Friday, July 6, 2012

Shem's Long Sought Blessing

               Parashas Balak: The Tents of Shem
                   Rabbi David P. Katz

In the Parsha of this week, “Balak” one of the Torah’s biggest secrets is alluded to, in a famous expression offered by the wicked prophet Bilaam. Amidst the Blessings he offers to the Jewish People, Bilaam peculiarly states the following in Bamidbar 24:5: “How goodly are your tents, O’ Jacob, your dwelling places O’ Israel.” The simple answer to define the nature of this Blessing that Bilaam offers is that these tents and dwelling places refer to the places of warship among the Jewish People, as well is any aspect of congregation amongst 10 Men. [Sanhedrin 105b]
The Synagogue and the House of Study have been the two institutions in a firm setting largely since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD. Once the Roman exile was fully launched and operative upon Israel and the Land of Israel, the Jewish People would need to congregate in a wandering exile to remain a cohesive nation. The Synagogue and House of Study [shul = synagogue; beis midrash = house of study] would function as the heart of the society, essentially making Jewish life possible while being surrounded in a foreign land. Thus Bilaam had the perfect Blessing readied in his mouth by Hashem: How goodly are “these” O’ Jacob! In a way Bilaam is saying, “Israel! Do you know what is good?! Your places of worship are Good – cling to those!” And so over time [2000 years roughly] the Jews either get the message or they don’t; and the exile continues in this fashion. The only point being that Bilaam prophesied a tremendous Truth: exile may be long, but by the vehicle of worship the Redemption will come! – because it is the Torah and knowledge through these two institutions [i.e. the fruit of exile and purpose of being in this condition] will produce the solution to Israel, an eternal merit of Torah – for the World.
One irony of Bilaam is that there is a concept of a Blessing and a curse being the same degree. In Purim the Jewish people have to get so drunk [as a commandment] so as to not know the difference between cursed is Haman [the arch enemy to the Jewish People] and Blessed is Mordechai [the Purim redemptive figure]. The numerical value of both of these expressions is the same “502” [which happens to be the same as: simple faith – the pre-requisite when solving complex contradictions] thus the difference is hard to imagine because they essentially say the same thing! Yet on Purim one is expected by simple faith to resolve the paradox, as one is aided by the spirituality of the day within intoxication. The Purim premise is the reality of wine: when the wine comes in, the secret comes out. Bilaam  is essentially a secret of the same proportion, only we aren’t drunk to figure it out! The simple faith must be earned, and in this way the Final Redemption can commence, as opposed to a partial redemption as it was in Purim, one that led to further exile. The Final Redemption is just that: final, without a return to Exile, rather it will usher in Shabbat without a return to a proverbial work week. For what was just explained through Purim, we can now begin to understand Bilaam and his Blessing/Curse paradox.
How Goodly “is your worship” O’ Jacob – murmurs Bilaam, yet what is his deeper message? The shul and the beis midrash are not only places of congregation and worship, but the breeding ground that cultivates one’s simple faith. The very concept of refuge into such an establishment is the epitome of simple faith, for simple logic would not assume a “book” [the Torah] would serve as armor in a potentially savage extended era of exile. This is exactly what Bilaam saw, the Jewish paradox! The one place that you need to turn to, is also the last place you would want to turn to. This “last place to turn to” is twofold in a double entendre: it is the seat of refuge, i.e. the last, and also it is the last place to turn to – of a sarcastic flavor! The point of the latter is that through exile and a return to the Land before the Redemption, the places of worship will begin to decline of this goodly element, and thus the very refuge that we seek has been overtaken by the depths of the exile itself! If the places of worship are under such a predicament, how would one be expected to ascertain if it was a curse or blessing from Bilaam? One would then be in doubt, and ultimately leave the scene altogether, thus making Bilaam all the more so successful! One would need simple faith just to go to shul and the beis midrash in the End of Days! If we knew however why these vehicles of worship are goodly, perhaps we could find a simple solution to simple faith!
The shul and the beis midrash are goodly as we have stated, and who does Bilaam list in context of these establishments – Jacob! Jacob was called a “Wholesome Man dwelling in Tents.” [Genesis 25:27] The numerical value of “Wholesome Man” works out to be the same as “Faith”, thus Jacob showed to be of a particular Simple Faith, as the word for wholesome can double as “Simple” in meaning. [Passover Hagadah as per the simple son] Tradition says that these tents of Jacob referred to places of studying the Torah not in one tent, but two tents. [Rashi Genesis 25:27] Rashi also lets us in on the secret to the entire construct of Jacob’s life, such that it’s the essence of Bilaam’s Blessing /[curse] and extends into the seat of the Final Redemption: In whose tents to Jacob dwell? Shem and Ever states Rashi!
Here we have the final piece of the puzzle: Bilaam recognizes the Blessing and the curse of the Jewish People that extends into the End of Days, and it is the Goodliness of Jacob, representative of his Simple Faith: The Tent [/Academy of Torah] of Shem and Ever – they are Goodly! We now have three questions concerning this scenario: A) Why is this a Blessing? B) Why is this a curse? C) Why is this Goodly? The resolution is the reality of Shem and Ever as being the essence of Jacob, the Jewish Survival and Torah, and the Final Redemption!
Shem and Ever are a Blessing because it is their Torah that began the story, fashioned the Jewish People and will serve to redeem in the End of Days as it is said of Shem as One of the Four Craftsmen of Redemption:…”The Righteous Priest” [Sukkah 52b; Rashi identifies him as Shem son of Noah].
This is a curse for one large reason: by the time the End of Days come, there will be opposition to Shem and Ever as the People will have been so far removed the True Torah that Shem and Ever [and even Jacob ironically] will be nearly forgotten! Thus these goodly institutions will slowly decay and loose integrity of anything that resembles Shem and Ever [and even Jacob]. Thus Bilaam has given an “evil eye” on Jacob’s Goodness in a mocking fashion: there will be a divorce between the shul/beis midrash and Shem and Ever; this effect will neutralize and paralyze worship in the time of the End.
However, the good news is: These are Goodly! This is the infrastructure that dates back to Shem and Ever personally! They were the fathers of Torah and Yeshiva, and Bilaam by the pressure of God upon his prophecy is forced to acknowledge the ultimate simple answer that we can connect to by Simple Faith, the same Simple Faith that Jacob used to learn from Shem and Ever: How Goodly are your Tents and Congregations O’ Jacob! Bilaam by prophesying as such admits the truth of Redemption, Torah, etc: Shem and Ever’s Torah Lives! The resolution between the Blessing and the Curse of Bilaam is simple: by the power of our forefather’s forefathers the World will witness the Redemption and the Torah of Unity amongst Jews and Noahides especially, for the salvation of the future was seeded  many eons ago by Shem and Ever, forefathers to the Jewish People and the Noahide Nations as well! How Goodly are your Tents O’Jacob – to which Noah himself prophesied to his son Shem: “They will dwell in the Tents of Shem” – and he was right, we all will. You can even ask Bilaam, as ironically he was the one person that didn’t outright curse Shem and Ever, rather it was the the contrary: he only Blessed them – as they should be.

Go to Shul and Study!


Anonymous said...

May the Tents return and we all learn from them.. Thank you Rabbi Katz for the Tent we you teach us all from... Baruch HaShem!!

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