JuLY 9th 2011

Tamuz7th 5771



by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita

The story of Bilam in general, and the conversation between the wicked Bilam and his donkey in particular, call for an explanation. How could his donkey have seen the angel that was standing on the road, whereas Bilam himself could not see it until G-d opened his eyes? Is Bilam not described as “the one who hears the saying of G-d and knows the knowledge of the Supreme One, who sees the vision of Sh-ddai” (Bamidbar 24:16)? Here the Gemara asks, “He did not even know the mind of his animal, so how could he know the mind of the Most High?” (Berachot 7a). Furthermore, we need to explain why Hashem did not open the mouth of the donkey before Bilam’s leg was pressed against a wall and the donkey crouched beneath him, irritating him to the point that he wanted to kill it. Why did that happen?

We may explain this according to what our Sages have said: “[From] the light that the Holy One, blessed be He, created on the first day, one could see from one end of the world to the other. Yet as soon as the Holy One, blessed be He, beheld the generation of the flood and the generation of the dispersion…He arose and hid it from them…. For whom did He reserve it? For the tzaddikim” (Chagigah 12a). If men had not sinned, it would have been fitting for them to see from one end of the world to the other through the great light that Hashem had created at the start of Creation. Yet because it was clear to Him that they would commit evil deeds, He reserved the light solely for the tzaddikim, which is why they can see from one end of the world to the other. From whom was the light hidden? Only from evildoers, for they sin and are not worthy of using it.

Therefore the donkey saw the angel, but Bilam did not, for he was an evildoer and acted wickedly. Since the donkey did not posses an evil inclination, the original light was not hidden from it, and she saw what no other creature could see besides the tzaddikim.

Furthermore, since Bilam had no faith, even when he saw things with his own eyes, he did not know what he was seeing or pay attention to it either. As the Sages have said, “When the Torah was given to Israel…all the heathen kings were seized with trembling…. They all assembled around the wicked Bilam and asked him, ‘What is this tumultuous noise that we have heard…?’ [Bilam replied] ‘He has a precious treasure in His storehouse, which was hidden by Him for 974 generations before the world was created, and He desired to give it to His children’ ” (Zevachim 116a). As a result, although Bilam had seen the glory of Israel and knew that they were G-d’s people, the ones for whom the world had been created, he still did not join them. Since he did not pay attention to his natural vision, how much more did he not pay attention to things that nobody could see! Furthermore, even later on when he saw the angel and it wanted him to go back, he still did not return. Indeed, he did not change his mind even after his death, for we know that when the convert Onkelos raised Bilam with incantations and asked him what he thought of Israel, he replied: “Do not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever” (Gittin 57a).

The Sages have said (Shir HaShirim Zutah 1:15) that some evildoers are wise in their own eyes. They know about the sun, the moon, and the constellations, and they have knowledge of what Hashem does in the heavens, but they still do not recognize the One Who created them. Bilam was among these; he resembled them. Yet despite knowing the thoughts of the Most High, he did not repent or take upon himself the yoke of the Torah. This evildoer even went to give wicked advice to Balak in order to make the Children of Israel sin, and it was not long before 24,000 men of Israel died.

The Example of Niagara Falls

As a rule, every person who lacks faith will not believe even if he sees things with his own eyes. This is precisely what happened to Bilam. Even today, the foolish among the nations see with their own eyes – they see the marvels of nature – and yet do not believe that the Holy One, blessed be He, created these wonders. They believe that they were created on their own.

Could anyone possibly think that Niagara Falls, in Canada, one of nature’s marvels, was created on its own? Obviously not! Yet such people, since they do not want to see the truth despite plainly seeing the falls, do not recognize the truth. The Holy One, blessed be He, also performs miracles for man each day, yet he does not perceive them (see Ramban on Shemot 13:16). People see them, but they do not see Hashem, Who is behind all of these miracles.

When G-d sees that a man does not have faith and cannot perceive anything, He opens his eyes. In what way? By sending him trials that move his soul to repentance. Rabbeinu Yona writes, “If you find yourself suffering, take it to heart and say, ‘All this has come upon me because of my behavior, my deeds, and the sins I’ve committed,’ and return to G-d, Who will have mercy on you” (Sha’arei Teshuvah 2:2).

