Parashas Balak

This parashah relates the unsuccessful attempt of Balak, King of Moab, to weaken the Jewish People by getting the sorcerer Bilaam to curse them. Our Sages regard Bilaam as the archetype of a wicked person. In Avos 5:22, they describe Bilaam as having an “expansive drive,” meaning that he had a voracious desire for physical pleasure. Obsession with physical pleasure is the mark of a wicked man. Here, we present one of the Maggid’s teachings about how the righteous and the wicked differ in their relationship to one of man’s basic physical activities: eating.
Shlomo HaMelech declares (Mishlei 13:25): “The righteous man eats to satisfy himself, while the wicked man’s stomach is lacking.” The Maggid explains this verse as follows. A righteous man eats solely in order to sustain himself, so when has eaten enough to serve this purpose, he is content. He feels no drive to eat more, even if he gained little enjoyment from his meal. A wicked man, by contrast, eats mainly for pleasure. Even when he is stuffed, he desires to eat more, and he is held back only because his stomach cannot not take any more. Thus, the wicked man finds that his stomach is lacking; it does not have enough room to hold all the food he wishes to eat in order to gratify his desire.
The Maggid reinforces the point with a parable. Two brothers lived in the same town, a considerable distance from where their father lived. One of the brothers was rich, while the other was poor. The rich brother longed to spend time with his father, but his hectic business schedule kept him from leaving town. Finally, he made plans to take some time off, set aside his business affairs, and go visit his father. At the same time, the poor brother’s situation became desparate, so he decided to travel to beg for charity. In order to hide his plight from the neighbors, he told them that he missed his father and had decided to go visit him. He indeed had decided to travel to his father’s town, but he planned to make detours on the way to seek charity.
When the rich brother heard that the poor brother was planning to visit their father, he approached him, told him that he had the same plan, and suggested that they travel together. So the two brothers set out together for their father’s town, each for his own reason. Meantime, a short time before, the father was struck with a longing to see his sons, and had set out for their town. As soon as the sons had reached the outskirts of their town, they saw their father coming toward them. The rich brother was overjoyed, for he had achieved his goal with little effort. But the poor brother was crestfallen, for his plan had been pre-empted. 
The parallel is as follows. A righteous man, as we said, eats for the purpose of sustaining himself. A wicked also eats to sustain himself, but in the process he likes to make gastronomic detours to gratify his desire for pleasure. Thus, when a small amount of food is unexpectedly satiating, the righteous man is glad, for he prefers to minimize the time he spends engaged in the animalistic act of eating. The wicked man, on the other hand, is dejected, for his enjoyment has been curtailed.
In regard to the end of days, the prophet Yoel declares (verse 2:26): “You shall eat well, to satiation, and you shall praise the Name of Hashem your God Who has done wondrously for you – and My people shall be free of shame eternally.” Hashem will bless us so that a small amount of food will satisfy us, and we will praise His Name for this wondrous kindness. And we will no longer need to be ashamed over eating, for it will be clear that we eat only for sustenance, and have no interest in the ignoble pursuit of gorging for pleasure.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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