Parashat Balak: The Miracles We Don’t See
The story told in Parashat Balak is truly extraordinary. Balak, the king of Moab, teamed up with the gentile prophet Bilam to try to annihilate the Jewish people by way of a curse. Bilam knew the precise moment when G-d is angry, and he sought to capitalize on this knowledge by cursing Beneh Yisrael just at that moment, which would have the effect of utter annihilation. G-d, however, in His infinite mercy, altered the usual mechanisms of the spiritual world during that time in order to foil Bilam’s efforts.
What makes this story extraordinary is not the fact that the existence of the Jewish people was in danger. This has happened on numerous occasions throughout our history, and in every case, as in the times of Balak and Bilam, G-d has stepped in to rescue us. But what is unique about the story of Balak is the fact that not one member of Beneh Yisrael knew about the danger that loomed. The entire story takes place in Moab, where Balak and Bilam went to different locations overlooking the Israelite camp in an attempt to place the curse. Throughout this period, Beneh Yisrael went about their usual business, eating the manna, praying, studying Torah from Moshe, and so on. Nobody had any idea that the nation’s very survival was in question. When Amalek attacked Beneh Yisrael, the people were there on the battlefield fighting. When different nations threatened the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael, they were keenly aware of the situation. But here, the threat was initiated and ended far from the people’s view, and they knew nothing about it until G-d had Moshe record the story in the Torah.
Why, then, is this episode told in the Torah? Why does it matter to do us that far away there were two evil men who plotted against us and were unsuccessful?
The answer is provided by the prophet Micha, in the section chosen as the Haftara for Shabbat Parashat Balak. The prophet admonishes the people to remember Balak’s scheme and how Hashem stepped in to foil it, “Lema’an Da’at Sidkot Hashem” – “In order that you know the kindnesses of Hashem.” We need to know this story so that we can at least begin to understand the extent of G-d’s love and care for us. We need to know that Hashem protects us from dangers of which we never become aware. There are many times in our lives when we can see how Hashem stepped in to help us and take care of us, but we must also recognize that for every such instance, there are countless other times when Hashem protects or helps us without our ever knowing it. We cannot even begin to imagine the number of bacteria and viruses present in the air from which G-d protects us. We have no idea of the criminals and anti-Semites who unsuccessfully conspire against us, without even getting far enough to have the incident reported in the news. And we have no idea of how many terrorists in Israel and throughout the world have their efforts thwarted without anybody knowing.
The Pasuk in Tehillim describes Hashem as “Oseh Nifla’ot Gedolot Le’bado” – “He performs great wonders by Himself.” Clearly, we do not need a verse in the Tanach to tell us that G-d makes miracles “by Himself,” without anybody’s help. This is self-evident. What this verse is saying, as the Hatam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer of Pressburg, 1762-1839) explains, is that G-d often performs miracles alone, without anyone else ever knowing about it. The story of Balak and Bilam was revealed in order for us to recognize that so often miracles occur on our behalf far away, unbeknownst to us, “Le’bado” – when He is “all alone,” as it were.
This Parasha thus serves to remind us of “Sidkot Hashem,” that Hashem’s kindness towards us extends far beyond what we can ever see or know. We do not even know all the kindnesses He performs for us, or the extent of the protection He provides for us. And recognizing the limits of this knowledge should lead us to greater appreciation of Hashem’s kindness and a renewed sense of commitment to obey His will.