This is why Hashem sent trials upon Bilam. His leg was pressed against a wall, and he suffered greatly until his donkey opened its mouth so he could reflect upon the fact that such misfortunes came upon him because he was about to curse Israel. However Bilam was very wicked, and he paid no attention to this, but continued on his way. What eventually happened to him? “Bilam the son of Beor they slew with the sword” (Bamidbar 31:8). When did they kill him? It was when he went to receive his reward for the advice he had given, thereby adding even more to his wickedness, as the Sages have explained (Sanhedrin 106a). He went to be rewarded for the 24,000 Jews who had died.

Generally speaking, people without faith cannot see anything with their own eyes. The wicked Bilam, because he did not believe in Hashem, could not see things either. However the tzaddikim, because they believe in Hashem – as it is written, “The tzaddikim will live by their faith” (Habakkuk 2:4) – can see from one end of the world to the other. We know that the eyes of the tzaddikim see everything that will happen in the world, and they have often saved people from death. This is because they have not become impure through sin, and they believe in G-d to such an extent that they have the right to use this great light, which was created at the outset of Creation.

Guard Your Tongue!

Abhorred by Hashem

All we have written concerning the prohibition against Rechilut [talebearing] applies even if everything said is completely true, containing no trace of falsehood. Needless to say, if two people are on friendly terms with each other, and another person tells one of them what the other has said about him, the speaker is call a rasha and his actions are abhorrent to Hashem. Even if these two people were already enemies, and a person hears one speaking against the other and goes and tells him, it is called Rechilut.

– Chafetz Chaim

Current Issues

The Fast of Tammuz 17

Five disasters occurred on Tammuz 17: The first Tablets of the Law were broken, the daily burnt-offering was discontinued, Jerusalem was invaded, the wicked Apostumus burned the Torah, and an idol was placed in the Temple.

The Tablets Were Broken

On Sivan 7, after the giving of the Torah, Moshe again ascended Mount Sinai, which none of the people were allowed to approach, a warning that had been given before the giving of the Torah. There he learned the principles, details, and slightest nuances of the Torah from G-d, and he received the Tablets of the Law.

When Moshe ascended to Heaven, he told the Children of Israel: “After 40 days, at the start of the sixth hour of the day, I will return and bring you the Torah.” They believed that the day he ascended was part of this count, a total of 40 entire days, with a day including the night before. On the day he ascended, the night was not included, since he ascended on Sivan 7. Therefore the 40th day was Tammuz 17.

On the 16th, the Satan came to confound the people, showing them a dark and foggy image, a hazy cloud. He told them that Moshe was certainly dead because the sixth hour had already passed, but he had not returned.

The Satan said to them, “Where is your teacher Moshe?” They replied, “He has ascended on high.” The Satan said, “The sixth hour has come,” but they ignored him. “He is dead,” he added, but they ignored him. When the Satan then showed them a vision of Moshe’s casket, they went to Aaron. In their distress and dismay, they said to him: “Make us a god!”

On the following day, Moshe came down from the mountain. When the Holy One, blessed be He, gave him the Tablets of the Law, they carried themselves. When Moshe descended and approached the camp, he saw the golden calf. The letters then flew out of the Tablets, which became heavy in Moshe’s hands. At that very instant, “Moshe’s anger flared up, and he threw down the Tablets from his hands” (Shemot 32:19).

Likewise in regards to the destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem was besieged on Tammuz 9. Yet since heavy burdens must not be imposed on the people, two days of fasting in close proximity to one another were not established. Hence Tammuz 17 was established as a fast day, for the destruction of the Second Temple was even worse for us.

The Daily Burnt-offering Was Discontinued

At the time of the destruction of the First Temple, Tammuz 9, the walls of Jerusalem were breeched and our adversaries invaded the city and rained down destruction. However no one could enter the Temple, for the kohanim had closed themselves inside and continued to carry out the sacred service until Av 7. Starting on Tammuz 13, however, they lacked sheep for the daily burnt-offering, since unblemished sheep for offerings had always been kept in the azarah [courtyard] for four days. From that day on, however, they bribed the troops who besieged them from outside, sending them silver or gold in exchange for sheep. They did this until Tammuz 17.

Jerusalem was Invaded

This relates to the destruction of the Second Temple. The walls of Jerusalem were breeched on Tammuz 17, and Titus and his army invaded the city. Yet in regards to the destruction of the First Temple, during the time of King Zedekiah, it is written: “In the fourth month, on the ninth of the month, the famine in the city became critical. There was no food for the people of the land. The city was breached, and all the men of war fled and left the city during the night” (Jeremiah 52:6-7).

