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Shabbat Balak

Numbers 22:2-25:9
Candle Lighting time 8:13 PM
Every day I study a daf (page) of Talmud and then write a reflection on what I learned. Tuesday’s daf helped me see an insight into Balaam’s character. The rabbis learned important moral lessons from “seemingly unimportant” details. Describing the construction of the ark the Torah says: “They shall make an Ark of acacia wood … Overlay it with pure gold-overlay it inside and out ….” (Exodus 25:10-11). I understand why the Ark wasn't made of pure gold. Such an Ark would be so heavy to schlep throughout the desert. To ease the Israelites’ burden, God only demanded that it be gold-plated. A gold-plated Ark will be much lighter and easier to carry. But why should the insides be gold-plated when nobody would ever see the inside of the Ark? Rava teaches a very important lesson when he said: “This alludes to the idea that any Torah scholar whose inside is not like his outside, i.e., whose outward expression of righteousness is insincere, is not to be considered a Torah scholar.” (TB Yoma 72b, translation)


In this week’s Torah portion Balak, the pagan prophet Balaam personifies a person whose insides are not like his outsides. He claimed to be a holy and true prophet, while he acted with unholy ambition and greed.  Balaam provides a classic example of self-deception. A person can persuade himself/herself to believe the transgressions he /she are about to commit fits into the mores of religious conviction. Few things are more reprehensible than evil which hides under the guise of piety. Our tradition calls Balaam evil because his true essence is not obviously manifest. His type of evil must be unmasked, for it is more harmful than any other form of iniquity.


There are modern day “Balaams” found in all religions (and Judaism is no exception) who hide their evil under the guise of piety. We have a twofold obligation. The first task is to unmask them and prevent them doing even more harm. Our second obligation is strive to be as pure on the inside as we are perceived on the outside.


Shabbat shalom,


Rabbi Greene


P.S. you can find my daily reflections on my daf yomi journey through the Talmud at


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