Three Crucial Concepts

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


Three Crucial Concepts

Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


Balak, king of the Moabites, saw that the children of Israel were protected by G-d. He realized that if he wanted to defeat them in battle, he would have to first remove G-d’s protection. So he decided to curse the Jewish people. This does not mean he would yell at them, “Pox be upon you!” To curse them meant he would find a weakness in the Jewish people, and exploit that weakness before G-d, which in turn would cause G-d to remove his protection.

To do this correctly he would need someone special to do the job:  the prophet Bilam. The Talmud relates (Brochos 7a) that Bilam was able to calculate the time every day when G-d was “angry” — the time he judged sinners. Bilam was going to curse the Jewish people at this auspicious time (Bilam was also a prophet).

Bilam’s plan, however, did not have the desired effect. Before Bilam’s attempt to issue the curse, G-d appeared to him in prophecy and warned him not to curse them. But because of financial reward Balak had promised him, Bilam ignored G-d’s warning. 

The result of this mission to curse the Jews was not exactly what Balak had in mind when he hired Bilam: in fact, Bilam ended up blessing the Jewish nation — not once, but  three times. Let us look at the three ways in which he blessed us, and the lessons and ramifications of these blessings which are still felt today.

The first blessing Bilam bestowed upon the Jewish people was: “it is a nation that dwells alone, and will not be reckoned with all other nations.”

The second blessing was: “He (G-d) perceived no iniquity in Jacob, and saw no perversity in Israel.” This means that G-d does not carefully scrutinize Israel’s sins because they are generally zealous in serving Him, and He accordingly treats them generously.

The third blessing was : “how good are your tents Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel.” This blessing was predicated on the fact that the openings of the tents of the Jewish people were always facing away from each other, in order to ensure modesty.

Three blessings, based on three crucial concepts: number (1) is the concept of living alone. This has always been one of the most important aspects of the Jewish people — the need to dwell alone. We must be different, but not indifferent. Jewish history has proven that when the Jewish people do not place a comfortable distance between themselves and society at large, spiritual and/or physical destruction occurs. We are separate — not to be aloof, or to be better, but to ensure that we are able to live the type of life to which we are commanded.

This will lead to concept number (2): the idea of living a zealous Jewish life. This does not mean that G-d expects perfection. In fact, implicit in this blessing is that G-d will tolerate mistakes, as long as there is generally a striving for growth.

The final concept, number (3), is being careful in questions of morality. The relationship between a husband and wife is one of the holiest things in the world. But when there is promiscuity, and lack of boundary in this area, it brings humans down to a level of animals.

It was being careful in these three things which rendered Bilam unable to curse the Jewish people, and it is safeguarding these three things which not only has been our lifeboat in the past, but will continue to be in our future.

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