Last week we saw that the giants were a prominent regional phenomenon for hundreds of years. They are first mentioned, with the name nefilim, already early in history, in Parashat Bereishit (Bereishit 6:4). We find at the time of Avraham that the four Mesopotamian kings killed out most of them, with Og being the remnant (see ibid. 14:5). When the spies returned from the Land of Canaan, they highlighted the presence of the three sons of the giant in Chevron (Bamidbar 13:22-33). On the way to Eretz Yisrael, the nation encountered Og, whose stature was described in great detail. In Devarim (2:10-11; ibid. 20-21), the relationship between the various groups of giants and the nations of Ammon and Moav is spelled out. When the navi describes the battles of Yehoshua after Bnei Yisrael crossed into the Land, the giants are once again stressed. They were removed from the whole country except for the area of Azza, Gat, and Ashdod, which would be known as the Land of the Plishtim (Yehoshua 11:18-22). Kalev asked as a reward for his valor in standing up to the spies to receive Chevron, so that he could (and did) remove the three giants (ibid. 15:14). David’s family and servants ended the era of the giants in Eretz Yisrael (Shmuel II, 21:16-21).
Who (or what) was Bilam really? The commentaries have always dealt with this thorny issue. On the pasuk, “Another prophet like Moshe never arose in Israel, whom Hashem knew face to face” (Devarim 34:10), Chazal (Sifrei , V’zot Haberacha 357:10) derived an extremely positive appraisal: “While in Israel there was not as great as Moshe, among the nations there was Bilam.” The difference is that Moshe did not know Who was speaking to him, and Bilam did know; Moshe did not know when Hashem would speak to him and Bilam did know. To put things in perspective, they explained that Bilam knew so much, just like a royal chef knows about the ins and outs of the goings on of the king’s kitchen – without being an important officer. In this vein, Moshe is uniquely described as, “in My house, he is trusted” (Bamidbar 12:7).
My community has a small minyan for Kabbalat Shabbat that accepts Shabbat early, and no second minyan (there is a larger minyan for the rest of Shabbat). Must I accept Shabbat at the time the early minyan does, which is sometimes difficult for me?
Jewish communities have the minhag to read ch. 5-6 of Micha as the haftara of Parashat Balak. The simple explanation is that in this section, the navi mentions Balak and Bilam and their plot to destroy Bnei Yisrael, which Hashem foiled. We would like to suggest an additional rationale.