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D’var Torah: Parashat Balak

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Why would anyone name a parasha after a man bent on destroying the Jewish people? The Chief Rabbi explains in his D’var Torah, for which the full transcript appears below.

There are six parashiot which have the names of people. They are Noach, Chayei Sara, Yitro, Korach, Balak and Pinchas. Four of these individuals were truly outstanding people: Noach, Sara, Yitro and Pinchas.

One can also understand the choice of Korach to be a title for a parasha. Thanks to this parasha, throughout all ages we remember the dangers of machloket; what divisiveness within communities and within our nation can cause.

Balak was a rasha…so why did he merit having a parasha named after him?

But what can be said about Balak, the title of this week’s sedra? Balak was a rasha, an outright, evil individual who sought to destroy the Jewish people, so why did he merit having a parasha named after him?

Our sages differentiate between Bilam and Balak. With regard to Bilam we read how when visitors came to him he presented himself to them as a worthy, outstanding, upright, dignified, G-d-fearing individual. But when you read the text with closer scrutiny, when you see what he said and what he did, you will quickly conclude that the real Bilam actually was a very different person.

Not so Balak. With regard to Balak, what you saw was what you got. He was a bad person and he didn’t hide that from others.

In the laws of kashrut, the archetypal food which we associate with traifness is swine. And that’s actually very interesting, because according to Torah law, there are two requirements for an animal to be kosher: it needs to have cloven hooves and it needs to chew the cud.

Why is the pig, more than any other animal, associated with that which is not kosher?

The pig actually ticks one of these two boxes. It scores fifty percent because it does have cloven hooves. And then there are animals who tick neither of the boxes, so why is the pig, more than any other animal, associated with that which is not kosher?

Our sages explain, the pig lies on its back, it dangles its feet, it pronounces to the world ‘look I’ve got cloven hooves, I am kosher!’ But internally, there’s a very different story there. That is the type of person Bilam was; he deceived people, he was totally insincere.

Balak however was different; his saving grace was the fact that at least he was a sincere person. You know, even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day. With all of Balak’s evil, nonetheless we can identify one characteristic of his which was good, and that was his sincerity. And that is why our sedra carries his name. So let us from the title Balak of this week’s parasha remember how important it is for us to always be genuine and sincere.

Shabbat Shalom.