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P' Balak - A Strong Sense of Self

07/08/2017 11:07:38 PM


Rabbi Shamir Buzzini

“And Bilaam raised up his eyes and he saw Yisroel dwelling according to its tribes, and there was upon him the spirit of Elokim… How good are your tents, Yaakov; your dwellings, Yisroel.”  Bilaam’s blessing encompasses more than would seem to be categorically included in that which he visually discerned of Yisroel’s dwelling according to its tribes (note: tribe does not have any primitive connotations; the term “tribe”, as far as I understand, represents a macro family unit of a magnitude that we can hardly fathom today.  It does not merely mean kinship, as all the tribes had kinship to one another).  Rashi writes, “He saw each tribe dwelling on its own and they were not intermingled; he saw that their doors were not facing one another such that [one tent] would not be able to peer into another.”  Although Rashi says that he saw two things, the fact that Rashi doesn’t say “and he saw...” implies that it was one common trait expressed in two facets (this would also seem to be implied by the posuk itself in expressing them as one).  What is that common trait, and what about it so inspired Bilaam not to curse the Bnei Yisroel but rather to bless them with a prophetic blessing?

            It would appear that the common characteristic displayed is a sense of self.  A proper sense of self is expressed in one’s knowing from where he came and to which family he belongs.  His forefathers are a part of who he is, and the tribe that his family has maintained cohesive familial relations with are his extended brothers, sisters, uncles, etc.  A sense of self is also manifested in the establishing of boundaries between people with regard to that which is private and public.  Bnei Yisroel were individuals who were part of broader wholes, whether it be their immediate families, tribes or the complete people.  Their distinguished interconnectivity was an expression of self, not a loss of individuality.  Their sensitivity to privacy was a recognition of the existence of others and the appropriateness of maintaining boundaries and not the distancing of others for the sake of being on one’s own.  Such health being exhibited by an entire people of around 3 million members could not help but touch the heart of Bilaam.  A man who represented the epitome of “hatred making crooked one’s appropriate mode of conduct”, who was in the midst of engaging in one of his “trademark” evil traits of “evil eye” and was literally hell-bent to curse the Bnei Yisroel against Hashem’s will, was still taken aback and awestruck by their uniqueness.  Despite his being one of the two wisest gentile men of all time, he was caught off-guard and lost himself to the point that it came forth from his mouth that “[they are] fitting that the Divine presence should rest on them”.

May Hashem bless us with the courage and strength to find our essential selves during these trying times of emptiness and help us live from a place within that befits such a blessing.

Fri, June 9 2023 20 Sivan 5783