The Torah portion Balak relates how Balak, king of Moav, hired the prophet Bilam to curse the Jewish people. G-d, however, frustrated the king’s scheme and caused Bilam to utter praises and blessings of the Jewish people.
Among Bilam’s words of praise and blessing, we find the following:1 “I see him [Israel] from the peak of flintrocks, and gaze upon him from the heights; it is a nation dwelling alone, entirely dissimilar to other nations.”
What is the connection between the two parts of the verse?
In explaining the words: “I see him [Israel] from the peak of flintrocks,” Rashi comments:2 “I gaze upon their beginnings and their roots, and see them braced and as strong as these flintrocks and rocky heights, on account of their Patriarchs and Matriarchs.” Bilam’s statement was thus allegorical.
When something is so profound that it cannot be understood or explained directly, it becomes necessary to draw an analogy from something less profound.
Here too, Bilam found it necessary to compare the Jewish people to flintrocks, though, in truth, they are much stronger than that.
Wherein lies this great strength?
The true power of a Jew lies not in his physical might but in his spiritual prowess, particularly his power of mesirus nefesh , a submission to the Divine that is so profound that he is willing to lay down his life if necessary for the realization of G-d’s will.
The soul that possesses the power of mesirus nefesh is referred to3 as “the peak of flintrocks.”
This power emanates from a Jew’s mighty, firm and immutable faith in G-d, a faith so powerful that a Jew will offer his very life in order not to renounce G-d.4
Rashi thus states “I gaze upon their beginnings and their initial roots and see them braced and as strong as these flintrocks and rocky heights, on account of their Patriarchs and Matriarchs,” for the strength of mesirus nefesh is passed on to all Jews from the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.5
The power of mesirus nefesh is entirely different from the strength of mundane matter. In the physical realm, strength means that a corporeal entity exists in a powerful manner. Mesirus nefesh , however, presupposes the very opposite of being — the complete nullification of self.
The Alter Rebbe thus explains6 that the power to act with mesirus nefesh is a byproduct of G-d’s shining within every Jewish soul, for mesirus nefesh flies in the face of nature; a living creature doesn’t do things that cause its own negation.
This then is the connection between the two parts of the verse: “I see him [Israel]from the peak of flintrocks … it is a nation dwelling alone, entirely dissimilar to other nations:”
Their power of mesirus nefesh causes the Jewish people to be entirely alone, wholly unlike other nations.
Since the power of mesirus nefesh is a gift granted from Above, it is not subject to the vagaries of time and space. Thus, although other traits transmitted from generation to generation may wane with time, the power of mesirus nefesh that Jews receive from the Patriarchs and Matriarchs is immutable.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXVIII, pp. 165-173
The Prophecies of Bilam
Among the highlights of the Torah portion of Balak are the prophecies of Bilam, who is granted a vision of the Jewish people during the “final days,”7 i.e., at the time of the coming of Moshiach.
In writing about Moshiach, the Rambam states in his Code of Law, Yad HaChazakah :8 “Whoever does not believe in him or does not await his coming, denies not only [the statements of] the other prophets, but also [those of] the Torah and of Moshe, our teacher, for the Torah attests to his coming, stating:9 ‘And the L-rd your G-d will bring back your captivity and have compassion upon you. He will return and gather you [from among all the nations]…. Even if your dispersed ones are in the furthest reaches of the heavens, [from there will G-d gather you in]…. G-d will bring [to the land]….’ ”
The Rambam continues: “There is also a reference [to Moshiach] in the passage concerning Bilam, who prophesies about the two anointed [kings]: the first anointed [king],10 David, who saved Israel from her oppressors, and the final anointed [king], who will arise from among his [David’s] descendants and save Israel [at the End of Days].11
“The following phrases are from that passage:12 ‘I see it, but not now’ — this refers to David; ‘perceive it, but not in the near future’ — this refers to King Moshiach; ‘ A star shall go forth from Ya’akov’ — this refers to David; ‘and a staff shall arise in Israel’ — this refers to King Moshiach; ‘He shall crush all of Moav’s princes’ — this refers to David (as it is written:13 “He smote Moav and measured them with a line”); ‘He shall break down all of Seth’s descendants’ — this refers to King Moshiach (about whom it is written:14 “He will rule from sea to sea”);
‘Edom will be demolished’ — this refers to David, (as it is written:15 “Edom became the servants of David”); ‘his enemy, Seir, will be destroyed’ — this refers to Moshiach, (as it is written:16 “Saviors will ascend Mount Zion [to judge the mountain of Esau….]”).!!”
Yad HaChazaka h is a book of laws, not homiletics. In order for the Rambam to prove that “Whoever does not believe in him… denies the Torah and Moshe Rabbeinu ,” it would be enough to simply state “This is also stated in the section of Bilam , where he prophesied [the coming of] the final anointed king who will arise from his descendants and save Israel [in the final days].”
Why does the Rambam explain that the verse refers to “two anointed kings,” and moreover, why does he go on and explain which of these kings is being referred to in each verse?
By doing so, the Rambam indicates that not only is it incumbent on us to “believe in Moshiach and anticipate his coming,” but that we must also know precisely what we are expected to believe in.
Thus, the Rambam states at the very beginning of the chapter: “The Messianic King will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty , returning it to its initial sovereignty. He will build the Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel. In his days, [the observance of] all the statutes will return to their previous state.”
In other words, everything that is lacking in the performance of Torah and mitzvos as a result of the exile and the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash will be restored with the coming of Moshiach, just as it was during the reign of David.
In order to prove the above, the Rambam quotes two different passages: The first, “G-d will then bring back your remnants,” demonstrates that the Torah testifies about Moshiach’s coming by describing a situation that fulfills the purpose of that coming: “the Davidic dynasty will be renewed, returning it to its initial sovereignty,” and “all the statutes will return to their previous state.”
That Moshiach and his actions will indeed be similar to King David is proved by the Rambam with the verses:” ‘I see him but not now’ — this refers to David; ‘I perceive him, but not in the near future’ — this refers to the Messianic King;’ … ‘Edom will be demolished’ — this refers to David, as the verse states,17 “Edom became the servants of David;” ‘[Seir] will be destroyed’ — this refers to the Messianic King.”
With these verses, the Rambam proves that the details of Moshiach ’s reign and accomplishments dovetail with David’s life, beginning with his reign and concluding with “Edom will be demolished.” For the purpose of Moshiach ’s coming includes the renewal and return of the Davidic dynasty (as well as of the Torah and its mitzvos) to their original, unblemished, pre-exilic state.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVIII, pp. 271-279
1. Bamidbar 23:9.
3. See Sefer HaLikkutim, Discourses of the Tzemach Tzedek , under the heading Mashal , and sources cited there.
4. See Tanya, conclusion of ch. 18.
5. See Tanya, ch. 18ff.
6. Tanya , ibid.
7. Bamidbar 24:14
8. Hilchos Melachim , 11:1.
9. Devarim 30:3-5.
10. In the original Heb., the word here translated “anointed [king]” is simply(lit., “the anointed one”); i.e. the Messiah. It is used interchangeably with the earlier phrase.
11. At this point, before being censored by medieval Christian authorities, the Rambam’s text continued: “…and save Israel from the hands of Esav’s descendants.” This and two other such deletions have been copied verbatim in these footnotes from the celebrated Yemenite manuscript in the hands of Chacham Yosef Kapach of Jerusalem.
12. Bamidbar 24:17-18.
13. II Shmuel 8:2.
14. Zechariah 9:10.
15. Cf. II Shmuel 8:6 and 8:14.
16. Ovadiah 1:21.
17. II Shmuel 8:6.