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Parsha Balak - a Nation that dwells alone

One of the most profound and influential comments ever made about Jewish destiny was made by the pagan prophet Bilaam in this week’s sedra:

As I see them from the mountain tops,

Gaze on them from the heights,

Behold it is a people that dwells alone,

Not reckoned among the nations. (Num. 23:9)

To many – Jews and non-Jews, admirers and critics alike – that has seemed to epitomise the Jewish situation: a people that stands outside history and the normal laws governing the fate of nations.

Reb Shlomo zt"l when introducing his song - "Gam Ki Eileich- though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear any evil, for You are with me," (Psalm 23), with a lamentation and a cry, that Israel has no friends in the world. He said that this makes him sad but also happy because only good people befriend Israel.

Reb Shlomo continued singing and inspiring us with confidence, teaching that really we are not alone- "For You are with me." Hashem is always our friend.

Hashem too is alone, so to speak. But really He is not alone, because He has us, the Children of The Covenant- we are and always will be with Him. And one day, let it be soon, the whole world will be with Him.

Reb Shlomo's Torah

Balak - Ma Tovu

Each time we walk into a synagogue there is a beautiful passage that we say, it's from this Shabbos. “Mah Tovu Ohalech Ya’akov,” how beautiful are you tents Jacob. “Mishkenosecha Yisrael,” your dwellings Israel. The difference between a tent and a house is very simple. A tent is a tent. You break it up and you put it up again, you break it up, and you put it up again.

So Jacob, first he was called Jacob and when he reached that higher level he was called Yisrael. This is a very hard thing but just take it as it is. In the beginning we are called Jacob and when we reach the level that he was with it, you are called Yisrael. The land is not called Eretz Ya’akov. It's called Eretz Yisrael. You can’t break it up anymore.

So,Jacob is on the level of the tent, one day he’s there, the next day you don’t know. Hopefully it's there and ultimately the wind can blow it over, chas veshalom.

There are two kinds of people in the world. There are days when they are strong like Israel, all the winds of the world can't blow it off. One day you’re not so strong, and you are like a tent.

So this Shabbos we read that Bilaam wanted to curse the Jews. Right now take it in a nutshell.

Balak, the top anti-Jew, took him into the mountains and he said 'look at the Jews, how disgusting they are'. He was saying all kinds of bad things, which is true. Nobody’s perfect. So anyway he says that he told them, look at their houses. But he couldn’t help it. Bilaam wanted to curse the Jews so he says “Ma Tovu Ohalecha Ya’akov,” he couldn’t help it. And you see, this is the first thing we say when we walk into synagogue. How beautiful are your tents Jacob your dwellings Israel. And then we add another passage from the psalms that says “Vaani B’rov Chasdecha Avo Beisecha” that I with your infinite grace, with your infinite love I am coming to your house. Eshtachave El Heichal Kodshecha, Biyiratecha I bow down at the gates of your palace with great awe in this holy place

The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz

This Week it will be the 17th of Tammuz, the second of the four annual fast days commemorating and mourning

The destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. With this fast we begin the 'three weeks' of mourning; also known as בין המצרים - 'between the narrows'. The Talmud tells us that the 2nd Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of 'sinat Chinam' -- baseless hatred. We also learn that anyone who does not get to see the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash in his days, it is as if it was destroyed in his days. What do we need to do to help rebuild the Beit Hamikdash? Many holy Rabbis teach that since the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of 'sinat chinam', it will be rebuilt out of 'ahavat chinam' -- baseless love.

May we all be blessed to truly renew and deepen our 'achdut', oneness and unification with each other and with Hashem, and may we merit to see the reestablishment and return of the Beit Hamikdash, [which is already complete, it only needs to be brought down from heaven to earth] quickly in our days, together with the speedy arrival of Mashiach Tzidkeinu. Amen, kein yehi ratzon.

Reb Shlomo Teaching 3 weeks

Parsha Balak

This is a gleaning from a teaching of the holy Kotzker Rebbe on the verse:

יד וְעַתָּה, הִנְנִי הוֹלֵךְ לְעַמִּי; לְכָה, אִיעָצְךָ, אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה הָעָם הַזֶּה לְעַמְּךָ, בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים.

24:14 And now, behold, I go unto my people; come, and I will announce to thee what this people shall do to thy people in the end of days.'

Here is how the Kotzker Rebbe reads the verse: Now behold I am going back to my people, let me advise you, how to transform this people [the Jews] to be 'your nation' in the end of days.

