Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Parashat Balak -- There is no sorcery in Jacob

translation by Elli Sacks

This week we continue where we left off last. In Parashat Chukat, the Mei Ha-Shiloah explained that during "a time to act for the LORD", one must set aside the rules of Divrei Torah and listen for the voice of Hashem in order that we can fulfill His Will.

In Parashat Balak, the Ishbitzer explains that there are two typologies in Israel, one of the individual whose heart is drawn after the Will of Hashem and must constantly attune his ear to the voice of the Eternal, and one who lives in doubt and must exercise caution and self-examination in order to ascertain the correct course of action.

Without further adieu, the text:

"There is no sorcery in Jacob, no divination in Israel. It will now be said of Jacob and of Israel, 'See what God has done!'" (Numbers 23:23)

"Sorcery" (nachash) refers to stubborn insistence (hitakshut) upon a matter, without allowing the thought to rest from one's mind, while "divination" (kesem) is the opposite, such as a person who is plagued by doubts whether to act or not to act. Such a person tries to divine the outcome, testing and then seeing whether things proceed in an orderly fashion. If they do so, he will act, and if not, he will not. And that is the meaning of divination, i.e. seeing signs of the future through the prism of one's own personal behavior.

Both sorcery and divination are prohibited when they are not performed at the proper time. For example, if a person knew with perfect clarity the Will of Hashem, then it would be forbidden for him to procrastinate or to turn his mind from the matter, as he would if he were acting on his own accord. He must arouse himself like a lion to do God's will, and must act with force.

But when a person is doubtful about the proper course of action, he is forbidden from acting forcefully. Rather he must look inward and see how he would personally resolve the matter according to his own behavior, without the benefit of certain knowledge.

Regarding this, it is written in the Talmud (Hullin 95b): "Rav used to look for an omen from the ferry" i.e. if the boat were heading towards him without him summoning it, Rav understood that Hashem desired his voyage, but without this omen he would not travel upon the ferry.

Thus the verse says "sorcery in Jacob", for Jacob is the name utilized for someone who is not totally whole, whose heart is not yet drawn after the Will of Hashem. And so we have found that when the Prophet speaks of the people's small-mindedness, he refers to the them as "Jacob", as in Amos (7:2): "How can Jacob stand on his own? He is so small."

Therefore, the verse says that "there is no sorcery in Jacob." When the soul of a Jew is in doubt regarding a matter, he should not proceed forward with stubborn insistence, rather he should take steps to remove from himself all ego, biases and personal self-interest (negi'ah). Then he will be privileged to see how Hashem is currently managing the world, and he will know how to act accordingly.

"And no divination in Israel." i.e. when a person whose heart is completely drawn after the Will of Hashem has a sudden idea appear in his thoughts, it is none other than the Will of Hashem that is influencing him. He must not ignore it, but must act upon it forcefully for if he does not, he is violating (heaven forfend) the Will of Hashem.

And that is how Bilaam praised the nation of Israel, that each individual knew his own character [and knew his own worth.]


Check out Ishbitz / Modi'in posts and other great divrei Torah at Torah Place

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing darshan! It is really a mitzvah to translate this into English -- thank you Elli!!!

    You have made a wise choice to spare the reader all the endless analysis of sources and linguistics you could have brought in, but I can't resist a small linguistic comment here:
    The Ishbitzer is obviously also making a play on the words: Ya'akov, Yisrael and nahash (sorcery) -- the root of the name ya'akov is 'akv witch means roundabout, reserved; in the name Yisrael we also have the word Yashar, straight; nahash is the root the word nehishut, determination. The reading of the pasuk then is very strong: There is no nahash (=determinations) in Ya'akov (those who have reservations), and no magic in Yisrael (those who have a straight line to hashem).