Watch: A short lesson by Reb Yoel Kahn on Parshas Balak with an English transcript.
Watch a short lesson by Reb Yoel Kahn on Parshas Balak with an English transcript.
Scroll down for the English transcript.
Parshas Balak describes Bilaam’s attempts to curse Bnei Yisroel, and how Hashem transformed his curses to blessings.
The possuk states, “No prophet like Moshe arose among Yisroel.” The Sifri comments that only among Yisroel was there never a prophet like Moshe; among the gentiles, however, there was such a person: Bilaam. We see from this that Bilaam was Moshe’s antithesis. Both of them shared something in common; the difference between them is that with Moshe this common theme was expressed in kedushah, while with Bilaam it was expressed in kelipah.
What did Moshe and Bilaam have in common? Kabbalah explains that both represented the level of daas: Moshe was daas of kedushah, and Bilaam was daas of kelipah.
While these levels certainly reflect spiritual ideas, they are also pertinent to us and our avodas Hashem.
A Look Beneath the Surface
What is daas all about? Daas is more than just knowledge; it refers to a deeper type of connection (as in the possuk, “Adam yada—joined—with his wife Chavah”). Daas is an inner feeling that penetrates deeper than the usual, simple understanding of the matter.
We see this concept with regard to a logical sevara. You have the person who understands the sevara, and then you have the person who feels it. The is the external dimension of the sevara that can be explained and proven. But then there is the sevara’s inner dimension that cannot be expressed in words; it can only be felt and sensed.
This is the difference between regular sechel and daas. Sechel can only grasp the outer part of the sevara, the part that can be analyzed and demonstrated logically. To grasp the inner depths of the sevara one must possess the special quality of daas, the ability to detect what lies beneath the surface.
Within daas itself there are two opposite approaches: daas of kedushah, and daas of kelipah.
Let’s take, for example, a person who is doing something positive—he is learning Torah or doing a mitzvah. However, it’s possible that he is not doing it purely lesheim shamayim, but has a personal agenda behind his actions.
Now, sometimes this personal objective is quite apparent. It is clear to the onlooker that his goal is not to learn Hashem’s Torah. It is merely a means to an end, so that others will respect him and consider him a lamdan (and similarly with doing mitzvos). In such a case, his motives can be grasped with sechel, and there is no need to utilize daas.
But then you have a case where the personal motive is much more subtle. In fact, it’s possible that the person himself is not that aware of it. Here, you need someone with the quality of daas to sense that deep down, his actions are not one-hundred-percent genuine.
This is daas, but daas of kelipah—the ability to feel and bring out the inner negativity found within a person’s actions.
Finding the Good
Then you have the opposite approach—daas of kedushah, to sense the inner good found within a person.
Let’s take a Jew who is not acting as he should; in fact, he is doing aveiros. With the quality of daas, one can uncover the hidden good found within him. As the Rambam writes, since he is a Jew, it is certain that deep down he wants to fulfill Hashem’s desire.
The Rambam uses this concept to explain a law regarding divorce. A get must be given with the husband’s consent; if given under duress, it is invalid. Yet, if the law requires that a husband divorce his wife but he doesn’t want to, the Beis Din strikes him until he says that he agrees, and the get is valid. By contrast, if the law did not require a divorce and the Beis Din mistakenly forced him to say that he agrees, the get is possul.
This seems difficult to understand. If the prerequisite of consent entails genuine consent, why is the get valid when the law requires him to divorce? When he says he agrees, he doesn’t really mean it; he is only saying so to avoid being hit! And if coerced consent is sufficient, why is the get possul when the law does not require a divorce?
The Rambam explains that indeed, the husband’s consent must be genuine. However, deep down every Jew wants to fulfill Hashem’s Will, and it is only the yetzer hara that gets in the way. When he is forced to say that he consents, although he thinks he is agreeing only to avoid getting hit, in truth it is an expression of his true desire—to fulfill Hashem’s command.
However, this is only the case if it is indeed Hashem’s Will that he divorce his wife. If halachah does not require a divorce, his consent cannot be said to be an expression of his true desire, and the get is possul.
This, then, is the meaning of daas of kedushah: to locate the hidden good found within a Jew. Although on the surface it appears as if he is only agreeing under duress, a deeper look reveals that even such a person truly wants to fulfill Hashem’s desire. Indeed, we often see that even if someone outwardly appears distant from Yiddishkeit, there are times when his inner essence comes to the fore, and he demonstrates his belief in Hashem.
We have here two approaches, both involving daas—sensing what’s going on beneath the surface. The difference, however, is whether one is searching for the good or the opposite.
Bilaam and Moshe both represent the level of daas. The difference is that Bilaam was a sonei Yisroel, while Moshe, lehavdil, was an ohev Yisroel.
Bilaam’s goal was to bring negative accusations against the Jews. Even when outwardly they were acting as they should, he searched for the hidden evil. He mentioned the various sins the Jews had committed, hoping this would evoke the evil lurking within.
Reb Pinchas Koritzer was known for toiling to attain the quality of truth. Once he was approached by a fellow who asked him: “I toil as well—to develop a hatred for falsehood. What is the difference between us two?”
“I’ll explain the difference,” replied Reb Pinchas. “Every Jew possesses some truth and some falsehood. Your focus is on uncovering and abhorring the falsehood found inside. I, however, toil on revealing and loving the truth found within every Jew.”
Sometimes you have someone who looks for the bad within others. Although the other appears good on the outside, he will look beneath the surface and discover that his motives are not entirely pure. He thinks he is doing it leshem shamayim; after all, he is searching for the truth! In reality, however, he is adopting the approach of Bilaam. What’s more, by discussing the negativity found within others, he is actually taking what was previously hidden and bringing it out to the open.
Moshe’s approach was the exact opposite. He was an ohev Yisroel, always looking for the good. When we view another Jew, even if all we see on the outside is negative conduct, our job is to look for and arouse the good hidden within. Moreover, by focusing on the good, and inspiring the other by telling him that he is a Jew and wants to do what’s right, we can reveal his inner good and make it shine.
For further study, see maamar d”h Hashkifah 5700.