Consider. What can we learn from our body about assimilation? Just like each organ has its unique identity and place in the body, and thereby contributes to the well-being of the entire body, so too, we the Children of Israel have to maintain our unique identity and be in our ‘place’, in their community, in the Holy Land, to live authentic Jewish lives; authentic to ourselves and authentic to the whole world.

Before receiving the Holy Torah, Hashem initiated us into being His Kingdom of Kohanim, His holy nation. Though Balaam knew this very well, but because he was so self-centered, wicked and evil, he continued to devise strategies to bring about the downfall of the Jewish People.

Prophesying about the end of days, Bilam tells Balak that in the end all the civilizations will crumble and only the Jews will remain. But then, the wicked Bilam goes on to advise Balak about how he could bring about our downfall. He advised Balak that they send out their girls to seduce us, at first sexually and then into idolatry - open your gates to these people and seduce them into assimilation, that is how you will succeed in detaching them from Hashem, 'rachmana litzlan', in the end of days.

The test of Assimilation is one of the greatest tests we face in these very ends of days that we are living in NOW. Not so long ago, in America and in Europe it was very difficult to observe Shabbos and kosher; Sunday was the only day off, you were expected to work on. It was difficult to keep kosher. Many mitzvot fell by the wayside, but rates of assimilation were low. Today, it’s much easier to keep Shabbos and Kosher- these are no longer big challenges. Our biggest challenges are assimilation, loss of identity and self-hate.

Often in our history there have been voices stating that we want to be like all the nations. Jews love the world; and aside from all other reasons, behind this desire to give up on our unique identity, lies an instinctual very Jewish drive to bring about unity. But without knowing or understanding who we are and our role in the world we erroneously think, ‘if I/we are different how will there be unity? Is it not better to blend and assimilate?’

Unfortunately, many of our brothers and sisters, very sadly, have even swallowed the lies of the world against the Jewish People and even believe that being in our own land is an obstacle to peace. This is Cognitive dissonance!

Cognitive Dissonance (Leon Festinger) According to cognitive dissonance theory, there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency among their cognitions (i.e., beliefs, opinions). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance.

If the anti-semite hates me and I don't know why, if it doesn’t make sense, I experience cognitive dissonance. To eliminate this dissonance some will rationalize the enemy's evil and hatred and think- it must somehow be my fault, and some go so far as to hate themselves as Jews.

Assimilation does not contribute positively – neither to ourselves, nor to the other nations. Like the organs in our body, an “assimilated” organ does not and cannot fulfil its function. The Jewish People are a vital organ of the world. In order to fulfill our purpose in the world, in order to contribute to the well-being of the nations and all of creation we must be true to our identity. Assimilation leads to disconnection from our roots, from our mitzvot and from the study of Torah.

Assimilation comes in many shades and grades. Within my ‘self’ am I true to my ‘self’? On a deeper level lies the question what is in my consciousness? Is it me, my ‘self’ or is Hashem at the core of my thoughts and consciousness? Am I a disciple of Avraham Avinu or the wicked Bilam?

The story is told of a young scholar who had joined the Chassidim of the holy Chozeh of Lublin [Rebbe Jacob Isaac Horowitz (Hebrew: יעקב יצחק הורוביץ‎רבינו ), known as The Seer of Lublin" (החוזה מלובלין‎), ha-Chozeh MiLublin; c. 1745 - August 15, 1815) was a leading Hasidic Rebbe from Poland.]

His chavrusa- study partner was not pleased about this. Eventually the young man started spending more and more time by the Chozeh, coming back to his home town for shorter and shorter periods. His chavruta kept on challenging him, “why do you need to go to your Rebbe, what can you possibly gain there? Better we should learn more Talmud.” The chassid tried his best to explain what it’s all about, but his friend continued to dismiss it all. Finally, he invited his friend to come to the Rebbe and see for himself, that he could learn much about how to lead a holy life.

“What is so special about your Rebbe anyway? Why should I visit him?”

“My Rebbe, the holy Seer, has exceptional deep and wide vision. Even with his eyes closed he sees into your mind and heart. He knows what each one of us is thinking.”

“And what have you gained from him and his abilities? Has any of it rubbed off onto you?”

“Not so much, maybe a little?”

“Let’s see. Can you tell me what I am thinking about?”

The chassid stood himself in front of his friend and focused his thoughts. “You are thinking about Hashem,” he said.

“No I’m not!” his friend declared.

“That is exactly why you should come with me to my Rebbe!”

May we all know our real place and be true to our real selves, with sincere and humble pride. That is how we will best serve ourselves and the world. All the anti-semitic events in Israel and across the world, all the anti-Semitism at the UN, are only to remind us of who we really are and to push us into being authentic Jews in our homeland and wherever we are. Let’s be our true selves with pride, humility and joy, with love and awe of Hashem.

