As I sit here in my office, I am told the temperature outside is 20 degrees, it is a warm beautiful summers day.
I am also told that on Monday and Tuesday the temperature will be DOUBLE of what it is today! The hottest point ever recorded in the UK was 38.7 degrees in July 2019, that record is in danger.
The 17th Tammuz on Sunday will be a relatively cool 32 degrees!
However, as has been written by various Batei Din in the UK, due to the heat, we have to be careful on Sunday and certainly there have been clear instructions to make sure people’s health is the priority.
One of the biggest health fears during a heat wave is of course dehydration – when your body loses more fluids than it takes in. This is the focus of the various psakim about fasting this Sunday.
However, let us take a deeper look at dehydration in a spiritual context and we will find some fascinating links to this week’s Parsha.
Dehydration is of course solved by drinking water. The question is, can you drink too much water? The answer is yes!
When you drink too much water, your kidneys can’t get rid of the excess water. The sodium content of your blood becomes diluted. This is called hyponatremia and it can be life-threatening. The recommended amount to drink daily is 1.5 – 2 litres of water, but if it is very hot, that number can be increased to 3 – 3.5 litres, obviously dependant on how much one sweats.
So, what are some of the spiritual lessons?
They walked for three days in the desert but did not find water. (Shemot 15:22).
The Midrash notes that water is often a metaphor for Torah and interprets the verse to mean that the Jews neglected Torah study. Based on this verse, we now never go more than three days without reading from the Torah.
Torah, like water, is our life blood, without it we cannot survive. However, can the question above be brought about Torah? You can drink too much water, so can you learn too much Torah?
For the answer to this, we need to turn to our parsha
Bilaam was no charlatan. He was a non-Jewish prophet with skills and abilities. The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba) declares that, whereas, one of the Jewish principles of faith is that no prophet arose over Israel as Moshe, one did rise over the non-Jews, namely Bilaam. The Midrash suggests that Hashem provided such a prolific prophet to the non-Jews so they will never be able to claim that they never had a prophet. They can’t claim that had they had one, they would have behaved differently.
So Bilaam goes to curse the Jewish people.
On the way his donkey sees angel blocking the path, he stops and Bilaam hits him.
After this scene repeated itself a couple of times, Hashem opened up the mouth of the donkey and she said to her master: “What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?” Bilaam responded: “Because you have mocked me! If there were a sword in my hand I would have killed you by now!”
Ultimately, Hashem uncovered Bilaam’s eyes and he saw the angel of Hashem standing on the road with his drawn sword. The angel chastised Bilaam for having unfairly beaten his donkey three times. Bilaam responded “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing opposite me on the road.”
Was this the right answer on Bilaam’s part? Bilaam should have said to the angel “Sorry, I didn’t see you! I thought my donkey got lazy.” What was the sin here? If one doesn’t see, it’s not his fault. He simply didn’t see!
The Malbim raises this question and explains that Bilaam’s sin was that he should have realized that there was an angel there. In other words, he confessed that had he thought about it, he SHOULD have come to the conclusion that an angel was present.
Under those circumstances, failing to understand that an angel was present was itself a sin. It is not sufficient to apologize and say “I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand.” That itself may have been your shortcoming. Perhaps you should have understood!
Bilaam was certainly an impressive individual, plenty of talent, but lacking in the crucial area of kedusha and piety. Someone on that level of prophecy SHOULD have seen the angel, all his knowledge and talent fell short.
Torah is our life, but it also meant to change us, mould us, shape us. A story is once told of how an excited student told Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl that he had gone through the entire Shas! Rav Moshe congratulated him but told him that it was wonderful that he had gone through the entire shas but enquired if the entire shas had gone through him? What was Rav Moshe asking? Are you different, better, more refined due to your learning of the Gemara?
We need water to live but drink too much and it can be dangerous. Is that analogous for Torah?
Torah is our life, but it is only healthy for us, if through that learning and observance we become better people, forging a closer connection to Hashem and creating a Kiddush Hashem. However, if we learn Torah but our actions and personality do not reflect the refined nature of a Torah personality, we then create a chillul Hashem, which becomes dangerous for the beauty of Torah to thrive. The fault is not with the Torah, which is perfect, the fault is with fallible human beings.
As Rabbi Marc Angel writes:
‘Religion has two faces. One face is that of saintliness, idealism, holiness and selflessness. But the other face is one of hatred, cruelty, selfishness and egotism. Within the world of religion, one can find the most exemplary human beings; but one can also find inquisitors and terrorists. In his play, “The Father,” August Strindberg has one of his characters state: “It is strange that as soon as you begin to talk about God and love, your voice becomes hard and your eyes full of hate.”
We know that Har Sinai was chosen for Hashem’s revelation because it is a low, humble mountain. Hashem wanted the recipients of Torah to appreciate the value of humility and to avoid the vice of arrogance. The Gemara (Shabbat 89a-b) links the word Sinai with the word Sinah—hatred. Those who emulate the ideals of Sinai are those who reflect the beautiful face of religion. Those who breach those ideals fall into the trap of Sinah, becoming hateful and jealous.’
Over Monday and Tuesday we need to drink – a lot, but as we hydrate ourselves we should reflect on the idea of the centrality of Torah in our lives, and the need for a daily connection. However, we should also reflect that if one keeps drinking Torah but we are not changing or bettering ourselves or worse creating a chillul Hashem then maybe we are heading down the route of Bilaam.
Our actions need to reflect the beauty of Torah, to act as a Kiddush Hashem which will cause the Bilaams of this world to proclaim.
‘How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel! They extend like streams, like gardens by the river, like aloes which the Lord planted, like cedars by the water. Water will flow from his wells, and his seed shall have abundant water.’ Bamidbar 24:5-7