Parashat Balak: Torah and Shalom Bayit
Parashat Balak tells of the failed attempts by Bilam, a gentile prophet, to place a curse on Beneh Yisrael, as G-d turned all his curses into beautiful blessings. Undoubtedly the most famous blessing uttered by Bilam is, "Ma Tobu Ohalecha Yaakob Mishkenotecha Yisrael" – "How good are your tents, O Yaakob; your residences, O Yisrael" (24:5).
This blessing was said after Bilam looked out upon Beneh Yisrael and saw them "dwelling according to their tribes," whereupon he was inspired to praise their "tents" and "residences." The Talmud explains that Bilam was moved when he noticed that Beneh Yisrael arranged their tents in such a way that the entrances did not face each other, as they respected one another’s privacy and did not pry into one another’s affairs.
However, there is also another explanation for why Bilam was so moved and inspired when he saw Beneh Yisrael’s tents.
The Torah in several places commands us to "attach" ourselves to G-d. The Rabbis explain that this is done through the study of Torah. G-d is purely spiritual, and human beings are physical. Trying to cling to the Almighty directly would be akin to placing raw food directly on a fire, without anything in between. The food, of course, would burn. Similarly, we, as physical beings, would be unable to withstand a direct encounter with G-d. Therefore, just as we cook food by placing it in a pot, a medium which safely brings the heat of the fire to the food, we need Torah as our medium, through which we can experience the spirituality of G-d. We cannot possibly connect to G-d without Torah. And thus King Shelomo teaches in the Book of Mishleh (28:9), "Mesir Ozno Mi’shemoa Torah, Gam Tefilato Toeba" – "One who turns his ear away from hearing Torah – even his prayer is an abomination." The word "Tefila" is related to the word "Tefillin," which is bound upon our bodies. Tefila means bonding with G-d; forging a close, intimate connection with our Creator. King Shelomo teaches that this is possible only through Torah, the indispensable medium through which we connect to the Almighty.
Our Sages teach that when a husband and wife live peacefully together, the Shechina (Divine Presence) resides in their home: "Ish Ve’isha Zachu, Shechina Benehem" ("If a man and woman are worthy, then the Shechina rests among them"). The goal and aspiration of every couple when they get married and set out to build a home together is that G-d should reside among them. But a necessary prerequisite for the residence of the Shechina in a home is Torah. As we have seen, we cannot encounter G-d without the medium of Torah. By extension, then, it is only though Torah study that a husband and wife can achieve the Shalom Bayit (domestic peace) that they need to earn the presence of G-d in their home. If they are involved in Torah learning, they gain the ability to bond with the Almighty, and this allows them to create a bond between them which can then bring down the Shechina.
When Bilam looked upon the tents of Beneh Yisrael, he saw how the families enjoyed peace and serenity, how they lived harmoniously together in their tents. He thereupon exclaimed, "Ma Tobu Ohalecha Yaakob" – this is because of the "tents of Yaakob," the tents of Torah study in which Yaakob Abinu learned (Bereishit 25:27). The aura of peace and tranquility that characterizes the Jewish home is the product of the "tents of Yaakob," our involvement in Torah study.
There is much we can and should do in an effort to maintain peace and serenity in our homes, and to ensure that we enjoy happy and fulfilling marriages. But one indispensable ingredient is Torah study. By setting aside regular periods of time for learning, we allow ourselves and our homes to connect with the Almighty, who will then bring His Shechina and His blessing into our homes.