Parshas Balak: Baalam’s prophecy, Tammuz 12 and the arrival of the Moshiach
This year, Tammuz 12 coincides with the reading of Parshas Balak. Balak, like Korach, is a Parsha named after an unsavoury individual; Balak is a Moabite king, who summons Baalam to curse the Israelites. Baalam is famously berated by his donkey for defying the will of G-d, and bestows blessings- as opposed to curses- upon the Israelites. However, the Israelites end up falling astray of their own accord, and are led to commit debauchery with the Moabite women and worship the idol Peor. This sin is brought to an end when Pinchas kills both a Midianite princess and an Israelite official.
As well as blessing the Israelites, Baalam foretells the coming of the Moshiach. Balak 24:17, which tells of Baalam’s prophecies, says that a “A star steps out of Jacob and a rod rises out of Israel”. This verse is interpreted, by the Jerusalem Talmud, to refer to two different things; both the Moshiach and every Jew. While this initially appears to be contradictory, the Baal Shem Tov reconciles the two explanations. He explains that every Jew contains within himself a spark of Moshiach. Now, both interpretations are in agreement, for they essentially mean the same thing. However, Balak 24:17 also reveals, through the terms “step out” and “rise out”, the vital point that each Jew must work to bring about the arrival of the Moshiach. This can be done through the study of Torah and the performance of Mitzvot.
Meanwhile, the Hayom Yom for Tammuz 12 reads; “On this day, in 5687 (1927), he [The Rebbe, R. Yosef Yitzchok] received the good tidings that he was freed from the exile imposed upon him after his arrest and imprisonment for his efforts in strengthening Torah and Judaism”. The Sixth Rebbe’s actions are exactly of the sort which bring about the Moshiach’s arrival, as the Baal Shem Tov revealed in his comment on Parshas Balak. We also read in the Hayom Yom for Tammuz 12 about what happened to the Rebbe; he was punished with “exile… arrest and imprisonment”. Throughout history, Jews have faced threats of imprisonment and death for their observance of Torah, and yet in the Rebbe’s case, he attempted to not just observe the Torah but also spread the beauty of it, against all odds.
Today, Jews are still persecuted in many countries. In the West Bank and Gaza, about 93% of citizens harbour anti-Semitic sentiments. Outside the Middle East and Maghreb, the ADL reports that 69% of Greek citizens are anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism is quite obviously well and alive in the 21st century, despite the absence of the horrors of Communism and Nazi Germany. And yet, another- less visible- threat is also threatening Jewish observance; assimilation. Jews are intermarrying, leading to “interfaith” families with non-Jewish children. It is well known that more and more young men and women are reported to be “at risk” of trying to turn away from their Jewish roots, and go “off the Derech”- this is well publicised through magazine articles and interviews found online. But assimilation is less immediately noticeable, and, thus, more dangerous, as families abandon Jewish practices and traditions.
This threatening trend is closely linked to both the prophecy in Parshas Balak and Tammuz 12. “A star steps out of Jacob and a rod rises out of Israel”; this is the end result, and the self-sacrifice and devotion to Torah displayed by the Sixth Rebbe is the means. When Balak coincides with Tammuz 12, we are reminded of how we can hasten the arrival of the Moshiach; through the observance of the Torah and performance of Mitzvot.
To some, performing Mitzvot can seem antiquated, unnecessary, or simply requiring of too much work. However, we must always remember the importance of a single mitzvah. The seventh Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, repeatedly emphasised the fact that a single Mitzvah could “tip the scales” and bring redemption. If just one woman lights Shabbos candles, or just one man wraps Tefillin, the Moshiach could come immediately. As we read in Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, “At that time there will be no hunger or war, no jealousy or rivalry. For the good will be plentiful, and all delicacies available as dust. The entire occupation of the world will be only to know G‑d”.
Every Jew is involved in this mission to hasten the Moshiach’s arrival; not just rabbis and scholars, but men and women from all walks of life. For the Seventh Rebbe’s 90th birthday, the Jewish artist Michel Schwartz completed a painting named “When Moshiach Comes”. In an article for Chabad.org, Michel writes of his bewilderment upon hearing the Rebbe’s request; “I wondered, why was the Rebbe asking me? The Jewish world has developed a great number of recognized artists with enormous abilities in detailed illustration, anatomy, imagination, and all those talents that would be necessary to create this scene. Why me?”. His sentiment towards the painting is echoed by thousands of Jews who don’t sincerely believe that they can bring about the coming of the Moshiach. They do not fully realise their power in evoking the Redemption. The Rebbe attempted to combat this mindset through his 10-point mitzvah campaign, and to this day, Chabad Shluchim continue his work.
As we remember Baalam’s prophecy, and the Rebbe, R. Yosef Yitzchak’s birthday and release from exile, we should also remember the power of every Jew to bring the spark of Moshiach from within them out into the open. May the Moshiach come speedily and in our days!