The Yerushalmi says that even for the destruction of the First Temple, the city was invaded on Tammuz 17. Yet because of the terrible calamity at that time, people lost track of the days and believed that it had occurred on Tammuz 9.

Although both the Holy One, blessed be He, and the prophet Jeremiah knew this, He wrote through Jeremiah that it was invaded on Tammuz 9, as the people had believed. This was done in order to show, as it were, that G-d shared in their pain even if they were mistaken in their calculations, something that neither mouth can say nor ear can hear.

Apostumus Burned the Torah

We do not know the details of this event, which is mentioned in the Mishnah, from primary sources. The Yerushalmi simply says, “Where did he burn it? Rabbi Acha says at the crossroads of Lod, while the other Sages say at the crossroads of Tarlusa.”

The Acharonim believe that this event is connected to the period of the Roman proconsul Cumanus. This event occurred some 16 years before the great uprising against the Romans. During that time, the proconsul’s forces harassed Jews and all that was sacred to them, and there were massive riots that later subsided. Flavius Josephus describes that era as follows:

“Before their first tragedy was over [when 10,000 men were killed on the Temple Mount following an incident started by a Roman soldier], another trouble also befell them. As they were traveling along the public road, about 100 furlongs from the city [Beit Choron], some of the men responsible for the previous incident robbed Stephanus, a servant of Caesar, as he was traveling, and stole all that he had. When Cumanus heard of this, he immediately ordered soldiers to plunder the neighboring villages and to bring him their leading figures in chains. As this was occurring, one of the soldiers seized [a Torah scroll] that was in one of those villages. He brought it out before the eyes of everyone there and tore it to pieces. This was accompanied by abusive and vulgar language. When the Jews heard of this incident, they ran together in great numbers and came down to Cesarea, where Cumanus was at the time. They implored him not avenge themselves, but to avenge G-d, Whose laws had been offended. Otherwise they could not bear to live any longer, since the laws of their forefathers had been offended in this way. Accordingly Cumanus, lest the multitude rise up in rebellion, and also on the advice of his friends, made certain that the soldier who had scorned the Torah would be beheaded. He thereby put a stop to a second rebellion.”

According to this hypothesis, these things occurred on Tammuz 17, several years before the destruction of the Second Temple. The name Stephanus was changed to Apostemos, for names were often changed in this way.

An Idol was Placed in the Temple

Some explain that this was also done by the wicked Apostemos on the same day, Tammuz 17. Others believe that it refers to the idol that King Manasseh made and placed in the Temple, which also occurred on Tammuz 17.

At the Source

Words Matter

It is written, “So now, please come and curse me this people” (Bamidbar 22:6).

The book Shnei Luchot HaBrit states: “A man must be extremely careful not to say imprudent things. Even if he speaks unintentionally, he will draw things upon himself. Balak said, ‘Come and curse me’ – his mouth being what caused Bilam to eventually curse him.”

Taking Things in Stride

It is written, “Bilam said to the donkey, ‘Because you mocked me’ ” (Bamidbar 22:29).

Rabbeinu Bechaye wrote that the wicked Bilam should have been stunned by the wonder that his donkey was speaking with him, and he should have shared this miracle with everyone traveling with him. He should have reflected upon this and told himself that it was from Hashem, and he should have learned from it.

Yet because of his cruel and evil nature, and because of his desire to go and curse Israel, Bilam took things in stride and answered the donkey as if he had always spoken to it: “Because you mocked me.”

To Die – Not Live – Like Them

It is written, “May my soul die the death of the righteous” (Bamidbar 23:10).

The Chafetz Chaim explains that the evil Bilam did not want to live like a faithful Jew. His soul only yearned to die like a Jew, the death of the righteous. Because the life of a Jew is surrounded by thorns, there are only brambles and thistles on his path, and he must handle them all: This you may do, and that you may not do. This you may eat, and that you may not eat.

A faithful Jew, when his end comes, knows that death is but a transition from an ephemeral life to eternal life. He believes that his soul lives on, and he believes in reward and punishment. Hence death is not so frightening to him. This is what Bilam yearned for: “May my soul die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like his.”


