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Balak: From the Greatest Tzaddik to the Simplest Jew

וירא בלק בן צפור את כל אשר עשה ישראל לאמורי ויגר מואב מפני העם כי רב הוא וגו'.

“And Balak son of Tzipor saw everything that Israel did to the Emori People, and Moav was fearful of the Nation because they were very numerous…” (Bamidbar 22:2-3)

Within these verses, the Jewish people are being called by four different names: they are called Yisroel – Israel, ha’am – the nation, in the next verse they are referred to as bnei Yisroel – sons of Israel, and finally hakahel – the congregation. Let us try to understand the significance of these four names.

As we all know, man is made up of various limbs and organs. His head is the crown of the body and commands over all other limbs, all the way down to his toes. A person who is missing a limb, G-d forbid, can still live and be productive – even if he is missing a hand, foot or eye. But without a head, a person cannot survive and all other limbs are useless.

The Jewish People are like one body in Hashem’s eyes, as it says: “As one man with one heart.” In a spiritual sense, Klal Yisorel has many different “limbs.” Some people are like the toes, small and seemingly insignificant. Others are greater and more elevated, and of course, there are the roshei Yisroel – the heads of the Jewish People, who guide us and lead us with their Torah wisdom. And just as a physical body cannot survive without a head, the Body of Israel cannot survive without competent, pious leaders. It is because of this that Hashem always prepared a new leader for Klal Yisroel before the previous leadership came to an end, as it says: “And the sun went down, and the sun came up.”

With this understanding, we can comprehend the words of the tzaddik Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk zt”l who taught us that it is indeed wonderful when Jews gather together and help elevate each other, but there must always be a capable leader among them. If they don’t have someone to head them, taught Rebbe Elimelech, then Satan becomes their head, because every body must have a head.

One of Satan’s most effective tactics in drawing Klal Yisroel away from Hashem is by implanting the incorrect notion that “there are no longer any worthy tzaddikim in our generation.” Why does Satan work so hard in our times to bring more and more people to this belief? Because if we won’t accept a leader upon ourselves, then he would become our leader! He therefore tries to undermine every righteous leadership today, so that he should be able to usurp that position for himself.

We must be very careful with this matter and remember what our sages have taught us (Yuma 38b), that there are tzaddikim in every single generation. Although it is certainly true that the number of great people in each generation has diminished significantly over the ages, there are still many tzaddikim and great people even in our orphaned generation. There should be no doubt about this!

The saintly Baal Hatanya writes regarding this matter that even the lowliest person who is a simpleton and ignoramus benefits from the greatness of the Jewish leaders, even if he personally is unaware of this. The toes are influenced by the brain and receive their ability to move from the head; so too, even the “toes” of the Jewish Body are directly influenced by the Jewish leaders. Of course, the further one is from the head the less he will feel the connection, but some connection always remains.

Each person was sent to this world with a mission in life. He may have been created as part of the toes, seemingly simple and without great potential, yet he has the ability to elevate himself to very great heights by doing mitzvos and learning Torah.

It is known that when the holy tzaddik Rebbe Itzik’l of Drohobitz visited his master the Baal Shem Tov for the first time, the Baal Shem Tov pointed to one of his disciples and said: “Look at this person. He was created with a simple neshama, but he worked hard and he reached the level of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai!” We see from this that no matter how a person starts out, he can climb up to the head and become a leader himself.

When Yakov was born, he held on to the heel of his twin brother Esav, hence his name Yakov – heel. Some of our tzaddikim have taught us that Esav’s soul came from a holier source than Yakov’s to the point that Yakov was actually holding on to Esav in order to follow him. However, Yakov worked upon himself while Esav did not protect his soul from harm and corruption. Unfortunately, Esav lost his greatness, while Yakov reached higher and higher, until his name was changed to Yisroel – a name that symbolizes sovereignty and leadership.

We see from all of this that there must be a leader among Klal Yisroel for the nation to thrive. At the same time, we must know that even the simplest person who is on the level of Yakov – a heel, can achieve the status of “head.” Those who are connected to the leaders benefit from that connection even unknowingly, as long as they do not willingly sever that connection by discounting the leadership. Even someone who is like a simple heel will benefit from the tzaddik’s leadership, and Hashem bestows the tzaddik with the ability to pass on some of his greatness to all parts of the Jewish Body.

The Trisker Maggid writes in his sefer Magen Avrohom: “Moav was fearful of the nation.” The verse says nation and not Israel. He explains that his father, the Maggid of Czernoble zt”l, would quote the Baal Shem Tov zt”l who said: “Even the simplest Jew who works hard all day and hardly pays a thought to Hashem, but as evening arrives he looks up to the darkening skies and says, ‘Oh my! I didn’t daven Mincha yet!’ He runs to the side of the marketplace and begins to daven hurriedly, and then sighs deeply thinking, ‘What good am I if I nearly forget about Mincha? Woe to me that I don’t pay enough thought to Hashem!’ That sigh, emanating from the depths of his heart, is so powerful that it reaches Hashem’s Throne of Glory! This is the power of the simplest Jew!”

The word am – nation, is similar to the word amamos, which means coals. Hot coals can sometimes appear deceivingly cool to the touch, because there is often no outward sign of the fire that is burning within. So too is with the nation - the simplest of the Jewish people. They may sometimes appear deceivingly cool, but truthfully they are burning with love for Hashem and there is an ever-present fire in their hearts. This is why Moav feared the nation – the simplest Jews.

The verse first mentions that Balak feared Israel – which symbolizes the higher echelons of the Jewish people, and then continues that they feared even the “nation” – the common folk. He also feared the Bnei Yisroel, which stands for the scholars. Finally, he feared the “congregation” which shows that what he really feared was that all of the above parts of Klal Yisroel would join together in unity as one congregation. If the higher class Jews keep themselves apart of the common folk and the scholars remain separate as well, then Balak wouldn’t have had as much reason to fear them. However, if all of Klal Yisroel, regardless of rank and status, unites as one community, they can overcome their enemies with ease. When the head is connected to the entire body, all the way down to the toes, that is when the person is healthy and able to conquer his enemies.

Later on, we see that Balak instructed Bilaam to curse Yakov and to curse Yisroel. He wanted to make sure that Bilaam would cast his evil words over the simplest Jew, and not focus only on the big fish – the great tzaddikim, because he understood that even the simplest of the nation can embody tremendous greatness.

Our sages tell us (Sandhedrin 99b): “Who is considered a heretic? One who says: ‘What do we gain of the rabbis?’”  Even if someone doesn’t say that there are no rabbis, he may still be considered an apikorus, G-d forbid, by arguing that he has no connection with the rabbis and has no benefit from them. Understandably, it is far worse to claim outright that there are no worthy rabbis at all.

We must therefore be extremely careful not to make such statements and not to repeat such words, even if we hear great Torah leaders bemoaning the fact that we no longer have the great tzaddikimof yesteryear. True, we lack the greatness that our forebears were able to achieve, but we still have holy leaders, for there must be worthy Torah leaders in every single generation.

Hashem should help us be a united “congregation”; all of Klal Yisroel should be together and respect each other. We should appreciate our Torah leaders and their disciples and pray for their health and longevity. All people will be blessed in the merit of these great men, and those in need of yeshuos and refuos will merit salvation, Amein.


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