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Home » Balak, Birth

Balak: The Power of Birth

Submitted by on June 22, 2010 – 12:21 amNo Comment | 1,944 views

The Individual

Billam stood on a hilltop overlooking the Jewish camp. He was brought there to curse the Jews, but as his gaze fell upon their camp he beheld a vista of sanctity, nobility and rectitude. He couldn’t bring himself to curse them. And when he was prompted, he spoke the truth; as he saw it and as revealed to him from on high. “A star has shot forth from Jacob: and a ruler has arisen in Israel.” (1)

Our sages understood the allegory of the shooting star in two ways. They saw it as a reference to the messianic age, which will usher in our redemption and ascendancy and they saw it as a reference to each of us; for in more ways than one, we are each a shooting star. (2)

When you think about these two interpretations you will see that they are linked. In a sense, it is the actions of the everyday Jew that ushers in the messianic era. The prophets spoke of this era as a time when the presence of G-d will be fully revealed in our world. (3) We work our way towards this revelation through the fulfillment of His commandments or mitzvahs; every time we perform a mitzvah, the statement of G-d’s omnipresence is made.

Birth

This statement is most manifest in the first of the six-hundred-and-thirteen commandments, the pwoer of birth - innerstreamnamely, “Be fruitful and multiply.” (4) Our sages taught that there is a heavenly chamber in which all the souls to be issued forth are stored. When this chamber is fully depleted, the Moshiach will arrive. (5)
 
The commandment to be fruitful is the first in the Torah and thus sets the precedent for all other commandment. Just as the fulfillment of the first commandment hastens the arrival of the messianic era so does the fulfillment of every other commandment. (6)

Furthermore, the commandment to be fruitful is not only the first of the commandments and their trendsetter; it is also their prototype. The fulfillment of any commandment is similar to that of propagating the world with children as we will soon see.

Moments of Issuance

Reflecting on the miracle of birth we realize that the issuance of a baby from the womb is not a moment of creation; but of transference. The baby was fully formed in its mother’s womb; no new feature was added to it at birth. The only thing accomplished by birth is the revelation of what was previously concealed in the womb.

This revelation is no small matter; it effects a transformation from fetus to child. This is because the baby, though fully formed in its mother’s womb is not independent from its mother; its nourishment and oxygen are supplied by the mother. The fetus only becomes a human being, when it comes into its own and that can only occur when it emerges from concealment and enters the real world.

In fact we can take this analysis one step further. Not only is the birthing event not a moment of creation, even the conception event is not a moment of creation. The moment the egg is fertilized a pre-embryo is formed and the physical process of formation begins, but the life pulse and character of the child, namely its soul, is not created at that moment. The soul has existed for millennia in a heavenly chamber and at conception merely descends.

The soul is revealed at conception. But once again, the moment of crossing the invisible line between the concealed and the revealed endows the soul with purpose. So long as the soul resided in the heavenly chamber it was of little use to G-d; it played no part in the Divine master plan. The moment it issues forth to occupy a little body it begins to play a unique and vital role.

The Hidden is Revealed

If this is true of birth, it is true of every mitzvah. Being fruitful is not only the first commandment because it is the first event in a person’s life, but because it serves as prototype for every other commandment. Every mitzvah accomplishes the task of teasing a latent Divine spark out of its concealed cocoon and raising it to the surface of the physical object with which the mitzvah is performed.

Let us use a glass of wine by way of example. The glass of wine is a physical substance like any other in this world. It can be used for one of many purposes. However, hidden deep in the spiritual bowels of the wine lays a latent Divine spark that is brought to the surface when a mitzvah is performed.

When I raise the glass of wine for the purpose of chanting the benediction of Kiddush, the wine becomes a vehicle through which G-d is served. At that moment the latent Divinity that was always embedded deep beneath its surface is activated and the wine becomes holy. A seemingly new dimension is created in the wine, but it is not truly created for it was always there; it is merely revealed.

As we perform more and more mitzvos around the world we issue forth more and more of these latent sparks. The net effect is a slow, but steady revelation of G-d’s presence in physical objects across the world. As each of these objects gives expression to its own Divinity, the collective awareness of G-d in our world spreads in a series of concentric and ever expanding circles.

Just like birth, which reveals the hitherto concealed, but fully existent, baby, so do the mitzvahs reveal the fully present, but hitherto concealed G-dliness in our world. As the net effect grows so does our collective awareness of G-d; leading us progressively closer to the messianic era, a time when the presence of G-d will be fully manifest in our world.

Two things now become clear. We now understand why our sages chose the mitzvah of birth to illustrate humanity’s incredible capacity to usher in the Messianic era. We also understand why the mystics compared the moment of redemption to that of birth. Indeed, at that time, full awareness of G-d will be born into our world. Another way of putting it, what is currently concealed will finally be revealed.

We are on a march; all of history has been a march. One that has led us slowly, but inexorably, to a glorious and wonderful time. May that day come soon. (7)

Footnotes

  1. Numbers 24: 17.
  2. Commentaries of Nachmanidies and Or Hachayim ad.
    loc. See also Jerusalem Talmud, Taanis, 4: 5. For the second
    interpretation see Jerusalem Talmud, Masser Sheni, 4: 6.
  3. Zachariah 13: 2.
  4. Genesis 1: 28.
  5. Babylinian Talmud, Yevamos, 62a.
  6. See Tanya ch. 36. This is especially poignant in
    light of a teaching from one of the early Chassidic Masters, Reb Nochum
    of Chernobel citing the Baal Shem Tov (Meor Enayim Parshas Pinchas) that
    a spark from the collective soul of Moshiach is found in each of our
    souls. When we perform a mitzvah the spark of Moshiach within our soul
    is activated, which in turn activates the Moshiach dimension, namely the
    capacity to reveal the presence of the creator to His creation, in our
    mitzvah.
  7. This essay is based on Toras menachem v. 34 pp.
    102-103.
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