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Parshas Balak - Family Ties16 Tammuz 5778

06/29/18 12:55:38

Jun29

In modern society, the proverb "blood is thicker than water" implies that family relationships are always more important than relationships with friends. Perhaps more important needs to be rephrased to mean that the strength of the bonds of family withstand time.

I grew up in what we could call the American shtetle of Borough Park where three out of four sets of first cousins all lived within a half-mile walk. We davened in a small Shul where one uncle was the Rabbi, the other the gabbai, and the family made up half of the Shul. We were a very close-knit family and were together every Shabbos. Our other cousins would come for Yom Tov and celebrated some of the national holidays together as well. Both my parents and then a generation later I, too, were the youngest among the siblings of my family. Eventually, as my older cousins married, this homogeneous group started to break apart as they moved away. We all attended our first cousin’s weddings. I, as second to youngest and getting married last, had the next generation of cousins at my wedding.

A few weeks ago I flew to New York to attend a wedding of my first cousin’s child, only the third such wedding out of fifty-seven to take place within the last thirty years. As we moved around earlier in our married life and then moved out West, we rarely had the time, money, or opportunity to attend these family simchos. I felt I needed to be a part of this simcha for a few reasons. My cousin was marrying off his first child at an older age; my mother was like a second mother to this cousin; and I felt that I needed to represent my mother at this wedding which she surely would have loved to have attended. Those reasons are what drove me to go in the first place, but it was only when I arrived at the wedding itself that I truly appreciated being together with many, but not all, of my first cousins. Many of them are able to see each other regularly or from time to time get together for simchos, but this was my first opportunity to be part of that strong family bond that I knew and enjoyed in my boyhood.

Even though I am now a middle-aged man with my own family (ba”h), I sat at the table during the wedding feast, surrounded by my older cousins, feeling small and young again. There was a sense of innocence and attention I received as the youngest at the table within the family that was present. Even though we are not all the same religiously, economically, philosophically, in gender or age, there was no judging of one another. As far apart as the family is physically, we have remained close. The Torah states in Devarm 12:23 “Ki HaDam Hu HaNefesh” - It is blood that is the soul of a person. Similarly, it is the blood connection of relatives that keep us alive and connected as though we’ve never been apart. It is a vibrant lifeline to come to acknowledge that no matter where your family members may be and no matter how long it has been since you last communicated with them, they will always be there for you! Although the scenario I posed deals specifically with my family and me, I think this phenomenon applies most acutely to the Jewish nation as a whole, to the exclusion of all other nations. We are not like the other nations of the world; our greatest characterization is our eternal connection to each other – one people, one Torah, one nation unique in the world. We clearly see this concept in daily life and it is planted in the Torah itself.

 

In this week’s Torah portion Balak, the Torah states in Bamidbar 23:9: “Ki MeiRosh Tzurim Er’en UMigvaos Ashurenu, Hain Am L’Vadad Yishkone U’VaGoyim Lo Yischashav” : “I see this nation from mountain tops, and gaze on it from the heights. It is a nation dwelling alone at peace, not counting itself among other nations”. As we know, Balak hired Bilaam the wicked to curse the Jewish people, who ended up blessing them according to the will of Hashem. The first of three attempts, Bilaam tries to attack and accuse or label the Jews as a nation that does not get along with everyone else, nor do they want to. Bilaam’s words sound a familiar, but yet quite the opposite of another villain the Jews were to contend with in the future. *Reb Shlomo Ganzfried, in his sefer Apiryon on the Torah, explains that Bilaam’s attacks and accusations against B’Nei Yisrael were the opposite of Haman the wicked. Haman proclaimed to Achashveirosh “There is one nation scattered and separated from all the other nations in your kingdom.” Haman’s intent was to show a lack of unity and harmony amongst the Jews. Furthermore, despite the Jewish people being spread out, one would think that those who are closer together would get along better, clinging to their kin. Nevertheless, even those few who were together, hoping to grow stronger, were actually “M’Forad” - separated from each other. Each Jew distanced himself from his fellow Jew. Therefore, Haman argued that it would not be a big deal to get rid of them.

Bilaam’s words are very similar but with a different twist. Bilaam argued “Hain” - ‘yes’, the Jews have unity and peace, even when they are dwelling within themselves and not with their fellow Jews. It’s a wonder how they get along so well even though they all live separately and have nothing to do with each other. Even though they are living as loners, they get along as if they are living together. The key word of Bilaam’s eventual blessing is in the first word “Hain” –‘yes’. These letters, the ‘hey’ and ‘nun’, represent the sociological underpinning of the Jewish people’s unity. The sequential numbers from one to nine match the ends of the spectrum adding up to ten. Take the first and last numbers one and nine, two and eight, three and seven, and so forth, and you get ten. If you do the same for the two-digit numbers from ten to ninety, you will add each combination to reach one hundred. Each number in the sequence of single and double digits has a partner that connects them with two exceptions. In the single digit sequence, number five (‘hey’) has no partner; in the two-digit sequence, the number fifty (‘nun’), has no partner, but they find each other, coming together as the word ‘Hain’ – ‘Yes’!

The dominance of each Jew is that even when we are alone, we are still connected to someone else. This is the strength of the individual family and the extended family of Klal Yisrael. As we begin the three weeks, we should bring our families closer together and reunite with our Father in Heaven back to the Place that we ALL call HOME!

*Shlomo Ganzfried was born 1804 in Ungvar and died 30 July 1886 in Ungvar. He was an Orthodox rabbi and posek best known as author of the work of Halakha (Jewish law), the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch - "The Abbreviated Shulchan Aruch", by which title he is also known.

Ganzfried was born in the Ung County of the Kingdom of Hungary, present-day Ukraine. His father Joseph died when he was eight years old. Ganzfried was considered to be a child prodigy. Ungvar's chief rabbi and Rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Heller, assumed legal guardianship. Heller later moved to the city of Bonyhád, and Ganzfried, then fifteen, followed him. He remained in Heller's yeshiva for almost a decade until his ordination and marriage. After his marriage, Ganzfried worked briefly as a wine merchant.

In 1830, Ganzfried abandoned commerce, accepting the position of Rabbi of Brezovica. In 1849 he returned to Ungvar as a dayan, a judge in the religious court. At that time Ungvar's spiritual head, Rabbi Meir Ash, was active in the Orthodox camp, in opposition to the Neologs. Through serving with Ash, Ganzfried realized that in order to remain committed to Orthodoxy, "the average Jew required an underpinning of a knowledge of practical halakha (Jewish law)". It was to this end that Ganzfried composed the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. This work became very popular and was frequently reprinted in Hebrew and in Yiddish. Rabbi Ganzfried remained in the office of Dayan until his death on July 30, 1886.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Rabbi Bogopulsky’s book “Developing A Torah Personality” is available for purchase directly from him or on Amazon

Mon, December 17 2018 9 Teves 5779