"his houseful of silver and gold..." (22:18)
In this week's parsha, Balak, the King of Moav sends high-ranking officials
to commission Balaam to curse the Jewish people. Hashem appears to Balaam
and tells him not to go. Balaam's response to Balak's officials is: "If
Balak would give me his household of silver and gold, I could not transgress
the word of Hashem." Our Sages see in this response the corrupt nature of
Balaam's character. Rashi explains that by mentioning a houseful of gold
and silver, he reveals his greed (as if to say that if he were able to
transgress the word of Hashem, he would, but only for a huge sum of money).
Many of the commentaries attempt to differentiate between the statement of
Balaam and that of Rabbi Yossi Ben Kismah in Pirkei Avos. Rabbi Yossi Ben
Kismah relates the story of how he was invited to leave the city of his
residence, a city renowned for its Torah scholars, in order to join a
different city which was devoid of Torah. His response to the invitation
was, "If you give me all the gold and silver and precious gems in the world,
I will not leave my city of accomplished Torah scholars."
How is this response different than Balaam's?
which says that it One could, perhaps, say the difference is the following:
Balaam was more specific in his request for the net value of Balak's estate,
indicating his true desire, while Rabbi Yossi Ben Kismah did not quote a
definite amount of money. However, this would create a new difficulty after
with a statement made by King David in the Book of Psalms. There, King David
affirms his love for the Torah with the verse, "Your Torah is more valuable
to me than thousands of gold and silver (pieces)." Clearly, from
specifying an amount does not indicate greed.
The answer lies in the careful reading of Rashi. Rashi says that from the
verse we see the corrupt nature of Balaam's character, for he desired the
wealth of others. Rashi explains that Balaam's wickedness is revealed by his
focus on the wealth of Balak, rather than the mere mention of money. The
desire for greater wealth is intrinsic to human nature. However, it is of
wicked nature to specifically desire to possess that which is owned by another.
In Control (17th of Tammuz)
"On the seventeenth of Tammuz the Tablets were broken" (Ta'anis
Five calamities occurred on the seventeenth of Tammuz. The
first of these calamities is recorded in the Torah. Upon descending the
mountain after having received the Decalogue, Moshe witnessed Bnei Yisroel
celebrating the creation of the golden calf and he shattered the Tablets.
The verse describes the Tablets as "charus" - "engraved". The Mishna
states that the word "charus" can also be read as "cheirus" - "freedom", for
only the study of Torah brings true freedom. Therefore, the breaking of
the Tablets reflects a loss of freedom for the Jewish people. What is the
difference between the secular definition of freedom and that of the Torah?
How do we reconcile the "pshat", the straightforward reading of the text as
"charus" - "engraved", with the "derush", the homiletic interpretation as
"cheirus" - "freedom"?
Freedom is often defined as our right or privilege to act or express
ourselves without coercion in whichever manner we desire. The Torah's
definition of freedom is cognizant of the fact that very often we behave in
a manner which hides under the guise of freedom of expression, yet in
reality we are submitting to coercive forces. Whether our actions are
influenced by societal pressures or by our physical or emotional desires,
these actions cannot be described as completely free from coercion. We
ourselves are aware of the destructive nature of our actions but are
helpless to overcome the deceptions of societal acceptance and
self-gratification. The pursuit of Torah not only empowers the individual
with the ability to overcome any coercive forces, but also removes the
conflict that exists in the decision making process, synthesizing the
individual's visceral sense to behave appropriately with his desires. Being
bound by restrictions does not imply a lack of freedom; restrictions are not
only ultimately for our benefit, but they prevent us from taking actions
which we truly wish to avoid.
The words of the Decalogue symbolize spirituality and the Tablets
themselves, that which is physical. Had the Decalogue been described as ink
which is scripted upon parchment, this would imply imposition of the words
upon the Tablets. Chazal teach us that Hashem miraculously caused the
letters of the Decalogue to suspend themselves within the Tablets. The
Tablets wrapped themselves around the words, conforming to them. This
reflects the complimentary nature of the physical and the spiritual which
can coexist without any conflict.
We all have a natural proclivity to behave in an appropriate manner. The
Torah removes the impediments that mask our true feelings, breaking through
the misconceptions and misguided value system which society creates for us.