Balak 5778


(ויאמר אלקים אל בלעם לא תלך עמהם לא תאר את העם כי ברוך הוא (במדבר כב:יב

Hashem said to Bilaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people,
for it is blessed.” (Bamidbar 22:12)

Rashi cites the Medrash which fills in the “conversation” between Hashem and Bilaam.
Hashem said to Bilaam, “You shall not go with them.”
Bilaam said to Hashem, “If so, I’ll curse them where I am.”
Hashem said to him, “You shall not curse the people.”
Bilaam said, “If so, I shall bless them.”
Hashem responded, “They do not need your blessing, ‘for it is blessed.’”
Rashi teaches that this is an illustration of the proverb: “They say to a wasp (bee), ‘We want of neither your honey nor your sting.’”
Bilaam’s request to bless Bnei Yisrael was answered by Hashem two-fold. First: Klal Yisrael does not need your blessing, for the nation is blessed. Second: just like gathering honey runs the hazard of being stung, so, too, being blessed by the wicked Bilaam is fraught with hazard.
Why did Hashem eventually allow Bilaam to bless Klal Yisrael? After all, He prevented his curse; why not his blessing?
To answer this question, Reb Simcha Maimon first explained that Bilaam’s blessing could be damaging to Bnei Yisrael. A blessing is dependent upon its source. The blessing of a rasha is commingled with his evil traits and ideas. This holds true even for a blessing that comes from a prophecy, as is seen from the following Gemara.
The Gemara (Megillah 14b) states that when Yoshiah found a sefer Torah and opened it, he found it had been rolled to the curses. He sought prophetic insight on the matter and sent to Chuldah the prophetess to request an interpretation. The Gemara asks, why didn’t he send to Yirmiyahu? The sages answer through the words of Reb Shilah, that women are more merciful than men.
The commentators are puzzled by this answer. A prophet must relay his prophecy, and it is forbidden to withhold or change it. If so, what benefit is there to go to a prophetess? The Chazon Ish explained that interpretation of the prophecy depends upon the traits of the prophet. Therefore, if a woman is more compassionate, so, too, will be her prophecy.
Reb Yehoshua Leib Diskin explained the concept that all prophets aside from Moshe saw their prophecy through אספקלריה שאינה מאירה, an unclear vision. In the upper worlds the prophecy was pristine, but its descent to the physical world clothed it in some semblance of physicality. The prophet’s task was to interpret the prophecy through his physical perspective.
This is the reason why Yoshiah chose to go to the more merciful prophet. It can be likened to a liquid that is strained through a strainer which is not perfectly clean, which imparts a flavor to the liquid. Just so, translating from the prophetic to the verbel level adds a slight flavor to the substance. For this reason, even if Bilaam’s blessing came through prophecy, it would still include “Bilaam’s sting.”
According to Chazal, Bilaam did not actually speak his prophecy; rather, Hashem’s words came out of his mouth. (See Rashi Bamidmar 23:16 and Ramban Bamidbar 23:5 for many opinions of how this worked.) Therefore, the blessing bypassed Bilaam’s prophetic faculty, preventing any of his influence from being mixed into the prophecy. Reb Yehoshua Leib Diskin explains with this the concept that Chazal compare Bilaam’s prophecy to Moshe’s, for both relayed purely the word of Hashem, without anything physical or their perspective mixed in.
Ramban (Bamidbar 22:23) explains that it is not normally possible for an animal to see an angel. He therefore offers two explanations of how Bilaam’s she-donkey was able to see the angel. Either the donkey did not actually see it, but rather simply sensed a great fright, and did not have real vision or comprehension. (See Ramban for an elaborate explanation). The second explanation is that Hashem performed a great miracle, similar to the miracle of the she-donkey’s speech. The Ramban closes by stating that the reason for the miracle of the speech was to show Bilaam that Hashem can open the mouths of the dumb. He can certainly mute and make mockery of the intelligent. He can go so far as to direct their speech, per His will, for everything is in His power.
Hashem was instructing Bilaam. Just like the dumb animal’s vision, comprehension and speech had nothing to do with it; rather, the words of Hashem went through its mouth but it remained the same brute beast, so was Bilaam’s blessing. The words of Hashem passed through his mouth, but they did not come from him, nor did Bilaam comprehend the prophecy.


