Balak – Why Are You Here?


כעת יאמר ליעקב ולישראל מה פעל אל  הן עם כלביא יקום וכארי יתנשא

In time, it will be said to Yaakov and Yisrael, “What has G-d wrought?” Behold! The people will arise like a lion cub and raise itself like a lion.

Rabbi Avraham of Slonim explains that today, when we meet a friend, we ask him, “How is business?” and inquire as to the success or otherwise of his physical business dealings. כעת — there will come a time when two Jews will meet, and their primary line of inquiry will be, מה פעל א-ל , what have you done for Hashem today, how is your spiritual business?

Rabbi Nosson Wachtfogel quotes Rashi, who explains that this pasuk refers to the fact that Jews rise from their sleep, like a lion, ready to perform mitzvos. The first law in the Shulchan Aruch is the instruction to rise with eagerness in the morning to perform the work of Hashem. Rabbi Wachtfogel notes that if this is what Bilaam means when he says, עם כלביא יקום וכארי יתנשא , then it turns out that what impresses Bilaam and what he is led to praise is not the fact that Klal Yisrael observe the mitzvos but rather the way that they observe them.

It is not the fact that they perform the mitzvos but that they execute them with eagerness and with readiness — “like a lion they rise up.” In other words, it is not necessarily important what you do, as much as the way that you do it.

Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor once headed a delegation of rabbis to the Russian Interior Minister to persuade him to repeal some anti-Jewish decrees. Just before the meeting, the Deputy Minister, a known anti-Semite, approached Rabbi Spektor and asked him what the reason was for the Jewish People having been created. What do they contribute to society? They serve no purpose, and the world would be better off without them and the problems they bring.

When Rabbi Spektor heard these words, he was immediately filled with joy, which left the Deputy Minister confused. He explained himself by quoting our pasuk: כעת יאמר ליעקב ולישראל , at that time when they say about the Jews, מה פעל א-ל why did Hashem bother to create them, then this is a sign of that the rest of the pasuk will be fulfilled: “ הן עם כלביא יקום וכארי יתנשא —Behold! The people will arise like a lion cub and raise itself like a lion.”

The ultimate indication that victory is close at hand is not when the nations of the world disagree with our actions, but when they challenge our very right to exist. The Chafetz Chaim notes that the word מה has two connotations: first, it is a simple question, as in “ מה ה׳ שואל מעמך —What does Hashem request from you,” and second, it is an expression of wonderment, as in מה טובו אהלך“ —Wow! How goodly are you tents etc.”

The Chafetz Chaim explains that at present, all we have is questions concerning Hashem’s actions, such as מה פעל א-ל —how could Hashem allow such a thing to happen? We do not understand much of what we have experienced as individuals and as a nation.

Today, when the Divine plan has not been revealed to us, מה פעל אל is a question. However, כעת יאמר ליעקב ולישראל —there will eventually come a time when we will be able to see how all of world history fits into one Divine plan. We will be able to put all the pieces together and form one clear picture. At that moment, we will say מה פעל אל as a declaration of wonderment! “I can’t believe the wonder of the design, plan, and outcome!”

Excerpted from The Heart of the Parashah by Rabbi Jeremy Finn

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