Parshat Balak: Teachings From Previous Years

▪ Ahavat Yisrael

▪ Exploring the relationship between:כבוד – kavod – honor, and אהבה – ahavah – love

▪ On Being Alone

Ahavat Yisrael

“The fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch once said, “What good is Chassidus and piety if the main quality -Ahavat Yisrael- is lacking!?”” (Preface in: The Mitzvah to Love Your Fellow As Yourself; The Chassidic Heritage Series.)

This week we continue to look deeper into Ahavat Yisrael, and how to achieve the mitzvah to love your fellow Jew and mankind. But we want more than to just learn all the awesome and beautiful teachings on this mitzvah. King David prayed וְתוֹרָתְךָ, בְּתוֹךְ מֵעָי – Hashem, it is my deepest desire to absorb Your Torah in my innermost parts. (Psalms 40:9)

We want to live this mitzvah, we want it in our guts. I don’t want any part of me to interfere or prevent me from living this mitzvah. We want to live this mitzvah in mind, body and spirit. I want to know how to achieve the lessons.

My friend Reb Cliff suggests that we try to answer a couple of meaningful questions as we learn:

-do i understand what it means to nullify myself? what it is, to love? Myself? Another?

-do i know how to do it?

-further, to help integrate our learning - people should be responsible to share with … what they got from their prayers and learning and how they are incorporating what they got into their lives. then they can support each other in doing it.

"Love your neighbor as yourself" is the essence mitzvah of the whole Torah- and it is so much more than all that we ‘understand’. Reb Cliff explains:

“Why is this phrase the essence? - Because it means you have met your soul.

From this place teshuvah becomes pleasurable.

Only from here can you experience what G-d wants for you;

all the illusions of this world are stripped away.”

There is a well-known story in Lubavitch, about davening. Before the Maggid of Mezritz became a disciple of the holy Baal Shem Tov, he was already a renowned scholar and Kabbalist. He and a close friend would pray with the kavvanot of the holy Ari zt”l. Eventually they each went on their own paths and the Maggid became a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. A number of years later the two friends got together again and prayed together, but it took the Maggid much longer to finish. Afterwards his friend asked him why it took him so long- much longer than in the past?

Instead of answering the question, the Maggid inquired about how his friend’s learning and parnassah. The Maggid’s friend said they have a shop which his wife runs, and he spends most of the year daavening and learning; except for once a year when he travels to Leipzig for a few weeks to purchase and bring back the merchandise for the next season.

Hearing this, the Maggid asked, “why do you need to travel to Leipzig? Why don’t you just stay home and meditate on your trip? Visualize the journey, the people you meet, the merchants; visualize yourself making your purchases and then visualize your journey back home. Surely this will save you a lot of precious time.”

Surprised, his friend said, “Reb Ber, I didn’t know that you were so foolishly unaware of the world. What good would my meditation do, when I have to actually go to Leipzig? You can’t bring home merchandise just with meditation!”

“The same is true with daavening!” said the Maggid. “It is not enough to just have kavanah and to meditate on being in the world of assiyah and then meditate on rising higher to the worlds of yetzirah and briah and then into atzilut. You have to be there in actuality, in order to bring home the merchandise – and that takes a lot longer!”

The same is true for our learning. We have to bring the merchandise home! Consider this awesome teaching from Chapter 32, in the Tanya, the chapter on ahavat Yisrael:

The indwelling of the light of Ein Sof in the Community of Israel is impossible if there is disunity between the souls, G d forbid, for “G d does not dwell in an imperfect, fragmented, place.”

So do we say in our prayers: “Bless us, our Father, all as one with the light of Your Countenance,” indicating that “the light of G d’s Countenance” can be revealed only when we are united “all as one,” as explained elsewhere at length.

I ask myself, have I ever been there- all as one? Maybe sometimes, for very brief moments, in my mind. I would like to be there! In Shaar Hayichוd v’Ha’emunah, Chapter 10, the Alter Rebbe presents the following parable to explain the relationship between Hashem and the holy sefirot which are also called ‘lights’ by the Kabbalists. Let’s use this parable to help us understand the unity of our souls with Hashem and with one another.

The lamp of G-d is the soul of man - נֵר ה' נִשְׁמַת אָדָם

“It is, by way of illustration, like the unity of the sunlight that is within the solar globe, with the solar globe [itself], which is called not only “sun” but also a “luminary,” inasmuch as it emits light, as it is written, that G d created “the greater luminary...,” i.e., the very source of light.

The radiation and the beam which spreads forth and shines from it is called “light”, as it is written, “And G d called the light — day.”