It is written, “The words of Bilam, son of Beor; the words of the man with the open eye” (Bamidbar 24:3).

The book Iturei Torah recounts an incident that occurred during the Holocaust. A high-ranking officer in the German army lost an eye, and he underwent an operation in a Berlin hospital to replace it with a glass eye.

This officer once told a Jewish woman, before sending her off to die, that he would spare her life if she told him which of his eyes was real.

On the spot, and without any hesitation, the woman told him which eye was real.

The officer was stunned, and he wanted to know how the woman could be so certain. She told him that she knew which eye was made of glass because…she could not see any hate in it.

Also Liable to Death

It is written, “He pierced them both, the Israelite man and the woman” (Bamidbar 25:8).

The saintly Rabbi Chaim ben Attar Zatzal asks how Pinchas could have pierced the woman. He pierced the man according to the law: “If a man cohabits with an Aramean woman, he is struck down by zealots.” However a woman is not liable to death for this, and even if Pinchas feared that this woman may have been married, killing her was not justified in light of such a doubt.

He explains that it is possible that Pinchas judged the woman according to the law of animals, concerning which it is said (in the case of bestiality): “You shall kill the animal” (Vayikra 20:15). Now concerning the nations of the world, it is said: “Whose flesh is the flesh of donkeys” (Ezekiel 23:20). Legally speaking, they are compared to animals, and therefore the woman was also liable to death.

In the Light of the Parsha

From the Teachings of the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita

The Torah Protects and Saves

It is written, “It is a people that dwells alone. Among the nations it shall not be reckoned” (Bamidbar 23:9).

This verse was said only in regards to our current, bitter exile, which precedes the coming of Mashiach. It is almost impossible for a Jew to go out into the street. Every corner is filled with impurity, and it is impossible not to look and stumble. How can a person avoid sinning?

Man can only be saved from immorality by cleaving to the holy Torah at all times, for it protects and saves. The Gemara states, “It is said that Rabbi Yehudah bar Ilai used to take a myrtle twig and dance before the bride and say: ‘Beautiful and graceful bride.’ Rabbi Shemuel the son of Rabbi Yitzchak danced with three. Rabbi Zeira said, ‘The old man is putting us to shame.’ When he died, a pillar of fire came between him and the whole world, and there is a tradition that a pillar of fire has made such a separation only for either one or two [great men] in a generation. … Rabbi Acha took her on his shoulder and danced. The Rabbis said to him, ‘May we do so?’ He replied, ‘If they are on you like a beam, yes. If not, you cannot’ ” (Ketubot 17a). Rashi explains: “Like a simple piece of wood that nobody gives a thought to.”

How could these tzaddikim do this without having even a single misplaced thought? It is because they studied the holy Torah, which protected them from having improper thoughts. They saw, but they paid no attention and no bad thoughts came to them. The Gemara mentions something similar: “Rabbi Giddal was accustomed to go and sit at the gates of the mikveh. He used to say to the women, ‘Immerse yourself like this’ or ‘immerse yourselves like that.’ The Sages said to him, ‘Is the teacher not afraid that his passions will get the best of him?’ He replied, ‘To me they look like many white geese’ ” (Berachot 20a). The Rambam teaches us, “An immoral thought assails only a heart devoid of all wisdom” (Hilchot Issurei Biah 22:21). This concept is alluded to in the verse, “It is a people that dwells alone.” The term levadad (“alone”) has a numerical value of 40, alluding to the Torah, which was given after 40 days. This teaches us that because a man studies Torah, he will fulfill the verse: “Among the nations [he] shall not be reckoned.” Even if he encounters improper things, because he studies Torah he will be able to see them without having improper thoughts, and he will not be reckoned among the nations. In fact he does not think of the same things as the nations, for he studies Torah.

Your Eyes Shall Behold Your Teacher

Rabbi Chaim ben Attar – The Author of Ohr HaChaim

For the Hilloula of Rabbi Chaim ben Attar, the saintly author of Ohr HaChaim, many incredible stories have been told about this tzaddik, about his magnificent work and the segula to study it.

In the book Netiv Mitzvotecha, the gaon Rabbi Itzchak Isaac of Kumara (the author of Heichal HaBracha) states the following: “Our teacher the Baal Shem Tov said that his soul emanated from the soul of David. Each night, he listened to Torah from the mouth of Hashem, and it is impossible to describe the magnitude of his sanctity. Souls revealed themselves to him, and he truly possessed Ruach HaKodesh. The Baal Shem Tov also emanated from the soul of David, and he wanted their souls to be connected and bring about the Final Redemption.”