As the Cleveland Jewish Community embarks on the construction of a new mikvah, it would be interesting to view the evolution of mikvah in America.
In 1918, the Bureau of Jewish Statistics and Research reported that the number of cities with Jewish population of 1,000 or more grew from 70 in 1905 to 161 in 1918. This necessitated the building of mikvaos in these cities.
One of the issues facing the American Rabbinate was the question of a mikvah being filled with water from a municipal water system, which would be easy and cost effective. The Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 201,169) discussed this issue in the late 1800’s, where pipes would channel water from a river to houses throughout the city to be used for a mikvah. He permitted this based on specific conditions, ensuring that the water was never contained in a vessel which would make it sheuvin, invalid for a mikvah.
In America, the practice of using city water became so prevalent that in 1957, a Rabbi Esrig claimed that the majority of mikvaos in the U.S. were filled in this manner.
One of the pioneers in promoting mikvah observance was Rabbi David Miller (1869-1939). He was a talmid for some time in Slabodka and received semicha from Rav Yitzchak Elchanan of Kovno. After serving as a Rabbi in New York and Providence, he ended up in Oakland, CA, in 1905, becoming successful in real estate and construction.
He saw that Taharas Hamishpacha was being neglected by many, and he dedicated his life to strengthen this mitzvah. In 1920 he wrote sefer Mikvah Yisrael in Yiddish, containing instructions on how to construct a home mikvah using tap water. He published an English version in 1930, complete with technical specifications for the actual construction of a home mikvah.
The following are excerpts from his book, The Secret of the Jew, chapter 17, where he explains, “The quality of water required for a mikvah.”
“1. Any natural water, as a stream, river, or lake… are proper for immersion.
2. Water artificially accumulated is also proper for mikvah, provided that such water is not drawn or conveyed by hand, or through articles classified as vessels or utensils.
3. Articles that are: 1) originally made to serve by attachment to the ground or building; and 2) which are neither made nor intended to hold water in themselves; and 3) which before they are assembled, are not capable of holding water in their regular position (by reason of an opening in the lower part), when they are permanently attached to the ground or building, are not considered as utensils; it has passed into that of the building and is considered a part thereof. Therefore:
a) Water pipes, which are made to be laid in the ground in a permanent manner, or to be attached to a building for the purpose of conveying water, are not classified as vessels, and it is proper to use the water conveyed by them for mikvah.
b) Water meters… are not classified as vessels. Note: There has been discussion among some observant Jews about the water meter, whether or not it may be classed as a vessel. They assumed that the meter has a receptacle space in which some water may be retained. This theory is in contradiction to the fact… This author is by vocation a builder and thoroughly investigated water meters, and finds that there is no space in the meter capable of retaining standing water.
c) It follows, therefore, that common house water, supplied by an ordinary water system, which originates from a spring, river… is proper to be used for mikvah, provided that the water comes from the faucet to the mikvah without any assistance of man while in the course of conveyance.”
[After a long discussion on the quantity of water required for a mikvah and the requirements for the receptacle containing water for tvilah, he concludes,] “It is clearly seen that an ordinary house bathtub is NOT a mikvah. The bathtub has no qualifications or possible claim to be considered as meeting the religious requirements of a mikvah; and no Jew should entertain any idea or persuasion of that kind for one moment.”
[Our modern tubs, if large enough, would qualify as a mikvah, due to being attached to the floor. We can assume that he was referring to the old fashioned bathtub which stood on four legs and was not attached to the ground.]
Next week we will i”yH continue this discussion and see that there was a major shift with the arrival of the Helmetzer Rebbe to Cleveland.