Parashas Balak

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Is there any Point in Looking at a Horoscope?

Taste of Parasha

The Rambam describes the levels of wisdom, refinement and purity that a person must reach in order to receive prophecy. Bilam’s resume contained none of these qualifications.  In fact, in the fifth chapter of “Chapters of Our Fathers,” our sages tell us what happens to a person who emulates Bilam’s attributes of haughtiness, gluttony, and an evil eye.  They “inherit Gehenom and go down to the well of destruction.”  Now I do not know exactly where those places are or what it is like over there, but it certainly does not sound like the Ritz Carlton!  So how could it be that Bilam had an ability to invoke a prophetic and divine curse against the Jews?  The Sha’la Hakadosh (Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz 1565–1630) answers this question with a question.  Why does the Parasha begin with Balak asking Bilam to curse the Jewish nation and then switch its terminology to say that Bilam went “likras nechashim” (to use sorcery)?  The Sha’la Hakadosh answers that first Bilam tried to curse the Jewish nation using prophecy. This back-fired and turned into a blessing because he did not have any intrinsic prophetic powers but at certain times was granted prophetic words to say (which he himself did not even understand) when G-d deemed it necessary for the good of the Jewish nation.   When that did not work, he tried to use the powers of sorcery which tap into the signs of the Zodiac. The Torah tells us that he failed with this as well because, “Lo nachash B’Yaakov”: There is no sorcery among the Jews.  Let me explain…

Taste of Talmud

Avraham Avinu said to G-d: I see that according to my Zodiac I will not have any children because the star of “Tzedek” is in the west.  G-d told Avraham “do not worry; I have just moved it (the star) to the east.”  The Maharsha uses this Medrash to explain why the Talmud says, in Nedarim 32a, “Ein Mazal L’Yisroel” (the Jewish nation is not affected by the Zodiac).  This is true because even though G-d put these forces in this world, when the Jewish nation is properly connected to  the  Almighty G-d, everything in the Zodiac is pliable. According to the level of connection that a particular person or group of Jews has with G-d through study, prayer, and good-deeds, the forces are altered by G-d.  However, if a Jew neglects his  relationship with G-d and tries to effect change in this world by means of sorcery and the Zodiac, then in fact he is limited to and can be affected by others who manipulate these forces.  When Bilam tried to hijack these forces to harm the Jews it did not work because they were all connected to G-d.  Since they were properly involved with G-d’s will, Bilam was not successful in confining them to the effects of the Zodiac by going “likras nechashim” (to use sorcery).

Taste of Halacha

Mazal Tov, it’s a boy!  If, “Ein Mazal L’Yisroel,” why do we wish each other, “Mazal Tov”?  Furthermore, why does it say in Tractate Moed Katan 28a that children, life and sustenance depend on Mazal?  One of the great Tosafists (Shabbos 156a) answers that when it says that the Jewish nation is not affected by Mazal it does not mean that such influences do not exist.  Rather it means that the Jewish nation can rise above it through studying the Torah, praying, and doing good deeds.   Taking Mazal as a base-line, it is therefore appropriate to bless each other that our Mazal (fortune) should be tov (good).  This is why the Talmud in Tractate Shabbos (156a) says that if a person was born when the Zodiac of Maadim was in the sky he will have a propensity towards bloodshed.  However, the Talmud also says that it is up to his free-will to decide if he will be a murderer, a surgeon or a shochet.  With all this being true, the Shulchan Aruch says, “It is forbidden to make inquiries of star gazers as it says, Tamim Ti’hyeh Im Hashem Elokecha” (you should be pure with Hashem your G-d) (Yoreh Deah 179:1).  The commentators explain that a person who is Tamim (pure) lives with an acute awareness of the omnipotence of G-d.  Such a person lives with serenity because he does not need to fear anyone, not even a Bilam.  This is because he merits divine intervention above all of the signs of the Zodiac and above all of the Angels through his strong belief in the complete and all-encompassing nature of G-d’s power in this world.

About tasteofyeshiva

RABBI YAIR FRIEDMAN teaches at The Torah School of Greater Washington, and Yeshiva L' Baalei Batim. He is the owner and director of Camp Gevaldig LLC.
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