18 Jul 2019 Balak/The Three Weeks – The Blessing of Our Eternal Strength
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Balak, Balak the king of Moav, fearing the strength of the Jewish nation encamped on his borders, hires Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. Balak is afraid that he will not be able to militarily defeat Am Yisrael, but if he comes against them with their primary weapon – the power of voice – he believes will be successful in bringing ruination upon them.
In a fascinating parsha of suspense, surprise, and thwarted plans, Bilaam is, in fact, unsuccessful at cursing the Jewish nation. Instead, he blesses them with many blessings, in prophecy rivaling that of Moshe Rabbeinu.
Perhaps one of his most famous utterances is the verse with which we begin our tefillos every day:
מַה-טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל – How goodly are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling places Israel (Bamidbar 24:5);
The Sages understand this blessing to be a reference to batei midrashos (houses of Torah study) and batei k’nesios (synagogues), which Israel will never be without (see Sanhedrin 105b with Rashi there).
R’ Yitzchok Zilberstein writes, “A person’s home can be a beis medrash as well. If a person is meritorious, the personal residence that he builds together with his wife and family can turn into a true beis medrash of Torah, fear of Heaven, and good middos (character traits).
“On the verse וְיַעֲקֹב֙ נָסַ֣ע סֻכֹּ֔תָה וַיִּ֥בֶן ל֖וֹ בָּ֑יִת, And Yaakov journeyed to Succos and built himself a house (Bereishis 33:17), Targum Yonasan ben Uziel explains: וְיַעֲקב נָטַל לְסוּכּוֹת וְאִיתְעַכֵּב תַּמָן תְּרֵיסַר יַרְחֵי שַׁתָּא וּבְנָא לֵיהּ בֵּי מֶדְרָשָׁא – And Yaakov journeyed to Succos, and sojourned there twelve months of the year; and he built a beis medrash.
“We see that according to Targum Yonasan בָּ֑יִת, house, means beis medrash (house of Torah study). How does the Targum know that the house referred to here was a beis medrash? The answer is simply that a person’s house is a beis medrash! And only in a place where there are batei midrash can the Jewish people be said to really live” (Aleinu L’Shabei’ach Bamidbar, p.421).
The blessing of study halls and shuls is one that will never leave our nation, and it is those houses of Torah study and tefillah that sustain us through each and every moment of exile. However, we must strive to create that same kedusha of Torah and tefilla in our own personal daled amos (four cubits). Every Jewish home can also be a holy house of worship.
This Shabbos is 17 Tammuz (with the fast day observed on Sunday) when we begin the Three Weeks of Mourning. While we remember the Temple that was twice destroyed, which was the house of Torah and tefilla, let us recall the personal batei midrashos that were also destroyed.
R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “Tisha B’Av is a time, a day, of mourning. It is the day on which we should tell the story that begins with Eisav, the story that describes the main experience of our Jewish lives in the last 2,000 years. It is not even a question of the destruction of the Kodesh ha’Kodashim (the Holy of Holies)! The question is of the Beis Ha’Mikdash that was every Jewish home. A Beis Ha’Mikdash in Jerusalem is replaceable, but this Beis Ha’Mikdash is irreplaceable. If we want, we can now build the Beis Ha’Mikdash in Jerusalem. I assure you that if we want, we can build an altar. Whether we should do it or not is a different story, but replacing the altar is theoretically possible. But can you replace the home of [each individual that was murdered]? You cannot replace him, and you cannot replace his home…
“Millions of home, I would say Batei Mikdash, were destroyed. With each Jew they destroyed a Beis Ha’Mikdash. Every Jew has his own Beis Ha’Mikdash, and that cannot be replaced” (The Lord is Righteous in All His Ways, p.290).
“If it was only the Beis Ha’Mikdash that was burned, I would not care so much. But they destroyed the Beis Ha’Mikdash that was really responsible for the survival of the people, and that was the private home of the Jew.
“I am beginning to see images. And one image I see is of a carpenter. Elya de stolier, he was called. He was a short fellow, and he rented out a large room to my cheder melammed (school teacher), in order to make a living. We used to go through his workshop in order to get to cheder. He was a plain Jew, a simple carpenter, not much of a scholar. He was a Jew. He used to stand a whole day working as a carpenter and saying Tehillim. He knew Tehillim by heart. He somehow found a system for reciting it; he used to say certain verses at certain times. When he completed work on a table, he would say ‘Kol ha’Neshama ti’halel kah, hallelukah – Let all souls praise G-d!’ (Ps.150). And he would say a different verse when he started to do his daily work.
“On the High Holidays, this Reb Elya der stolier was the ba’al tefillah in the big shul in Khaslavitch. Most probably, he deserved it. He hardly knew how to translate or understand a mishnah. But I am convinced, and I heard this from my father (R’ Moshe), that if there ever was a Jew who was counted among the lamed vav nistarim (36 hidden righteous), it was Reb Elya der stolier. I still have an image of him. This is not a Beis Ha’Mikdash? His home was a Beis Ha’Mikdash! There were thousands and thousands of Jews like him” (The Lord is Righteous in All His Ways, p.289-290).
Let us strengthen our commitment to Torah and tefillah, and our respect for the batei midrashos and batei k’nesios that sustain our nation. Let us ensure that each home replicates the kedusha of our mekomos Torah u’tefillah. And in this merit, let us pray for the ultimate redemption, when the final Beis Ha’Mikdash will be rebuilt, and the glory will return to Tzion v’Yerushalayim.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,