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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Balak

Einstein on the Parsha

Rabbi Stewart WeissTamuz 10 5780
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How strange to name a holy Parsha after an evil rasha like Balak, king of Moav! Why would we want to bestow such a huge honor on a person who is described by the Midrash as "the greatest Jew-hater who ever lived!" It’s almost as puzzling as naming a Sedra after Korach, who, just 2 Shabbatot ago, led a mini-rebellion against Moshe. In a way, perhaps, it seems fitting that the two parshiyot of Korach & Balak are separated by the Sedra of Chukat, which deals with the inexplicable in Jewish life!

So let’s try to make some sense of this quandary, & consult one of the greatest minds in history – Einstein! Among the many "teachings" of Einsten was the principle that "energy is neither created nor destroyed" in the Universe. That is, there is a finite amount of energy that exists in our world; if it leaves one place, it will, by necessity, have to re-appear somewhere else.

Both Balak & Korach (& Bilaam, too, for that matter) were filled with an abundance of energy. They could have used that energy in any number of ways – positive or negative. Their potential was limitless & they had powerful talents at their disposal. All three of them were gifted speakers: charismatic, bright & ambitious. Used wisely, their abilities could have earned them lasting fame – rather than infamy - & abundant personal reward, rather than the ignominious fate which all three suffered. But, alas, they misused their gifts & ended up as villains, rather than heroes. Their energy was inner-directed & selfish, rather than outer-directed & giving.

Yet the energy they possessed did not vanish forever; it simply resurfaced in another place & time & form. In the case of Korach, it would emerge in his children, who wrote beautiful songs & Psalms, complementing – perhaps even completing – the majestic music of David HaMelech, the sweet singer of Israel. In Balak’s case, his nobility would be expressed by Ruth HaMoavia, whose passion for Am Yisrael & Eretz Yisrael would be the "missing link" in the Davidic chain & the lineage of Moshiach. And as for Bilam, his words would grace our daily prayers & provide potent prophecy for the end of days, a vehicle for Hashem’s will to be known.

Sadly, neither Korach, Balak or Bilaam would enjoy the fruits of their labor. But their names are immortalized to remind us that life is about choices, about making the right decision as to how to utilize that G-d-given energy within each of us. The choice we make will ultimately determine whether we emerge as king or criminal, Levi or lout, seer or sorcerer. May G-d help us to always choose wisely.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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