Written by Tamar Lerer AJA Judaic Studies Teacher
In this week's parasha there is a strange story - Balak, the King of Mo’av sends for Bil’am, the prophet of the 'nations of the world'. Balak wants so badly to harm Bnai Yisrael that he tries to attack them physically and spiritually. Balak's plan didn’t work out as he planned. Bil’am tries three times to curse the Jewish people, but instead of a curse, a blessing comes out.
Why is this story of a foreign prophet in the Torah? Can’t we just rely on Hashem’s Brachot or on Moshe's speeches to Bnei Israel? Why do the Jewish people need the blessings of Bil'am?
The source of the answer lies in Bil’am's description of Bnai Yisrael. In these blessings they are compared to a Lion. This is not the first time Am Yisrael is compared to a lion, yet the meaning here is deeper than its first glance.
"הֶן־עָם֙ כְּלָבִ֣יא יָק֔וּם וְכַאֲרִ֖י יִתְנַשָּׂ֑א.."
Behold, a people that rises like a lioness and raises itself like a lion.
Rashi has a different approach to this pasuk, he explains that this is referring to the individual:
הן עם כלביא יקום וגו'. כְּשֶׁהֵן עוֹמְדִין מִשְּׁנָתָם שַׁחֲרִית, הֵן מִתְגַּבְּרִין כְּלָבִיא וְכַאֲרִי לַחֲטוֹף אֶת הַמִּצְוֹת — לִלְבּוֹשׁ טַלִּית, לִקְרוֹא אֶת שְׁמַע וּלְהָנִיחַ תְּפִלִּין:
Rashi explains that the battle is not against different nations, but for each person to overcome himself, to wake up excited to do the Mitzvot.
Such a great quality - to rise quickly and enthusiastically to do Mitzvot, that is something that needs to be said, and repeated to Bnai Yisrael. The fact that Bil’am, an outsider, could see that just from looking at the camp of the Jewish nation, shows us how, despite all the difficulties in the desert and all the complaining, Am Israel was and still is eager to fulfil their true destiny.
Placing Parashat Balak here, after a couple of weeks of difficulties and inter-conflicts, makes a stand - shouts out loud that Am Yisrael is constantly under Hashem's wing, and even when we may seem unfocused or complaining we still have the ability to shine among the world.