A Thought for Parshas Balak

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Many years ago, one of the Rabbis teaching through Torah.org was embarrassed to realize he had sent out a weekly message concerning the Torah Reading for Parshas Bila’am. It was a very understandable slip, though, because Bila’am and his intended curses, which G-d inverted to blessings on our behalf, are really the topic this week. [The Hebrew names of the readings are simply based upon the first relatively-unique word — this week begins “VaYar Balak,” Balak saw. “Seeing” is used far more commonly than the name of King Balak, so the reading is called by his name. But in actuality, Bila’am is discussed more.] The following thought is even more tangential — since the topic of the week is blessings, and a visitor to my home gave an interesting insight into a blessing that is part of Birkas HaMazon, the Grace After Meals, there’s a connection…

In Birkas HaMazon we ask, “please may we not need, HaShem our G-d, not the gifts of human beings, and not their loans, but only Your full, open, Holy and generous Hand…”

So a chassid was visiting the Spinka Rebbe, and saw the Rebbe saying this blessing, and thought it interesting how we all — even the Rebbe — ask for our own needs. The insightful Rebbe, though, shared the following.

The Rebbe explained that people come to him for his blessings. “What a righteous man decrees, G-d fulfills,” so they come to the Rebbe to pray on their behalf. But that, of course, is not guaranteed. Sometimes, he said, the blessing is granted immediately — G-d fulfills what he prayed for right away. Sometimes the blessing is delayed. And sometimes, of course, the response is negative.

When people come, he continued, they also leave a bit of money to support the Rebbe and those to whom he distributes charity. So it’s almost like a business deal — they come, they pay, they get a blessing.

But what if the blessing is delayed? Then, he said, it’s like a loan. They loaned the Rebbe money, and eventually his prayers came through for them. But if the blessing is answered in the negative, the person never “got something back” — so in that case, it’s simply that the person wanted to support the Rebbe and gave him money. [It’s important to note that this isn’t true, strictly speaking — Torah thought teaches that G-d hears all prayers, even when the answer might be no. Prayers always have an impact, although we may not know what that impact was. The Rebbes would sometimes take “poetic license” to make a point.]

So this, he said, is what he finds in the Grace After Meals: “please may we not need, HaShem our G-d, not the gifts of human beings” — I don’t want to receive their money, and bless them, and yet their wishes aren’t fulfilled. “And not their loans” — I don’t want the blessing delayed. “But only Your full, open, Holy and generous Hand” — may You fulfill the blessing right away, and give them what they asked for!

The Rebbe was showing the chassid that even when praying for our own needs, it’s possible to do so in a way that really means thinking about others. Even when the Rebbe asked for G-d’s generosity, he meant that it be bestowed upon those he wanted to help!

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