Rabbi Henoch Plotnik
the kings of Midian . . . and Bilaam, the son of Beor, was killed
by the sword."
And so, the Torah relates
the episode of B'nei Yisroel's (the children of Israel,
or more commonly, the Jews) revenge against Midian. Rashi
comments about the irony in the modus operandi B'nei Yisroel
employed to exact their revenge against Bilaam, the evil
prophet commissioned to curse B'nei Yisroel.
Bilaam's was a descendant
of Esav (Esau). Esav's father, Yitzchak (Issac), told
him, "and you live by your sword." In fact, Bilaam himself
had not utilized his own "craft" of fighting with B'nei
Yisroel by sword, but rather by the power of speech. The power
of speech was Yaakov's (Jacob's) weapon! How fitting it
was that Bilaam's ultimate downfall arrived not through Yaakov's
strength, (the word of mouth) but through Esav's, the power of the
Within our own practice of
Torah and Mitzvos we also find two "crafts"
that we utilize to beseech Hashem in times of need. One is the power
of prayer, tefillah, our legacy, dating back to the
times of the Avos (forefathers) -- and even Adam,
the first man! We also know that learning Torah itself is a shmirah
(protection) as we recite in the Hadran at the conclusion
of every Mesechta (tractate of Talmud):
lay down, it guards you."
The Talmud says that
the merit of Torah protects us even when we are not actually studying.
These two powerful merits have always guarded and protected us throughout
our long history.
??? A Paradox ???
An interesting paradox appears
in Chazal. In Mesechta Shabbos the Talmud relates how King
David, upon learning of his impending death, would not allow
himself to stop learning for even one moment. He knew that
as long as he was engaged in Torah learning, the Angel of Death
could not take his life. The Angel of Death was able to strike only
after he orchestrated a trick to cause King David to interrupt his
On the other hand, we find
in the Midrash that when Moshe Rabeinu (Moses) pleaded
with Hashem to allow him entry into the Land of Israel he prayed
with all his heart. As the Midrash implies, Moshe's prayers might
have been accepted had he not taken the power of prayer for granted.
The question arises: Kind
David was the author of Sefer Tehillim (Psalms), the
"Abible of prayer". Moshe merited having the Torah named
after him. (As the verse says, "remember the Torah of my servant
Moshe." Would it not have made more sense for King David to
utilize his "craft" -- the power of tefillah, --
to keep that Angel of Death at bay, and for Moshe to use his "craft"
-- the power of the Torah -- to persuade Hashem to let him enter
the Land of Israel? How can this be reconciled?
HaRav Eliach, Mashgiach
(Spiritual Advisor) of Yeshivas Itri Yerushalayim suggests the
following fundamental answer. The Torah certainly is protection
from the Angel of Death, as King David demonstrated. Moshe Rabeinu
had a different agenda. He attempted to destroy a gzar din (a
decree). Prohibition to enter the land of Israel was Moshes
punishment for "hitting" the rock. King Davids time
was simply up. His years ran out, yet he was rendered untouchable
as long as he was shielded by the act of actively engaging in Torah.
Destroying a gzar din requires the other craft, the ability
to appeal to our Maker face to face and beg for an appeal.
This idea is reinforced by
the words of the Midrash that relate Mordechais
reaction to Hamans murderous decree against the
Jews. Mordechai beseeched the heavens for merits to intercede on
the Jews behalf. The Midrash relates that Torah rendered itself
useless. The merit of the Avos was also deemed insufficient.
Mordechai turned to Moshe Rabeinu for advice. Moshe responded: If
there is a righteous Jew to daven on behalf of all Jews they still
had a chance! As the Midrash relates, Moshe knew that in the face
of a gzar din, (which is etched in mortar and not blood,)
the only recourse is tefillah. Nothing else will suffice.
On a basic level, the reason
for this is that only through tefillah do we address Hashem
"face to face". Tefillah allows us to speak directly
to Him in first person. The Sefer Baruch Sheomer quotes
the words of the Talmud Yerushalmi in Berachos.
"The trait of Hashem
is different than a human king . . . for when a person is befallen
by a difficulty he need not scream and cry to any intermediary,
only to Hashem himself, and he will be answered."
We have been given the great
zchus (merit) to approach Hashem in person, with all
of our heart and soul.
May we utilize
this opportunity and warrant the annulment of any "gzar
din," and be back in the glory of His presence.
-Rabbi Henoch Plotnik
Published Sunday July 27, 1997