(Torah Portion Balak) Change!

The titles of six of the fifty-four portions of the Torah are named after people. Noach, Sarah, Yisro, Korach, Balak and Pinchas. This is certainly an eclectic group of famous people. Yet upon analyzing their personalities, it appears that they share a common thread. They all sought or experienced change; some for good and some for bad.

Noach experienced the world both before the flood, and after it changed during the flood.

Our matriarch Sarah drew people close to the Almighty through spreading the monotheistic belief, thus effecting change in a predominantly pagan society.

Yisro, an idolater priest, changed his life around and converted, joining the Jewish faith.

Korach unrightfully sought to change his Levite position to become a High Priest.

Balak the King of Moav hired the non Jewish prophet Bilaam to curse the Jews and thereby hope to change their destiny.

Pinchas, a Levite, spared the Jews from tragedy and was rewarded and elevated by G-d, changing his position to a Kohain as a result of his heroic deed.

This week’s Portion is named Balak. In order for Balak the King of Moav to bring Bilaam to curse the Jews, he did something bold. He actually changed his position and made peace with his arch enemy, Midyan, so that the two countries could join forces and strategize on how to defeat the Jews. Balak’s bid for change had negative and destructive objectives, and the end result was unproductive.

Aaron, the High Priest’s guiding principles stand in sharp contrast to Balak’s negative campaign. In last week’s portion, the Torah spoke about the passing of Aaron, the High Priest, and it tells us that all of Israel mourned his loss for thirty days.

What was special about Aaron that captured the entire nation’s love and affection? The Mishnah in Ethics of our Fathers instructs us to be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people, and bring them closer to Torah.

The Medrash tells us that Aaron actively, creatively and bravely was able to bring peace between feuding parties, and through befriending those who sinned, was able elevate them to forsake their errant ways.

This past Shabbos, at a family Simcha, our cousin Mr. Avrohom Scherman shared with me a fascinating Talmudic passage that captures the extent of Aarons’ impact on restoring peace between husband and wife.

When the Torah tells us that all of Israel mourned the loss of Aaron, it doesn’t only refer to the adults; it refers to children as well. The Talmud states: “After Aaron counseled and restored peace and tranquility between husbands and wives, in honor of his positive influence and advice, they named their subsequent son, Aaron. In attendance at the mourning for Aaron, there were 80,000 children whose names were Aaron!”

Aaron’s far reaching effects contributed to positive and productive change to people’s lives, relationships and families! What gave Aaron this charismatic ability to positively affect and inspire so many lives?

Aaron was the first High Priest to be anointed with the special sacramental oil upon his head. At that time, G-d invested Aaron with a special dose of wisdom, charm and grace.

Two shiny pearly beads of this oil rolled down and always remained at the tip of Aaron’s beard and when he spoke the pearls defied gravity and moved upward!

The fact that the oil did not remain on his head, rather it ran down and spread, symbolized that Aaron showed deep concern for his fellow and he gave of his heart, therefore others surrendered their minds.

Oil is smooth and pleasant; it represents blessing, sustains illumination and it is a lubricant that prevents friction – a precise representation and symbol of Aaron’s blessed nature.

The Mishna most befittingly instructs us: “Be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people, and bring them closer to Torah.”

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks