Is Balak a Top-50 Name?

Friday, 30 June, 2023 - 12:30 pm

If you had to compile your top 50 list of Jewish names, I highly doubt that Balak would make the cut. Yet, in the hyper-exclusive list of (54) Torah portions the name Balak was given to one of them. Who was Balak, and why was he immortalized by naming a Parsha after him?

Balak was the king of Moab, who hired Bilaam the sorcerer to curse the Jewish people. So, the question grows stronger, why would we name a Parsha in our Torah after a Jew hater of the highest caliber? How does Balak merit to join this select club of historical figures after whom a Parsha is named?

Balak’s story represents the most powerful transformation in history. He engaged Bilaam to pronounce the harshest curses and condemnations upon the people of Israel. When Bilaam actually opened his mouth to speak, the sweetest and most complimentary verses flowed.

To give a few samples…

“For from their beginning, I see them as mountain peaks, and I behold them as hills; it is a nation that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations.”

“He does not look at evil in Jacob, and has seen no perversity in Israel; the L-rd, his G-d, is with him, and he has the King's friendship.”

“How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!”

“A star has gone forth from Jacob, and a staff will arise from Israel which will crush the princes of Moab and uproot all the sons of Seth.”          

The name Balak reminds us of the powerful love Hashem has for us. He took the intentions of our greatest enemies and flipped them into uplifting words of inspiration. As the Torah states: (Deut, 23:5) “But the L-rd, your G-d, did not want to listen to Balaam. So, the L-rd, your G-d, transformed the curse into a blessing for you, for the L-rd, your G-d, loves you.”

In fact, the only direct reference to Mashiach in the Five Books of Torah, is in the prophecy of Bilaam.

3,500 years after the story of Balak and Bilaam, they are remembered as the losers whose plans were foiled by Hashem. Even more importantly, the name of Parshat Balak awakens within us, a strong yearning for the time when Bilaam’s prophecy about the “end of times” will be fulfilled, as a star shoots forth from Jacob and a staff arises from Israel. May it take place in the immediate future.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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