When the light is within its source in the orb of the sun, it is united with it in absolute unity, for there, within the sun, there is only one entity, namely, the body of the luminary which emits light; (It would hardly be reasonable to say that within the orb of the sun there exist two things: the luminary and its light. Within the sun globe, only the sun itself exists.) for there the radiation and light is absolutely one being with the body of the luminary which illuminates, and it has no existence by itself at all.

(The appearance of radiation and light outside the sun would seem to indicate that light exists within the sun itself, for if it reaches out and illuminates the whole world it is surely found within its source. In fact, however, when sunlight is considered at the stage at which it is found within the luminary itself, it is so completely identified with it that it cannot be termed light at all; within the sun, the light has no existence with an independent identity.)

The Process: Hitbonnenut- is to meditate well, deeply and frequently. Try to visualize yourself as one of Hashem’s lamps- go deep into yourself, find your essence self, your light within. Strip away all your outer layers and say/sing Elohai, neshamah sh’nattata be, tehorah he - My G-d, the soul which You have placed in me, it is pure… You breathed it into me and You guard it within me Visualize your soul’s ray of light and follow it upwards to its source until you can no longer see it- allow yourself to nullify yourself into the Luminary. Now do the same with a friend. Try to focus on his/her essence soul- another one of Hashem’s holy lamps. See the light above his/her head and rise up with it back to its source, back to the Luminary, where we are all within the same oneness, one with One, one with you, my friend, within the Or Ein Sof- the light of the Infinite One, blessed is He.

AHAVAT YISRAEL RIGHT IN THE MORNING

MAH TOVU O'HALECHA YAAKOV MISHKENOTECHA YISRAEL!

HOW WONDERFUL ARE YOUR TENTS YAAKOV, YOUR DWELLING PLACES ISRAEL

This 'passuk' [verse] is one of the most famous verses of the Torah. We recite it every day, at the beginning of Shacharit – the morning services, as soon as we enter the House of Prayer. Understanding this verse is thus pertinent to each day of the year. The opening verses of our parsha reveal the very interesting and unusual background of Balaam's blessings:

And Balak the son of Tzipor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorite. And Moab became terrified of the people [of Israel] because of their great numbers and so Moab detested the Israelites. Moab said to the elders of Midyan "now this community [of Jews] is going to gnaw away everything around us just as an ox in the field devours the vegetation of the field." And Balak, the son of Tzipor, was king for the Moabites at that time.

So he sent messengers to Balaam, the son of Beor, to Petar, which lies on the river in the land of his people to invite him, to say "behold a nation came out of Egypt, behold they have covered the face of the earth and they are sitting right opposite me. And now please come and curse this nation for me for they are more powerful than me, perhaps I will be able to strike them and drive them out of the land; for I know that whoever you bless is blessed and whoever you curse is cursed." [Bamidbar 22:2-6]

Balak ben Tzipor had been appointed king of Moab. When the Children of Israel were approaching his land, on their way to Israel, he was terrified, for he knew of their victory over the Amorites, a strong nation, led by a strong king. So he called on Balaam, a very powerful but unholy prophet, to come and curse the Jewish people, hoping that this would weaken Israel sufficiently to enable him to drive us away from Moab. How Balaam finally got permission from Hashem to go to Balak, and his amazing journey with his talking ass, is an entire topic in itself. Hashem did not allow Balaam to curse us and instead of uttering curses Hashem made him pronounce blessings. The most famous of all of these is:

"MAH TOVU O'HALECHA YAAKOV MISHKENOTECHA YISRAEL!" –

How wonderful are your tents Yaakov, your dwelling places Israel. [Bamidbar 24:5]

We need to understand the meaning and significance of these words. What exactly, inspired Balaam to praise the 'tents' of Yaakov and the 'dwelling places' of Israel? Why did the Rabbis choose this 'blessing' for the opening prayer of the morning services? This verse adorns the walls of so many shuls and it has inspired many niggunim – why?

Mishnah. [baba batra 60a.] In a courtyard which he shares with others a man should not open a door facing another person's door nor a indow facing another person's window. If it is small he should not enlarge it, and he should not turn one into two. On the side of the street, however, he may make a door facing another person's door and a window facing another person's window, and if it is small he may enlarge it or he may make two out of one.

Gemara. Whence are these rules derived? — R. Yochanan said: From the verse of the Scripture, "And Balaam lifted up his eyes and he saw Israel dwelling according to their tribes." This indicates that he saw that the doors of their tents did not exactly face one another, whereupon he exclaimed: WORTHY ARE THESE THAT THE DIVINE PRESENCE SHOULD REST UPON THEM!