Balak - The Power of Prayer

Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
 וַיַּרְא בָּלָק בֶּן צִפּוֹר אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל לָאֱמֹרִי
Bamidbar 22:2

Asks the Kli Yakar, why does Balak focus on Israel's encounter with the Amorites (Bamidbar 21:22-32) where the Israelites wipe out the Amorite land of Sihon? Why not focus on the more impressive events like the 10 plagues, or splitting of the sea?

Also asks the Kli Yakar, what is the significance of the various names  that the people of Israel are referred to in these opening verses? They are referred to as Israel, Am, Bnei Yisrael, and Kahal.

Out of the Mouth

Explains the Kli Yakar, in ancient kingdoms like Moav the royal house maintained a book of chronicles, recording the events in the kingdom for the royalty of future generations to review. As a royal leader, Balak had access to these accounts and could read about events of previous generations in the region. There Balak learned about what Yaakov had done to the Amorites. As it says in Parshat Vayachi, Yaakov recounts to Yosef about his imminent death, and portion of land that he will grant Yosef, sharing the account:
And I have given you one portion over your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.
וַאֲנִי נָתַתִּי לְךָ שְׁכֶם אַחַד עַל אַחֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר לָקַחְתִּי מִיַּד הָאֱמֹרִי בְּחַרְבִּי וּבְקַשְׁתִּי
Breisheit 48:22
Balak was impressed and fearful from learning about this episode, for Yaakov was just one man leading one family against the Amorite bastion at Shechem. Nevertheless Yaakov won, defeating the Amorites, despite having greater numbers.

According to Chazal (Baba Batra 123A), the expression "with my sword and with my bow" refers to his Tefilah - his prayers. From this, Balak realized that essence of Yaakov's power was out of his mouth, through his Tefilah. Therefore Balak, likewise, sought out someone who was gifted in the mouth, in the power of speech, seeking out Bilaam.

Now we can understand why the Parshah starts out saying "Balak the son of Zippor saw" and not say "heard" since everything that Balak is referring to he literally saw in the royal chronicles. Upon seeing this account, a fear entered his heart as he said to himself, 'If in the previous generations, Yaakov, as just one man with his own family, was capable of doing so much to the Amorites by virtue of their prayer so then what chance to do I stand as I face an entire nation of Yaakov's descendents. How much more so powerful will be the power of their prayer.'

Therefore, here in this opening verse, it neither says Bnei Yisrael, nor Am, nor Kahal, but Yisrael, to bring attention power of prayer that Yisrael empowered the Jewish people with.

Moab became terrified of the people for they were numerous
וַיָּגָר מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי הָעָם מְאֹד כִּי רַב הוּא

Bamidbar 22:3
However the general population of Moav did not have that knowledge of history. Rather Moav feared the present, and what they saw before them - a large nation before them. What made the Am Yisrael appear so large? The presence of the Eruv Rav - the Mixed Multitudes - added to the appearance of the Am Yisrael, inflating their numbers and giving a large appearance to the nation.  For this reason, the Kli Yakar suggests, the Torah specifically just uses the term HaAm - The People, rather than referring to the people of Israel.

and Moab became disgusted because of the children of Israel
 וַיָּקָץ מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

Bamidbar 22:3

Explains the Kli Yakar, the term ויקץ (became disgusted) can be explained by how we saw it used earlier in Shmot (1:12).
But as much as they would afflict them, so did they multiply and so did they gain strength, and they were disgusted because of the children of Israel.
וְכַאֲשֶׁר יְעַנּוּ אֹתוֹ כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ וַיָּקֻצוּ מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
Exploring the etymology of this word we see how it functions. It doesn't mean that Israel looked like קוצים (thorns) in their eyes for that would mean that the word should be written as וַיָּקָצו (instead of וַיָּקֻצוּ ). Rather the Egyptians looked at the situation in an entirely the opposite way. They saw Bnei Yisrael as represented as the grape vine, while the Egyptians themselves were the thorns, as it says in Tehilim (80:9) "גֶּפֶן מִמִּצְרַיִם תַּסִּיעַ תְּגָרֵשׁ גּוֹיִם וַתִּטָּעֶהָ" ("You uprooted a vine from Egypt; You drove out nations and planted it.")

Based on this outlook, it is well known that when  landowner wants to plant a vineyard in field full of thorns, he first wants to clear out the thorns by their roots, and then spread the seeds for the vineyard. And thus, that's how the Egyptians looked at the presence of Bnei Yisrael in Egypt.

Likewise, Moav took a similar perspective on Bnei Yisrael, that Moav was likened to the thorns that would be ripped out to allow Bnei Yisrael to take root in their land. For as Balak feared the power of Yaakov, the people of Moav reasoned that since Yaakov was gone, his descendents - Bnei Yisrael - would take root in their land.
Moab said to the elders of Midian, Now this assembly will eat up everything around us, as the ox eats up the greens of the field.
וַיֹּאמֶר מוֹאָב אֶל זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן עַתָּה יְלַחֲכוּ הַקָּהָל אֶת כָּל סְבִיבֹתֵינוּ כִּלְחֹךְ הַשּׁוֹר אֵת יֶרֶק הַשָּׂדֶה
Bamidbar 22:4
And finally, why did the Midianites seem to meddle in an argument that didn't concern them, and not leave this to Moav and Yisrael. Rather Moav warned the Yisrael also had a open account with Midian, since it was Midianite traders that were instrumental in carrying out the sale of Yosef (related in Breisheit 37:36).

So how does the term קהל (assembly) relate to this? It comes out of the idea that the descendents of Yosef are called Kahal, as we saw (Breisheit 35:11) where Yaakov gives a special blessing to Yosef. "a nation and an assembly of nations shall come into existence from you". Rashi explains that "a nation" in the singular  refers to Binyamin, one of the beloved children of Rachel. While the terms "of nations" in the plural refers to the two tribes from Yosef (Efraim and Menashe) joined the tribes of Israel.

Thus we have Kahal referring to Yosef, but as Rashi explains it was Pinchas that "sought the vengeance of Yoseph, his maternal grandfather." How was Pinchas related to Yosef?  Pinchas is better known as the son of Elazar, who is the son of Aaron the priest.

Rashi explains the lineage of Pinchas, "Because it says,“[Eleazar the son of Aaron took himself one] of the daughters of Putiel (פּוּטִיאֵל)” (Exod. 6:25) [meaning] of the descendants of Yitro, who fattened (פִּטֵּם) calves for idolatry."

So how does that connect to Yosef?
Rashi continues, explaining that there is another way of interpreting Putiel, saying that "Yoseph made light of (פִּטְפֵּט) [literally talked to] his Yetzer and prevailed over it [when he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife]."

And so the elders of Moav said to Midian that you also have reason to be concerned about the nation of Israel, the descendents of Yosef. For the descendents of Yosef will want to exact revenge on Midian in the name of Yosef.

A further clue to idea of Yosef in this verse comes from the phrase "as the ox eats up the greens of the field", as we know from Zot HaBrechah that Yosef is described in terms of "To his firstborn ox is [given] glory" (Devarim 33:17)

So like the prayer of Yaakov, we should likewise be inspired in our prayers, and in the power of Yosef we should take control of our Yetzer. 

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