Balak, Bilaam, and Emunah Peshutah

When Hagaon Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, arrived some 45 minutes early to a grandchild’s chasunah in Bnei Brak, he decided to take the opportunity to pay a visit to Hagaon Harav Elazar Shach, zt”l.

One would have imagined that the conversation between these two revered Torah giants would have revolved about a complex sugya, a challenging halachic dilemma or perhaps a pressing issue facing Klal Yisrael.

However, after greeting his visitor with great warmth, Rav Shach began to speak about one of his most beloved topics — emunah peshutah. Rav Elyashiv, who was already acclaimed at the time as one of the greatest Poskim of the generation, listened intently, drinking in every word Rav Shach was uttering with great delight.

Later, at the chasunah, Rav Elyashiv, who was famed for his incredible hasmadah and the way he carefully calculated how to make the most of every moment, told his mechutan, Harav Chaim Brim, zt”l, that if not for the fact that he had to tear himself away in order to attend the chuppah of their grandchild, he could have stayed all night listening to Rav Shach speak about emunah peshutah!

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Chazal teach us that if not for its length, we would recite nearly the entire Parashas Balak in Krias Shema (Brachos 12b). Why? Because of the passuk “He crouched and lay down like a lion and a lion cub, who can stand him up?”

What is it about this particular passuk that caused Chazal to consider it for daily recital?

Rashi explains that it is similar to the passuk in the first parashah of Krias Shema, “When you lie down and when you arise,” and it teaches us that Hakadosh Baruch Hu watches over us when we lie down and when we arise. Knowing this, we can sleep in peace and tranquility as a lion and its cub do, unafraid of predators.

Yet the meforshim wonder about this, for there are other pesukim as well which can be understood to refer to this concept.

The Pnei Yehoshua suggests that the answer can be found in this week’s Haftarah, which relates the words of Hashem through the Navi Michah: “My people, remember now what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Bil’am son of Beor answered him. … So you may know the righteous acts of Hashem.”

Since some authorities maintain that there is a daily obligation to remember what occurred between Balak and Bilaam, Chazal wanted to incorporate this parashah into Krias Shema.

Another fascinating explanation is based on a teaching of the Chasam Sofer (Teshuvos, Yoreh De’ah, 354). He quotes a Ramban, that Adam Harishon personally experienced being created without a father and mother, witnessed the story of the Snake and the ensuing events described in Parashas Bereishis. Adam personally spoke about it to Mesushelach, who in turn told it to Shem the son of Noach. He in turn transmitted the story — along with the story of the Mabul and Dor Haflagah — to Yaakov Avinu, who was 50 years old when his teacher Shem was niftar. Yaakov Avinu transmitted to his children, and they told it to their children and so on.

Similarly, all of the Bnei Yisrael, witnessed the miracles of the Ten Makkos and Krias Yam Suf (except the wife and sons of Moshe Rabbeinu,) and stood at the foot of Har Sinai and heard Hakadosh Baruch Hu speak to them. They in turn told it to their children, and so it was faithfully transmitted from generation to generation.

One does not need a lofty level of emunah to believe what was witnessed firsthand, and then passed on from father to son. In fact, were someone in a later generation to come along and make a false claim of this sort, he would become a laughingstock, for he would immediately be told — if what you’re saying were true, we would have known about it from our ancestors.

The story of Balak and Bilaam, and their conversation are the only part of the Torah which was not personally witnessed by one of our ancestors. Moshe Rabbeinu learned about it from the Ribbono shel Olam, and Klal Yisrael accepted this fact with emunah sheleimah.

Therefore, if not for its length, and the fact it would be tircha d’tzibbura, Chazal would have included it in Krias Shema as a testament to our emunah.

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It is interesting to note that the Satmar Rebbe, zy”a, in Divrei Yoel, suggests that the reason of tircha d’tzibbura would only apply once the Bnei Yisrael reached Eretz Yisrael, and needed the time to work the fields and support themselves. In the Midbar, where all their material needs were miraculously taken care of and they ate mann, they devoted their days solely to learning Torah and avodas Hashem. He therefore suggests that in the Midbar, Parashas Balak was part of their “Krias Shema.”