Category Archives: Parshat בלק

Parshat בלק Bamidbar 24:2 – Damage Caused By Seeing

Bamidbar 24:2 –  Bilaam raised his eyes and saw Israel dwelling according to its tribes, and the spirit of God rested upon him.”

Gemora Bava Basra 80a – What did Balaam see? He saw that the doors of the tents [of the Bnei Israel] did not directly face each other. This caused him to say that that the they are fit for the Divine Presence to dwell amongst them.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #1:

This is to say that the placement of the tents was such that one person could not see what was occurring in the tent of his neighbor. This demonstrates a quality of modesty [privacy] that thus prevents the evil eye from seeing. The Rashbam states that the source of conclusion regarding this teaching is from the fact that the verse is soon followed by another verse with Bilaam’s praise “how goodly are the Tents of Jacob; the dwelling places of Israel.” Tosafot, on the other hand state that the source of this teaching is from the second part of the original verse which states “and the spirit of God was upon him.”

One can say [perhaps] that the Rashbam was being exact in his analysis of the verses. From the fact that that our verse is followed by the praise of the tents of Jacob shows that the order of the tents found favor in [Bilaam’s] eyes to the extent that he thought it appropriate for the Divine Presence to dwell amongst them. This is why the term “dwelling place” is used. Tosafot, on the other hand, think that the source of this teaching is from the second half of the verse. They, therefore, would read it not that the “spirit of God was upon him” but rather “and the spirit of God should be upon them”. That is to say, “they are fitting for the spirit of God to dwell amongst them”.

You should be aware that, based on this teaching, the Ramban, in his commentary on the beginning of Baba Basra, states that the prohibition of “hezek re’iah” [damage caused by seeing] is a direct biblical prohibition. The back and forth debate in the gemora is whether the damage is materially significant or not. The issue is not whether there is damage or not. Certainly, opening a window opposite another window or a door is certainly a biblical prohibition. Rather the debate in the gemora is on the particular details of the boundaries of the prohibition. For example, would it apply where a window faces a jointly owned courtyard or where two people want to jointly construct a shared courtyard, etc.

Also note that the Baal Atur on page 94 states that the distance that would be applicable for this prohibition of hezek re’iah has no set limit and is quite large.  This observation requires further analysis [and appears to be flawed.] Observe that in verse (Genesis 21:16) it states that Hagar stayed a distance of a ‘bow-shot’ away from Ishmael so that she would not be able to see the death of the child. From that verse we see that the distance of a bow-shot is [approximately] how far a human eye can see [accurately]. Midrash Rabbah on that verse explains that this distance is approximately 1,000 amot. One does need to say that this distance would vary from person to person. However, for Hagar, the distance was about the distance of a bow-shot.

For the halachic parameters of “hezek re’iah” that are currently applicable, see Choshen Mishpat Section 154.

Editor’s Note: My opinion is that the law of hezek re’iah should be reinforced and more widely taught. It seems to be a very significant teaching emphasizing that we should not be ‘busy-bodies’ involving ourselves in other people’s business.

Parshat בלק Bamidbar 22:20 – Other People’s Money

Bamidbar 22:20 – God came to Bilaam [during] the night and said to him, “If these men have come to call for you, arise and go with them, but the word I speak to you-that you shall do.”

Gemora Makot 10b – Rava the son of Rav Huna said, “from this we learn that whichever way a man desires to go, they help him [go that way].  [We see this from the fact that] in verse 22:12 God says “Don’t go with them” and in verse 22:20 He says “Arise, go with them”

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #7:

This is in accordance with the saying “Everything is in the hands of heaven except for the fear of heaven.” In this case here, God saw that in Bilaam’s evil heart he wanted to go with them, therefore God permitted him to go.

Look also in Rashi’s explanation on verse 22:18 where Bilaam states that even if Balak were to give him a house full of silver and gold, he [Bilaam] would still not be able to act against God’s will. There Rashi says as follows: “We learn here that Bilaam soul was wide and lusted after other people’s money.”

It is worthwhile to comment on the fact that we see in Pirkei Avot (9:6) as follows: “Rabbi Yosi Ben Kasma says: even if you were to give me all the silver and gold in the world I would not leave and go to a place that is not a place of Torah.” This being the case, how is it possible [for Rashi] to conclude something critical from Bilaam for using similar language?

Truthfully though, these two instances are not similar. In Pirkei Avot the situation was that a person was coming and enticing Rabbi Yosi to go and live in his city and he would be paid thousands of gold dinars for doing so.  Therefore it was appropriate for Rabbi Yosi to respond in a similar way and say that even if he were to be given all the gold in the world, he would not go. Thus we see that Rabbi Yosi responded appropriately and in the same phraseology as the enticement.

This is not the case here with Bilaam, however. In this case, Balak did not entice Bilaam with the enticement of making him rich. Rather he only promised him that he would be greatly honored as it says in verse 22:17, “I will certainly honor you”. Therefore, Bilaam should have responded in the same phraseology as the enticement and said that it wouldn’t matter how much honor Balak granted him, he still would not be able to go against the word of God.

So, why did Bilaam instead respond and say that even if he was to be given a house full of money he wouldn’t be able to go against the word of God? Certainly, this change of phraseology was because really Bilaam desired and lusted after other people’s money [and wanted to be rich.] This is according to the well-known fact that a person’s desires are often on his tongue [ie, people mention frequently the thing that they desire the most.]

Editor’s Note: I believe that the Torah Temimah here is interested in pointing out that the Gemora is not just gratuitously criticizing Bilaam.  Rather, the Gemora is pointing out how, from the wording of the Chumash itself, we see Bilaam’s lust for money.