By Rabbi Raphael Katz
Currently Rav of Beit Knesset Hechadash, Netanya
There are four parshiyot (after ‘matan torah’) that are named after people – Yitro, Korach, Balak, Pinchas. It appears that one can categorize these characters into two sets – Yitro and Balak in the one, Pinchas and Korach (both from tribe of Levi) in the other. The comparison and contrast of each set of personalities could yield an instructive lesson.
Let us consider.
1) Both Yitro and Balak were gentile leaders.
2) Both were impacted by the dramatic emergence of ‘Am Yisrael’s ‘appearance on the stage of history;
Of Yitro it is said: “And Yitro… heard all that G –d had done to Moshe and Israel his people when he brought Israel out of Egypt.”
Of Balak it is said: “And Balak saw all that Israel had done to the Emorites….” and further on “…Behold a nation has left Egypt”.
3) Both of these men were leaders in “their field” – the field of Idolatrous practices.
“Now I know that G –d is the greatest of all deities”.
Yitro was an expert in every idolatrous ideology in his time (Rashi citing Mechilta verse 11, ch’ 18).
“And Balak took Bilam to the top of Peor….”
Balak was a great Sorcerer and saw that the Israelites would suffer at Peor (Rashi, Bamidbar ch. 23, verse 28).
4) Both these leaders perceived that the Jewish people were unique (not different), governed by special Divine providence.
What impressed Yitro about the miracle of “kriyat yam suf” was not so much the suspension of the physical laws of nature, as much as seeing the event as an expression of Divine justice. The Egyptians sought to destroy the Israelites through water and they themselves drowned in water. (Rashi ch. 18, verse 11).
The Sefat Emet comments that Balak understood that the essence of the Jewish people was their spiritual strength. He realized that conventional modes of warfare would be ineffective and hence recruited Bilam to assist in a spiritual attack on “Bnei Yisrael”.
5) Both merited having descendant that converted to Judaism (Sotah 47a).
All these similarities, and yet how different the response!
Yitro – “Blessed be G –d who rescued you from the power of Egypt and Pharo etc. (Shemot ch’ 18,verse 10).
Balak – “… Now come and curse this nation for me”. (Bamidbar ch’22, verse 6)
It’s all about free will and ” בדרך שאדם רוצה לילך בה מוליכין אותו”
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