Balak the son of Tzippor was king of Moab at that time. He sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, saying: "Please come and curse this people for me…" (Num. 22:4-6)

Why should an entire parasha of the Torah be named Balak? The careful reader will note that the Torah shuns negative words and idioms whenever possible (Bava Batra 123a; v. Pesachim 3a). Moreover, the Torah enjoins us to obliterate all traces of wickedness (Proverbs 10:7; v. Yoma 38b) and idol worship. Why, then, does Jewish tradition immortalize the name of a wicked, idolatrous king, who clearly wished to wipe out the Jewish people at any cost, and in fact succeeded in bringing about the death of over a hundred thousand of us? (See Rashi on Num. 25:5)

Furthermore, the real villain of the story seems to be Balaam, whose ability to curse evidently posed a real threat to the Jews. To be sure, Balak is the one who hired Balaam, but the action centers much more on Balaam. In the Messianic Era, the non-Jewish nations will use their power to aid the Jewish people instead of combating them…

Before the Jewish people could enter the Promised Land and begin to fulfill the Torah's mandates in the physical world - with the ultimate goal of ushering in the Messianic future - an act of transformation had to occur. The groundwork had to be laid for the transformation of all reality that would be the eventual goal and result of the Jewish people living in their land.

The hatred and curses of the enemies of G‑d's people had to be transformed into blessings, and not into just any blessings, but into the prophesies of the ultimate victory of G‑d's people over the very enemies that sought to curse them. In the Messianic Era, the non-Jewish nations will use their power to aid the Jewish people instead of combating them, as it is written, "Kings will be your nurturers, and their princesses your wet nurses" (Isaiah 49:23); "Foreigners will stand and tend your flocks, and the sons of the stranger will be your farmers and your vineyard workers" (Isaiah 61:5-6).

Since the Messianic redemption will herald the consummate annihilation and transformation of evil, it is now self-evident why the prophecies concerning this era issued from the mouth of the idolatrous anti-Semite, Balaam. Only in this way could the full force of their transformational nature be expressed. Balak…embodied the idea that the Messianic future will be the full transformation of evil into good…

For the same reason, the parasha is named after Balak, since he embodied the idea that the Messianic future will be the full transformation of evil into good. Firstly, he hated the Jewish people more than anyone (including Balaam, who would not have attempted to curse the Jews had Balak not hired him to do so, see Midrash Tanchuma, Balak 2), yet the result of his hatred was that the Jews came to be blessed with the assurance of their triumph. [According to others, however (see Rashi to Numbers 22:11), Balaam hated the Jews more than Balak did.]

[Note: the parasha is named after Balak…deliberately, for although the names of the Torah portions are generally taken from among their first words, the word Balak in this parasha is preceded by the word "And he saw". Thus, the parasha could have become known by this word, just as, for example, the Torah portions Vayeira and Va'eira are named after their very first words and not after the subjects of these verbs (G‑d, in Genesis 18:1; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in Exodus 6:3).]

Secondly, Balak was a direct ancestor of the Mashiach. King David, the progenitor of the Mashiach, was the great grandson of Ruth, the Moabite convert (Ruth 4:16-21) and Ruth was a descendant of Balak (Sotah 47a). In fact, Balak perceived that the Mashiach would be among his descendants, and he felt that if he could have the Jews cursed, this greatness would remain in his own people. The transformation of evil into holiness was exactly what he feared. (Shnei Luchot Habrit, Balak, 363b ff., cited in Or HaTorah, Balak, p. 902) It is because Balak personified evil's consummate hatred of holiness and its eventual transformation into holiness that the parasha is named after him and not Balaam. His hatred was the catalyst that instigated the entire episode.

[The idea that Balak was the instigator is echoed in the haftarah: “My people, remember what Balak, the king of Moab, advised, and what Balaam, the son of Beor, answered him” (Micah 6:5). Balaam only responded to the initiatives of Balak.] …our inspiration is preempted by a feeling of worthlessness and dejection, making us feel unequal to the task…

The word "Balak" in Hebrew means "cut off", or "dead" (v. Isaiah 24:1; Radak ad loc.; Chulin 19a). Allegorically, then, parashat Balak describes a deadened spiritual state, in which one's Jewish identity is at its nadir.

Indeed, it sometimes happens that just when we are about to accomplish some great goal in our life, we are just about to enter our "promised land", our inspiration is preempted by a feeling of worthlessness and dejection, making us feel unequal to the task. An honest self-appraisal leaves us all too aware of our shortcomings and failings. How can we presume to answer the call to greatness when we are so thoroughly corrupt and acutely lacking the qualities necessary to see the challenge through? We feel "cut off", our life seems like a curse. We must remember that Balak is a progenitor of the Mashiach…

At such times, we must remember that Balak is a progenitor of the Mashiach: that if we renew our connection with our ultimate goal, we can transform the curser within us into a source of blessing. We can transform our inner enemy and propensity to curse our mission into a blessing by adopting G‑d's dream as our own. Each of us possesses a messianic spark, a potential role to play in redeeming the world. Focusing on our inner messianic imperative enables us to rise above ourselves and realize our true, inner greatness.

The same lesson applies in our relationship with others. We may sometimes meet someone who appears altogether dissociated from spirituality and entirely disinterested in advancing the cause of holiness. His mockery of sanctity might make us despair of influencing him to refocus his life towards the goals of Judaism. But if we recall that within this soul is a spark of divinity that needs only to be revealed in order to transform his entire being into goodness and holiness, we can indeed change this "cursing" individual into a source of blessing.

[Based on Likutei Sichot vol. 23, pp. 166 ff., vol. 28, pp. 274 ff; Sichot Kodesh 5733, vol. 2, p. 281-2; Hitva'aduyot 5745, pp. 2536, 2538-89, 2544-47]

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