so, why was it necessary to request Bilaam to curse the Jews? He could have asked him to bless his own people so that they should not be harmed (Chofetz Chayim al Hatorah on this verse].


NUMBERS — 22:6 defeat

NUM279 The Talmud (Arachin 15a) declares that improper speech is far more severe than improper action and proves it from the Torah story of ten spies who sinned by improperly speaking evil about the land of Israel. The consequences of those words an the improper reaction of the people was the punishment that denied all the Jewish adults the opportunity to inherit the land and that they would die in the desert. Yet, when these same Jews months earlier had actually worshiped the Golden Calf, their punishment in committing that sin of action was far less severe than the decree of death. The same concept is echoed in the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Tehillim 3:621) which shows through other similar verses that the consequences of improper speech are very often more grievous than the consequences of improper actions. The Talmud (Arachin 15b) points out that the physiological makeup of the human being demonstrates how much the tongue must be guarded. The other limbs of man's body are exposed and seen by others. The tongue, however, is created to be hidden from view. In addition, there was an need to surround a tongue with two protective "walls," the mouth and the teeth, to prevent its misuse. Thus, we see how powerful language can be both for the positive of creation of the world as well as for the destruction of the world. It seems from the Torah (Numbers, chaps. 22-24) that Bilaam would have actually destroyed the Jewish people with his words had he succeeded in cursing the people rather than blessing them, since the Torah went to great lengths to show us that God changed his curses into blessings. The Talmud points out (Megillah 28a) that the power of words is so strong that even the curses of simple, "unimportant" people should not be taken lightly.


NUMBERS — 22:23 sight

NUM283 Psalm 104:24 declares that God fashioned all creatures with wisdom. The Talmud, going further, maintains that each creature consented to the form God gave it, implying that God conferred with the animals (B. Hullin 60a). This ability to reflect a part of the divine wisdom hovers in the background of the numerous classical rabbinic stories of animal sagacity. Pesikta Rabbati, a sixth-or seventh-century redaction of early rabbinic materials, tells a story of a cow who, when sold to a gentile, still refused to work on the Sabbath and ultimately so impressed its new owner with his piety that the new owner converted to Judaism and became a great rabbi (14). In some of the stories animals behave ethically and show an awareness of God when humans do not. Thus "Balaam's ass" sees a divine messenger on the road when Balaam is unable to do so (this verse;), and in the Talmud we read that while the humans today are like donkeys when compared with the previous, morally superior generation, they are "not like the donkeys of R. Hanina and R. Pinhas ben Ya'ir," who refused to eat untithed barley and therefore are, the text seems to imply, our moral superiors (B. Shabbat 12b). Moses Cordovero (1522-1570), returning to the story of Rabbi Judah and the calf, argues that "the Supernal Wisdom is extended to all creative things--minerals, plants, animals, and humans.… In this way man's pity should be extended to all the works of the Blessed One just as the Supernal Wisdom despises no created thing.… This is the reason our holy teacher was punished for his failure to have pity on the young calf that tried to hide near him. (Moses Cordovero, The Palm Tree of Deborah, Louis Jacobs, trans. (New York: Sepher-Hermon, 1981), pp. 83-4 (chap. 3 in Hebrew). (By Aaron S. Gross, "Jewish Animal Ethics")


NUMBERS — 22:30 answered

NUM285 We must save others from shame. The Midrash adds that the angel said, "But now since she spoke and rebuked you, and you were not able to withstand her rebuke [this verse], I have killed her, lest people say: 'This is the donkey which rebuked Bilaam and he was not able to answer.' The Almighty has consideration for the honor of mankind." (Midrash Tanchuma cited by Rashi). Bilaam reached the zenith of wickedness by wanting to destroy the entire Jewish people. Even the miraculous occurrence of his donkey's speaking to him did not effect a change of attitude in Bilaam. But God has consideration even for such a person's honor, and does not want him to suffer unnecessary humiliation. All the more so must we be careful not to shame our friends and neighbors. (Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz).


Back To Top