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Abraham and the Sorcerer - Balak

Abraham and the Sorcerer - Balak

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Published by Elchanan Shoff
a look at how Abraham and Bilaam the sorcerer attacked their challenges differently.
a look at how Abraham and Bilaam the sorcerer attacked their challenges differently.

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Published by: Elchanan Shoff on Jun 20, 2013
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01/26/2015

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Paradise
a deeper look at the weekly Torah portion 
 by
Elchanan Shoff
Balak
 Abraham and the sorcerer
So then Balak said to him, come along with me to another place… and try cursing them from there” 
Bamidbar 23:13
Bilaam the sorcerer sought to curse the Jewish people, and bring about their destruction. When he first opened his mouth to curse them, the Torah tells of how God placed other words in his mouth, and a blessing escaped his lips, rather than a curse. When this was notsuccessful, he then sought a new place from which to curse them. Our sages teach us
1
 
“He who establishes a set place for his prayers will be assisted by the God of Abraham.” When
 Abraham prayed for the city of Sodom to be saved, and it was nevertheless destroyed, the Torah records
2
 
that “Abraham got up the next morning and stood [in prayer] in the sameplace that he has previously stood.” Thus, one who prays in the same seat; from the same
place; will achieve an Abraham-style connection to God. What is this all about? Why thefocus on location? Are prayers not answered regardless of where a person finds himself? There was a fundamental difference between Abrahams approach to rejection and theapproach of Bilaam. When Bilaam was unsuccessful in his attempt to curse the Jewishpeople, it did not occur to him that he was the problem, or that his actions were improper.His diagnosis was simple
 – 
it was the place that he was standing that was bad! So he changed
1
Brachos 6b, see the comments of 
Tzlach 
ad loc., as well as my 
Birchasa Vishirasa.
2
Bereshis 19:27
 
his place. Abraham, the Hebrew 
3
, who was always the one to take responsibility for the world; fighting lonely battles against vicious dictators and polytheistic cults; he understoodthe proper way to address fruitless endeavor. He looked to himself. He went back to thesame place
 – 
and instead adapted his own effort and altered his methods.
“In front of the face of the understanding man is wisdom, while the fool’s eyes are trainedon the edges of the earth,” wrote Shlomo.
4
Rabenu Yonah
5
 
explains, the fool “will not learn
from those in his town who are wise. Instead, he will think to himself, if only I could go tothat other place; there are some wise and intelligent people there, and it is there where I canlearn Torah, from
those 
people. He may never make it there, and he will then remain entirely 
empty of all wisdom.” It is always so tempting to see the benefits of every situation other
than the one we are currently in. Even the great Moshe, greatest prophet of all would neverhave been appreciated by his community had been familiar to them all his life. Ibn Ezra
6
 
 writes that for this reason Moshe was raised in Pharaoh’s place rather than among his
people. Had they known him all his life, they never would have respected him enough toconsider him anything more than one of their buddies.
7
It is very tempting to only look at what is on the other side of the planet, and see the beauty there, and miss what is going on inyour own back yard. So often, we hear of the amazing beauty of some foreign place, andhow they have it all right, and we have it all wrong. There is definitely so much to admire
3
Bereshis 14:13,
Peskita Rabbasi 33 “Hebrew means from the other side, for all the world s
tood on one side while Avram
would stand on the other”.
See also the beautiful comments of Ramban to Bereshis 40:15 about how all Jewsare meant to live as Hebrews, maintaining their distinct identity as Jews despite alien influences.
4
Mishlei 17:24
5
To Mishlei ad. Loc. s.v.
es 
6
Shemos 2:3
s.v. vatachmera 
7
See a more extensive treatment of why one must leave home to grow great in his Torah studies in
Tiferes Yisrael 
to Avos 4:14
Boaz 
2, he asserts that for the reasons he offers there, Moshe needed to be raised away from his home. Seealso
Shaalos Utshuvos Chasam Sofer 
(Choshen Mishpat 9) where he brings a number of proofs that one must leavehome to achieve success in Torah study, and he asserts that this is so even if one must leave Israel for the diaspora.Even Rabenu Hakadosh who taught all of the Jewish people and has his own academy (Niddah 14b) send his son R.Shimon away to learn elsewhere for 12 years. See also Yerushalmi (Pesachim 3:7) that R. Abahu sent his son R.Chanina to learn Torah in Tiveria despite the fact that R. Abahu himself was very great, and thus, says the ChasamSofer, we can conclude that even when that father is brilliant and very great, he must send his son away to learn as Abraham sent Isaac, and Rabenu Hakdosh an R. Abahu did with their sons. See also Chasam Sofer al Hatorah (Ekev p. 35) as well as in Drashos Chasam Sofer (101b). See also his eulogy of his Rabbi, R. Nosson Adler (DrashosChasam Sofer 372a s.v. vaani) where he
tells of how he himself relocated “a hundreds parsangs. leaving my mother’s
home when I am from, as everyon
e knows.”
 

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