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Mattos/Masei

by Rabbi Yaakov Menken


"...and Bilaam, the son of Beor, they killed by the sword." [31:8]

Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, says that Bilaam "attacked Israel, and exchanged his own trade for theirs, for they [Israel] do not ascend except with their mouths by way of prayer and requests. And he came and grasped hold of their trade, in order to curse them with his mouth. They, too, attacked him and exchanged their own trade for that of other nations, who attack by the sword..."

Israel, as Rashi explains, did not fight like other nations. As many as were sent to war, were sent to the House of Study, to study Torah and request G-d's protection over His People. While everyone else was measuring lengths of spears and numbers of arrows, Israel counted hours of study and repeated prayers. The Medrash Socher Tov says "the mouths of Israel, that is their sword, as it says 'and a two-edged sword [lit. sword of mouths] in their hand.'" [Psalm 149:6]

Clearly he who wrote "the pen is mightier than the sword" did not have words of prayer in mind, but nonetheless prayer and study have stood by Israel while its neighbors have faded into history. Not only the pen, but the mouth itself, has proven more effective.

The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Israel Mayer HaKohen Kagan of Radin, notes that every craftsman takes good care of his tools - and we learn from Rashi that the mouth is just as much of a tool as an M-16 is to a soldier. So, like every craftsman, we must take good care of this tool, and be certain not to 'ruin' it with forbidden speech like gossiping, falsehood and angry words. Rather, we should work to 'sharpen' it with words of Torah and prayer!

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