Purifying the Soul

The study of Ohr HaChaim, said the tzaddik Rabbi Israel of Rozhin Zatzal, can purify the soul. When Rabbi David Moshe of Chortkov Zatzal, the son of Rabbi Israel, heard about the importance of this study, he set aside a regular time to learn Ohr HaChaim on the parsha from then on.

A Complete Recovery

Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz said that the holy book Ohr HaChaim illuminates the entire city where it is found. When his son fell ill, he advised him to study Ohr HaChaim as a segula for a complete recovery.

Troubling Himself for Nothing

The book Likutei Sipurim states, “Rabbi Gershon of Kitov told Rabbi Chaim ben Attar that the Baal Shem Tov wanted to come to the Holy Land in order to meet him. The Ohr HaChaim told him to ask the Baal Shem Tov, when he ascended to the supernal worlds, if he saw him completely or not. The answer was that he could only see his heels. The Ohr replied that in that case, he would be troubling himself for nothing, for he could never come and meet him.”

The Danger Has Passed

Every year, crowds come to pray by the grave of the Ohr HaChaim on the Mount of Olives during his Hilloula, Tammuz 15. Extraordinary stories are told about events that have taken place for Jews while standing around his grave. One such story describes events that took place during the Second World War, when the Germans were at the gates of Eretz Israel on two fronts. At that time, the Beit Din of Jerusalem declared that people should visit the grave of the Ohr HaChaim on his Hilloula. Crowds gathered around his grave and offered prayers and supplications, and leading them was the holy Rav of Hossiatin and the holy Rav of Zvil. After tehillim were read, people could see joy on the faces of the tzaddikim. When they were asked about it, the Rav of Hossiatin replied: “The danger has passed. The sword shall not pass through our land.” Those present were astonished by this, and they asked him: “How do you know?” The Rav said that he had seen the form of the Tetragrammaton shining above the grave of Rabbi Chaim ben Attar, and he thereby understood that the danger had passed. The Rav of Zvil said the same thing to those close to him.

In fact two days later, the Germans suffered tremendous losses on both fronts, in Syria and Egypt. Indeed, a new front opened for them in Russia, and these murderers were forced to leave the region. The Jews of the land had peace and security.

The Tractor Overturned

Another incident occurred during wartime, a story that spread from that point on among the residents of Jerusalem. During that year, war erupted along all of Israel’s borders, and the old city of Jerusalem was conquered by Jordanian forces that controlled the entire area at the time. The magnitude of the devastation brought about by the Jordanians in the Jewish quarters of the old city was only discovered after the Six Day War. The Jordanians destroyed the houses of study and broke everything that fell into their hands. All the synagogues in the Jewish quarter were destroyed (the most famous of which was the Churvat Rabbi Yehudah HaChassid and the Porat Yosef yeshiva). The Jordanians also destroyed Torah scrolls with their own unclean hands. Not content with this, Jordanian solders also attacked the dead, going to the cemetery on the Mount of Olives and destroying tombstones.

The Jordanians tried to lay down a road among the tombstones. In order to do this, they took a tractor and began to flatten the earth. One tombstone after another was shattered by the tractor, until they came to the grave of the holy Ohr HaChaim. When the tractor arrived at his grave to destroy his tombstone, they did not succeed. The tractor had barely touched the grave when it immediately flipped over, killing the driver on the spot. The Jordanians thought that this was due to a problem with the tractor, believing that the motor was at fault. A mechanic arrived, fixed what he thought was the problem, and a new driver was brought in to finish the task of his predecessor: The destruction of sacred graves. However the extreme end of the tractor had barely touched the tombstone of the Rav when it too overturned, killing its driver. The Jordanians were now sensing that there was something wrong, but they again blamed it on the tractor and did not give up. Arrogant and self-assured, they wanted to destroy this tombstone at all costs, and to that end they took a large hammer to destroy it for good. When the soldier grabbed hold of the heavy hammer, it slipped from his hands and cracked his skull. This time the Jordanians were afraid. They realized that something mysterious was going on, and they immediately left the area. Nobody dared touch the Rav’s holy tombstone, which still stands today.


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