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Parshat Balak - Questions for Self Study

Questions for the 'Shabbat Table'
Questions for Shiur Preparation
Questions on Parshanut

Part I - Questions for the 'Shabbat Table'
1. Parshat Balak seems to be an integral part of Chumash; nonetheless, the Gemara in Baba Batra 14b makes a very strange statement: "Moshe katav sifro [Moshe wrote his book - i.e. Chumash], parshat bilam, and sefer Iyov (Job)."
As we all know, Moshe wrote all of Chumash, (and it is understandable that we need to be told that Moshe wrote Sefer Iyov), but why must the Gemara tell us well that he wrote Sefer Bilam (i.e. Bamdibar chapters 22-24) as well?
Are they not part of Chumash?
[If Moshe didn't write it, who else could have?]
Try to answer this question on your own.
Then see this Gemara in Baba Batra, and note commentaries of Rashi and Rabeinu Gershom.

2. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (5:22) compares Bilam to Avraham Avinu.
What textual parallels can you find in this week's Parsha which support this parallel?
Can you think of a thematic parallel as well?
[In what manner do Chazal (in the Midrash) compare Bilam's journey to Balak with Avraham Avinu's journey to Har Ha'moriah (in the story of the Akeydah)?]

3. In this entire Parsha, can you find any specific sin that Bilam commits?
If so, where?
Why do you think that Chazal consider him a "rasha?"
Is Bilam ever punished?
If so, how and where?

4. Three Key Units

    A. Between 23:1-24:14 we find the three instances where Bilam plans to curse Yisrael, but finally blesses them instead.
    First, note the division into three distinct units.
    [If you didn't figure it out, try 23:1, 23:13, 23:27]
    Note the similarities between each of these three units.
    What verb (or pair of verbs!) does the Torah use to describe God speaking to Bilam in each?
    Is it the same verb(s) in each three cases?
    If not, which case is different?
    Can you explain why?
    [Note the preceding pasuk to each, where Bilam anticipates that God may speak to him.]

    B. Compare this description of God speaking to Bilam to other instances of "hitgalut" (e.g. to the Avot or Moshe Rabbeinu).
    In your opinion, is this linguistic difference significant?
    If so, how and why?

    C. In each of these three mini-units, note how often the concept of "bracha" and "klala" (blessing or cursing) appears.
    [How many different Hebrew words are used for 'cursing?']
    Is the pattern the same in each unit?
    How does this relate to the beginning of the Parsha (see 22:6)?
    How does this relate to your answer to question #1 above?

    D. How do each of these three units end?
    [See 23:12, 23:26, and 24:12-13.]
    What is similar about each ending?
    What is different?
    Can you find a progression from one to the next?
    Relate your answer to God's answer to Bilam's original request to accept Balak's proposal in chapter 22!
    [Note especially 22:12, 18, and 20.]

Part II - Questions for Preparation (for weekly shiur)
1. For the shiur, it would be helpful to first answer questions #2 and #3 in Part One (above).

2. What city is Bilam from?
Where is that city located?
[Relate not only to 22:5, but also to 26:7 and Devarim 23:5!]
How far away is this city from Moav and Midyan [i.e. how many days travel (approximately)]?

3. What stops Bilam from cursing Am Yisrael?
[Note 23:8.]
What leads Bilam later to bless Am Yisrael in 24:1-9?
Does he do this on his own?

4. Where does Bilam return to when this incident is over?
[Relate both to 24:11 and 24:25.]
How far away is this location?
[Relate to question #2 above.]
Does the conclusion of this chapter (24) leave you with the impression that Bilam ever returns?
How does Balak say 'good-bye'?
[See 24:11!]

5. From this week's Parsha, does the sin of Bnei Yisrael with "bnot Moav," as described in 25:1-9, appear to be related in any manner with the story of Bilam?
If so, explain how it is related.

6. In the ensuing war with Midyan, which is described in detail in Parshat Matot (see 31:1-20), we find that Bilam was killed (see 31:8).
In what country is Bilam killed?
[Did Israel send a commando unit to Iraq?!]
Relate your answer to question #5!

7. In 31:14-16, Moshe refers to "dvar Bilam."
What specific event does "dvar Bilam" refer to?
[Relate to 26:1-6.]
Why do you think that this event is called "dvar Bilam?"
What can you infer from this concerning Bilam's whereabouts when the sin of "bnot Midyan" took place?
What do you think his involvement was?

8. From the above questions, what can we learn about Bilam's true character?
What is Chazal's conclusion on this issue?

Now that you've prepared, go to the shiur.

Part III - Parshanut
1. In regard to the above shiur - see Rashi and Ramban on 25:1.
What does Ramban add to Rashi's pirush?
What is his source, and why do you think he adds it?
Now see Seforno on 25:1.
How is his pirush different than Rashi and Ramban?
Why do think that Seforno finds it necessary to add this interpretation?

2. Also in regard to above shiur, see Chizkuni 24:25.
Compare with Rasag [if you have a Torat Chayim edition].
Note also the Ibn Ezra on this pasuk.
['Cute' isn't it?]

3. Review 22:1-21, paying attention to whom Balak sends to Bilam.
Who is sent, only the elders of Moav, or also the elders of Midyan?
[Relate especially to 22:7 and 22:8!]
What is difficult about these psukim?

See Rashi 22:7.
How does Rashi (quoting Midrash Tanchuma 5) resolve this difficulty?
Does Rashi take for granted that you noticed this question concerning 'what happened to the elders of Midyan?'

Now, see Ibn Ezra 22:13.
How does he resolve this difficulty?
Is his answer the same or different than Rashi?
In your opinion, which approach attempts to follow "pshat?"

Now see Ramban 22:7.
[Note that he first quotes Rashi and Ibn Ezra.]
Ramban first attempts to support Rashi's explanation.
Why do you think that he opens his "pirush" in this manner?
Does he bring a proof to Rashi from pshat or drash?
How does Ramban use our previous knowledge of Moshe's relationship with Midyan as a proof?
Ramban then concludes: 'but the psukim do not mention this.'
Does he totally reject Rashi's view?

Next, Ramban quotes Ibn Ezra.
Clearly, Ramban understands that Ibn Ezra argues with Rashi.
On what point do Rashi and Ibn Ezra argue?
On what point to they agree [i.e. in relation to Ramban's own opinion which follows]?

Finally, Ramban brings his own opinion.
According to Ramban, did the elders of Midyan ever travel to Balak in the first place?
If not, why not?
How does this solve the discrepancy in the psukim?
What difficulty arises according to Ramban's pirush?
How does Ramban solve this difficulty?
Does Ramban also attempt to explain "pshat?"
In your opinion, is he convinced that his "pshat" is 'better' than Rashi or Ibn Ezra's?
Relate Ramban's pshat to your answer to question #2 in Part Two above (where Bilam is from...). Does this support Ramban's pirush?

Finally, see Chizkuni 22:8.
How does Chizkuni solve the problem of why the 'elders of Midyan' are not mentioned?
[Note from his pirush to 22:13 that he follows Ibn Ezra.]
According to his pirush, in what country does Bilam live?!
What leads him to this conclusion?
[See 31:1-8!]
Is this clever pirush by Chizkuni supported or refuted by your answer to question #2 in Part Two above?