Balak & the Destruction of the Temple

By Rabbi Dovid Markel


This Shabbat marks Parshat Balak and the 17th of Tammuz-when the walls of Jerusalem were breached at the time of the destruction of the second Temple. (Mishna, Ta-anit 4:6)

When reading the parsha, one of the things that strikes us is that though Bilaam himself hated the Jewish people and desired to curse them, he was only able to express what G-d placed into his mouth.

Indeed Balak protests, saying (Bamidbar 23:11): “What have you done to me! To curse my enemy I have brought you-but behold! You have even blessed!”

Instead of heaping upon Israel destruction, he pours upon them blessings of the ultimate redemption.

When the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, fall out on Shabbat-as it does this year-the fast is postponed until Sunday.

The Talmud (Megilla 5b) records that when an occurrence like this took place, Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi desired to cancel the fast completely, saying, “Since it has been postponed, let it be postponed altogether.” However, the Sages would not agree and we indeed fast on the day following Shabbat.

However, there is a tremendous lesson from this change of order. Shabbat ends up transforming the negativity of the fast into a day that we are commanded to find pleasure in. Rather than fasting, there is an actual directive to eat. Rather than the 17th of Tammuz being a day of destruction, this year we have the ability to transform it into a day of redemption with the coming of Moshiach.

This is not merely theoretical, but there are practical implications. The Talmud (Yuma 9b) states that the second Sanctuary was destroyed “because therein prevailed hatred without cause.”

Knowing the disease is half the cure. We learn therefore the prescription to rebuild the Temple-love without cause. When we take away the cause of the destruction, we will transform the greatest curse into blessing.

Just as Bilaam’s curse was transformed into a blessing for the redemption, so too does the prophet (Zecharya 8:19) state regarding the fasts of destruction: “So said the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth [month], the fast of the fifth [month], the fast of the seventh [month], and the fast of the tenth [month] shall be for the house of Yehuda for joy and happiness and for happy holidays-but love truth and peace.”

May it happen speedily in our time!

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