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Parshas Chukas / Balak - Overthinking            11 Tammuz 5783

06/30/2023 09:22:28 AM


Typically, with the start of summer, it’s common to ask, “What are your plans for this summer?” Since school is out, it’s common for many families, time permitting, to go on a family vacation together. If it’s not possible to take time off from work, parents need to either hire childcare, or, if financially feasible, to send their children to day camp or even sleep away camp. Whatever the situation, a fair amount of advance planning is required. In truth, it’s not only the summer but throughout the year, and, in deed, throughout life that people plan trips, schedule meetings for work, make travel arrangements for business and pleasure, make plans to remodel their home, and so forth.

In the back of our minds, the subconscious knows yet seems to assert little concern regarding whether things will go according to plan. We understand (but do not necessarily believe) that ultimately something will happen to us! The concern is predicated upon the deep core belief that we know God runs the world and that things could change at moment’s notice. No one needs to be reminded about that ‘event’ called “Covid”; disruptions are bound to happen anywhere from something – small or large. If I had to guess, I would bet that almost everyone reading this right now knows at least one person who has been affected by the airline industry crisis currently taking place. Most cancelations and delays are due to weather and a shortage of air traffic controllers, according to airport administrators. … In reality, “that’s an issue that is not going to be solved overnight,” said Charles Braden, Norfolk International Airport’s director of market development. “It’s a big problem.” he continued. Geoff Freeman, president of the U.S. Travel Association, predicted that this summer’s travel season “will be off the charts…which may be great for the travel industry, but as a country, we have underinvested in the aviation system for far too long.” Mr. Freeman continued to explain that U.S. investment in air traffic control, technology, and individual training has long been below the level needed and we’re paying the price for it.

Now that we are experiencing this challenge, it becomes more apparent that there are two issues which  are out of the consumers’ control; human failure and mother nature (otherwise known as HaKadosh Baruch Hu, God Himself!). Either way, knowing things are out of our control, does not mean that we can live life without at least a modicum  of planning. The world runs on a system of making appointments, buying tickets in advance, and so on. The question is how do we balance these two ideas of planning in advance knowing full well things may not turn out the way we planned?

In the past I have written about and quoted a famous verse from Mishlei 19:21 where Shlomo HaMelech says, "רבות מחשבות בלב איש, ועצת ה' היא תקום"  - “There are many thoughts in a man’s heart, but the plan of Hashem, that shall stand”. This statement of king Solomon apparently limits our ability to navigate (not necessarily control) our lives. A few weeks ago, I was thinking about this Mishlei and came up with a “chiddush”-  a new understanding of this verse. As you can see, I underlined and put the word in Hebrew and English in bold type. Perhaps this is the clear distinction, the fine line, in living our lives consistently with the Torah and Shlomo HaMelech’s understanding of how the world operates.  For the ongoing process of the world, we human beings clearly need to look a little ahead, taking the time to plan. The question always comes back: “how much effort or planning do we really need to do?”. The Machshavos - thoughts - are the essence of planning, looking ahead to the things in life and that are necessary and acceptable. However, when we start to overthink, to attempt to micromanage every detail, we lose sight of who is really in control. Trying to figure things out so that “I” will always come out on top is where the warning and where reality comes into play. The ultimate and final scenes are determined from above. We must recognize and consider that all the time. We find a similar pattern of thinking in several places throughout the Torah.

This week we read two parshios: Chukas and Balak.  In the second parsha, the Torah relates the story of Balak, king of Moav, who hired Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. The narrative is crystal clear. Balak summons Bilaam who refuses to come. A second set of messengers is sent to convince Bilaam to go with them and fulfill the wishes of Balak to curse the Jewish nation. The Torah, in Bamidbar 22:20, states: "ויבא אלוקים אל בלעם לילה ויאמר לו, אם-לקרא לך באו האנשים קום לך אתם ואך את הדבר אשר אדבר אליך אתו תעשה"   “That night, God appeared to Bilaam and said to him, ‘If the men have come to summon you, set out and go with them. But only do exactly as I instruct you.” Reluctantly, Hashem allows Bilaam to go. Repeatedly Bilaam says to the men and eventually to Balak, “I can only say what Hashem instructs me to say.”   Rav Pinchos of Koritz in his manuscript Kodesh Hilulim asks the following: Instead of saying as I instruct you to do, shouldn’t it have been written ‘just as I say’? Rather, the Midrash states, “Come and see how beloved the Jewish people are to Hashem.” God allows His presence to be with a rasha, a wicked person, for the benefit of Klal Yisroel. The understanding here is Hashem says to Bilaam to “go with them”. Hashem explains to Bilaam that he can go with them but there will not be any benefit to Bilaam against My people. Only that which I tell you to say will you be successful, in that it will help the Jewish people. When Hashem speaks to Bilaam, Hashem allows His Shechina to rest upon Bilaam. This is the single and only instruction through which Bilaam can act.  The only good thoughts Bilaam could have are solely those that Hashem needed Bilaam to have in order to do good for Am Yisrael. We take the lesson at its core: whatever ends up happening connects directly to the original thought that only Hashem will allow for our benefit as well. To be continued…


Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

*Pinchas Shapiro of Koretz 17261791 was a Lithuanian Chasidic rabbi and theologian who was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. He was the son of Rabbi Avraham Abba Shapiro and Sora Rochel Shapiro. Pinchas's father was a descendant of Rabbi Nosson Nata Spira, the author of Megaleh Amukot. His son Moshe was born in 1759.Born in Shklov, Pinchas was named after his paternal grandfather, described as "the famous and great scholar Rabbi Pinchas from Shklov."

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