Balak: Thinking of Those Around Us

I'm on vacation! Well … sort of …

We have not had the honor of seeing my mother-in-law in three years, thanks to Covid.  Being that she's not sure when she can come next, she offered to fly my wife and three daughters to the US for 10 days.  It's exciting for them, since my wife hasn't been back in 13 years, and while my oldest was there then, she was too young for her to remember.

So, on one hand, the estrogen level dropped to the negatives AND I can get a solid five-hour sleep every night, instead of being woken up by Ms. I-Don't-Like-To-Sleep-Ever. On the other hand, I'm left with three boys who are as worthless as snails in the summer heat.

Okay, maybe I'm being too hard on them.  But maybe not … they are boys after all.

(Just got a message from my wife that they landed and she slept the whole trip.  Figures.)

So, for the next 10 days, it's just the boys.  On Shabbos night, since they don't eat anything real, we're planning on making my famous "Sandwich of Death," which consists of cold cuts (which we never have, thanks to Mrs. Healthy), chummus, onions, pickles, etc. The greatness of it, is that when you eat it, it closes your arteries to the point where you can barely breath.  It's a very spiritual experience.

I'll take them out of school for two days to do some local trips and we'll try to keep things fun, so they don't feel too bad for not going.  We should be fine.  I guess, what I'll probably enjoy the most is the fact that at 9:30 p.m., when my oldest goes to bed, there will be HOURS of silence, without my wife and oldest daughter around.  Maybe I should buy some ice cream and eat it in my pajamas.

Okay, where was I?

"How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!" (Bamidbar 24: 5).

I saw an interesting point last week regarding this parsha.  Here we have Bilaam, somebody who received prophecy on a regular basis, who speaks "one on one" with Hashem.  When Balak sends emissaries to bring him to curse the Jewish nation, he tells them that he first needs to ask permission from Hashem.  And permission was denied.

Shortly after, a larger group was sent with more promises of riches, and Bilaam, thinking, or perhaps hoping, that Hashem will change His mind, asks again, and this time he is given permission, on the condition that he says only what Hashem tells him.

Happily, he goes on his way, hoping to change His mind even further.

On the way, his donkey starts acting up and behaving in a strange way.  After becoming frustrated with it, he begins to beat it, until the donkey speaks up, telling him that Hashem is clearly not in favor of this!  And even after that, Bilaam continues on his journey.

Only until he actually goes into his trance to curse the Jewish people is Bilaam shaken to his core, unable to even whisper a curse against them.  On one of those occasions, Bilaam praises the "tents" and "dwellings" of the Jewish nation.  Many explain that this praise was based on the fact that each family had their opening facing in a way that it should not see into somebody else's tent.

Note: they were positioned not that others should look into theirs, bur rather that THEY should not come to peer into somebody else's property.

THIS is what put a shock into Bilaam, the care that each individual had for their neighbor.

Those who have learned Gemara know that there is great emphasis on how one can build their homes and their fields, making sure that it does not cause any damage or pain to their neighbors.  And this "small" thing brought Bilaam to a standstill.

I remember the first year I moved to our current location, a group of us, who did not yet have any sukkos, put in an order, en masse, to purchase all the wooden boards and schach together.  The delivery came much later than expected, around 10:30 p.m.  They were to be delivered across the street from me and each person would take what he ordered.

After the truck arrived, we all gathered around to unload it together, and naturally, with all the voices involved, things got a little loud.  It certainly wasn't on purpose and nobody was actually yelling, however, that's the nature of things.  One person quieted everybody down and reminded them that it's 10:30 p.m., we live in a secular area where people are usually enjoying their peace and quiet at this time, and we need to be more careful.  With that, we proceeded in whispers and finished our job.

It made a very positive impression on me.  It's natural, when engaged with something, not to think about others.  Certainly not neighbors.  Yet, at the same time, it's extremely important to do so at all times.  And as a note: despite the growth of the religious community, there are very few, if any, issues between secular and religious, because both sides respect the others.

I've heard reports of certain places in the States where the frum community slowly moves in, and the next thing you know, as makeshift shuls start up, so does traffic, parking problems, and noise.  Which in turn angers the non-Jewish neighbors, which only serves to ignite anti-semitism.

On the other hand, a friend of mine, several years ago, told me of a chassidish group in England which moved out of London and wished to start a small community out in the middle of nowhere.  However, that town was occupied by very English Englishmen.  However, they did things with intelligence.  Before moving in, with the encouragement of some of the important town officials who wanted to see things move smoothly, several "get togethers" were made so both communities would come to understand and respect each other.  The chassidim came to understand the local population and the local population came to understand the chassidim, along with their laws and traditions.

When we think about others around us, whether Jewish or not, secular or religious, and do our best to see that THEY are happy with us, then they too (hopefully) will do the same.  And through this type of attitude, can there be a healthy peace between people.

Have a wonderful Shabbos!