Category Archives: Balak

Evil-Eye Protection

Kli Yakar Numbers: Balak

Evil-Eye Protection 

"Chamsa": Ward against the evil eye.

In Judaism, there is a concept that people have the power, just by looking at others with evil thoughts, of somehow causing something negative to happen. The “chamsa” (upraised palm symbol) is popular in Sepharadi culture as a ward against the “evil eye.” The Kli Yakar explains that there is something more effective.

When the evil sorcerer, Bilaam, attempts to curse the Children of Israel in the desert, he is confounded time and time again by God. God forces Bilaam to bless the nation of Israel instead. In one of the most famous lines uttered by Bilaam, he states: 

“How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel.” Numbers 24:5

The Kli Yakar quotes the Talmud (Tractate Bava Batra 66a) that part of the blessing was based on the fact that no tent opening looked onto the opening of its neighbor. The Children of Israel practiced a noteworthy modesty, not seeking to cast an eye upon the goings-on of other households. Bilaam realized that if the Children of Israel had already taken proper precautions against the evil eye internally, then he would have no chance to cast an evil eye himself. 

The Kli Yakar adds that the merit of the “tents” protected Israel from the evil eye. The tents are a synonym for none other than study of the Torah, of Jewish law and tradition, which protected and continues to protect the Children of Israel from the evil eye.

May we never have an “evil eye” cast upon us, or at least protect ourselves with study and modesty. 

Shabbat Shalom,



To the newlyweds, Rachel and Greg Malsin. It was one of the more fantastic weddings of my life. “May you build a steadfast home inIsrael.”

The Donkey and The Angel

Numbers Fiction: Balak

The Donkey and The Angel

Bilaam, Donkey and Angel

A thin haze covered the fortified city of Damascus. Dozens of stone chimneys belched the smoke of cooking ovens into the morning sky. The slapping of sandals on old stone mixed with the sounds of hooves and creaking wagon wheels. Clanging metal and the hollering of early market hagglers created a cacophony of sound. The smell of stale bread, rotting apples and unwashed bodies filled the air. Five horses followed by three donkeys, all with riders, exited the heavy gates of Damascus. They trotted rapidly southward on the Bashan road. On either side of the road were golden fields of wheat, barley and spelt.

The five horses were beautiful Egyptian stallions, all of a deep chestnut color. Their riders wore bejeweled Moabite robes. One of the donkeys was a white, neatly combed jenny with a shiny black harness. Her rider was an ancient wiry man in flowing black robes. The jenny was followed by two dull colored jacks each with a servant in a grey tunic.

“Finally we’re out of that dreadful city,” Chamra the white jenny brayed to Abot and Kostel, the two jacks behind her.

[the rest of this story, is available by agreement, at]

Divine Irony

Numbers Hizkuni: Balak

Divine Irony

Laban searching Jacob's possesions

God has a long memory and a sense of irony. Our patriarch Jacob flees from his father-in-law Lavan’s home in Aram with wives and children in tow. Lavan chases him heading southwest towards Canaan. He catches him somewhere to the east of the Jordan River. After some harsh words against each other they sign a peace treaty and build a cairn of stones to commemorate the pact.

Lavan swears an oath that he will not pass the stones to harm Jacob (Genesis 31:52), and each go their merry way.

A few hundred years later the sorcerer Bilaam ventures southwest from Aram. He goes to curse the children of Jacob. He finds them camping east of the Jordan River and preparing to enter the land of Canaan.

According to midrashic sources Bilaam is either an extremely long-lived Lavan or a descendent of his with equally hostile feelings towards the family of Jacob.

Bilaam is injured badly in the course of the dance between his donkey and the angel trying to kill him. The Torah describes how the donkey veers into the wall and Bilaam’s leg is damaged as a result.

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) claims that the wall was actually a pillar of stone and it was none other than the stones that had been erected as a reminder of the pact of non-belligerence. Hizkuni feels that Bilaam received his comeuppance with the precise reminder of his breach of trust. It was no coincidence that the tool of Bilaam’s (initial) punishment should be the very object that he betrayed.

Hizkuni adds that Bilaam’s passionate hatred of Israel blinded the otherwise brilliant man from the obvious fact of God’s displeasure with anyone attempting to curse Israel.

Unfortunately for him, he did not heed the multiple warnings and divine hints he was given but relentlessly pursued his anti-Semitic agenda. His end, as we see later on was catastrophic.

May we appreciate God’s irony and always have faith that He will resolve things the way they should be.

Shabbat Shalom,



To God. Amongst other things for His sense of irony and timing, and for sometimes letting us in on it. To France’s national soccer team. One of the leading teams in the world cheated against Ireland in the qualifying round. They have now been utterly humiliated in the first round of the World Cup and eliminated in ignoble defeat. I suspect God is also following the games and administering appropriate comeuppance.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Ex ore parvulorum veritas, an ancient Latin proverb, is most commonly translated as: “Out of the mouths of babes – truth.” This phrase can be traced back to our own book of Psalms 8:2: “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings You established strength.”

The Latin version reflects a concept that is seen throughout Jewish thought and most notably in the Talmud: children, even unwittingly, will state the Truth, whether uncomplicated, with some deeper meaning, or even on a prophetic level.

One of the first prayers (or truths, if you will) that children learn to sing when attending Jewish pre-school is the famous verse of “Mah Tovuh”:

“Mah Tovuh Ohalecha Ya’akov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael.”

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

Numbers 24:5

This is one of the blessings that the sinister prophet Bilaam is forced by God to proclaim over the people of Israel.

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno inquires as to the meaning behind this blessing which might give additional insight as to why this particular verse is used at the very beginning of the Morning Prayer service, and as to why it has become over the centuries a favored song of Jewish children.

Sforno explains that “tents” refers to Torah study halls, and that “dwelling places” refers to synagogues. Sforno further elaborates that synagogues are uniquely suited for the receipt by God of a person’s prayers.

Sforno’s point bears examining. He seems to be claiming that the same person, praying at the same time, with the same concentration, intensity, sincerity and heartfelt emotion will have a dissimilar effect depending on whether they are praying from the privacy of their home or in the more public synagogue. The mere change of location and sanctity of the place will have a radically different positive result on the response to our prayers.

May we always have opportunity to pray in a synagogue and may God answer our prayers for the best.

Shabbat Shalom,



To all of our very cute (luckily for them) children who have now started their summer vacation. It is quite a treat to hear them singing their prayers with joy, enthusiasm and earnestness. We can learn from them.