In this week’s Parsha, the Torah describes that Balak, the King of Moav, tried mightily to cajole the non-Jewish prophet Bilaam to utilize his powers to curse the Jews.
It wasn’t that Bilaam needed convincing to curse the Jews for he shared the same hatred towards them. The sticking point was that Bilaam had his hands tied, because he understood that the only way he would be able to curse the Jews was if G-d would give him permission to do so.
Knowing that G-d appreciates and responds to sacrifices, Bilaam instructed Balak to erect altars and offer certain animal sacrifices to try to sway G-d to give His consent. But every time, G-d instructed Bilaam not to curse the Jews. Still, upon Balak’s insistence, Bilaam kept trying, yet he was still unable to curse the Jews. In fact, Bilaam began extolling the virtues of the Jews and finally offered them an elaborate blessing.
In one of his compliments to the Jews, he stated, “Behold! The people will arise like a lion cub and raise itself like a lion.”
Rashi explains that this refers to the way the Jews awaken from their sleep in the morning – they take upon themselves their commandments with the vigor of a lion cub and a lion.
Baal HaTurim points out that Bilaam first mentioned that the Jews arise like a female lion cub and then said that they raise themselves like a masculine lion. This is because the proper way for one to wake up is to first awaken in a gentle manner like a lion cub and them continually get stronger with the vigor of a lion.
The Mezricher Maggid uses this verse to encourage one who finds himself beginning his day serving G-d in a slow or weak fashion. “Don’t be discouraged if you begin your day like a lion cub, because each one of your efforts are recognized and valued in Heaven and G-d will stimulate energy that will give you the strength and stamina of a lion!
Interestingly, in another phase of Bilaam’s praise of the Jewish people he reverses the order and said, “He crouched and lay down like a lion, and, like a lion cub – who can stand him up.”
Reb Tzodok Hakohain o.b.m. explains that this is referring to one who had strengthened himself and served G-d with vigor and passion as the lion. He then slipped or fell from his level. The proper way to raise himself up again is by doing so gradually and gracefully as the lion cub.
The Talmud tells us that the Jewish people – the tribes in particular – are compared to certain animals. The Torah compares Yehudah, from whom the monarchy emerged, to a lion. Dan who had warriors was likened to a snake; Naphtali was swift like a Hind; Binyamin was compared to a wolf; and Yosef was associated with an ox.
In Ethics of our Fathers, the Mishna attributed to Rebbe Yehudah ben Taima states, “One should be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and mighty like a lion, to carry out the will of his Father in Heaven.”
Again, we see comparisons to the nature of animals. The Rav of Bartenurah explains: A leopard is not all that mighty, yet it stands bold. So too, one who seeks Torah should not be meek or shy about asking questions for clarification, rather he should be bold as a leopard to seek elucidation. One should learn from an eagle that does not tire, and always review his studies. From the swiftness of the deer we are to learn to pursue Mitzvos that come our way without delay. The mightiness of a lion is the model to curb one’s desires from pursuing that which is wrong.
The Talmud relates that Rebbe Yochanan states, “Had the Torah not been given to teach us the correct way to live our lives, society would have gleaned ethical and moral concepts from animals.
For example, modesty would have been learned from the surreptitious way a cat relieves itself and the secluded way it mates. The concept of not stealing would have been understood from the way ants don’t take from each other. The notion of being loyal and faithful to a spouse would have been gleaned from the way a dove is loyal to its mate.
The Zohar relates that G-d used the Torah as the blueprint for creation. Thus, before the Torah was formally given, one with a spiritually focused view could glean Torah concepts and Mitzvos from peering into the world and its functions. An example of a person who had this ability was our forefather Avraham who passed these concepts on to his children. For example, Avraham seeing the world through his spiritually sensitive eyes, was able to deduce the rituals associated with Passover. He observed these rituals although the events hadn’t yet happened.
When G-d gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai, the 613 Mitzvos and the way they are to be observed, expressed and conceptualized, was presented to us as binding law. This awesome mandate set us apart from all nations of the world.
This nation, that represented moral and ethical laws, bothered Balak, Bilaam and their ilk, and is what motivates them to curse, attack and destroy us.
No matter what is thrown our way, nothing stops us, and we believe that the day will come when all will recognize G-d, and the true purpose of life will be recognized by all with the arrival of Moshiach – our redeemer. Incidentally, Bilaam himself in the midst of his prophesy, acknowledged the future redemption of the Jewish nation!