“Parsha and Purpose” – Balak 5782
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha
“The Two-Way Journey Connecting the Mundane and the Holy”
Parshat Chukat (Diaspora) / Balak (Israel)
The Two-Way Journey Connecting the Mundane and the Holy
In the Ethics of Our Fathers (Pirkei Avot), we are told that at the end of the first Friday of creation – a few moments before Shabbat, during bein hashmashot (twilight) – God created ten things:
עֲשָׂרָה דְבָרִים נִבְרְאוּ בְּעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת בֵּין הַשְּׁמָשׁוֹת, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן:
פִּי הָאָרֶץ, וּפִי הַבְּאֵר, וּפִי הָאָתוֹן, וְהַקֶּשֶׁת, וְהַמָּן, וְהַמַּטֶּה, וְהַשָּׁמִיר, וְהַכְּתָב, וְהַמִּכְתָּב, וְהַלּוּחוֹת…
Ten things were created on the eve of the Sabbath at twilight, and these are they:  the mouth of the earth,  the mouth of the well,  the mouth of the donkey,  the rainbow,  the manna,  the staff [of Moses],  the shamir,  the letters,  the writing,  and the tablets… [Avot 5:6] Translation: Sefaria
One of these items includes the “pi ha’aton”, the mouth of the donkey that features in the dialogue between the donkey and Bil’am in this week’s Torah portion of Balak. [Numbers 22]
Why does God wait until the last minute of creation to create these ten things? Because the twilight period, “bein hashmashot”, has a unique identity: it carries some of the energy of the day prior, some of the energy of the forthcoming night, and indeed, it really has its own energy.
Twilight between Friday and Shabbat is the living bridge between the mundane and the ethereal, the idea of bringing the holy into the mundane and recognizing that the holy has no importance without the everyday.
Each of these ten things represent an article used to create this living bridge.
Let’s take, for example, the donkey. The Tanach mentions ten instances of a person using a donkey on a journey, and in none of those occasions does the person reach their destination.
Avraham takes Yitzchak to sacrifice him with a donkey in Akeidat Yitzchak, the binding of Isaac; they do not reach the destination (of completing that mission). [Genesis 22:3, 5]
Moshe brings his family back to Egypt on a donkey; that destination is not reached. [Exodus 4:20]
Bil’am travels to curse the Jewish people on a donkey; that destination, too, is not reached. [Numbers 22]
The message is that we should focus is on the values of the journey, not the destination. The values of the journey that define us. Because many times in our lives, we are not able to achieve the destination, but the journey is still important.
The idea that the rainbow (see Mishna, above) was created during this twilight period highlights the fact that the rainbow represents the idea that no matter how much of a dissonance there may be between spirituality and the way humankind is running the world, there will never be a total break that will cause God to destroy the world. [Genesis 9:13-17]
There is always the hope that spirituality will play a role in the everyday.
The idea that the Hebrew letters (see Mishna, above) were created during this period of time is so that we can have a Torah that gives us the capacity to be able to live in the everyday with values, with ideals.
The idea that the “shamir” (worm) (see Mishna, above) that was used to cut the stones of the First Temple [Talmud, Gittin 68a], highlights the idea that the Temple represents a place where God can engage with both the Jew and all of society, where we can live in the “bein hashmashot” (twilight) between the everyday: between Friday and between Shabbat.
The idea behind every one of these ten items is the fact that they represent our mandate as Jews and as human beings, to be “bein hashmashot Jews”, to be “bein hashmashot people”. We must be able to live between Friday and Shabbat, to be able to live in two worlds at the same time, the everyday world, and the spiritual world.
Bil’am forgets this. His donkey reminds him, and therefore, while his donkey and Bil’am never achieve their goal, it reminds all of us that it’s the values that we bring to our journey that defines if we truly live in the “bein hashmashot” between Friday and Shabbat, where we can exchange the energies between both paradigms that allows us to change the world around us.