Balak: This Is the End, Beautiful Friend, the End ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Parshas בָּלָק

This Is the End, Beautiful Friend, the End

קֵץ: end

מִקֵץ: the end

קָצָה detestable

שִׁקְצְה: goya/non-Jewish woman

מוּקְצֶה: not to be moved on Shabbos

שֶׁקֶץ: detestable

שְׁקָצִים: detestable things

קוֹץ: thorn, sharp end

קַיִץ : summertime

וַיָּקָץ מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
And Moav became disgusted because of the Children of Israel.

קֵץ: End

Usually, a word that contains the letters קץ has a connotation of “end” or bringing closer to the end: קוֹצֶר רוּחַ/shortness of breath; קָצִיר/to harvest, i.e., to cut short the crop; בְּקִיצֻר/to be brief, to cut short one’s words; קָצַב/fixed time, has an end; עוֹקֶץ/stem, the end of the tree; קְצִין/chief, commander, one who stands at the edge of the battle; קוֹצֵץ/to chop.

Life by definition has a beginning and an end. To some people, the end is the end; there is nothing beyond the boundaries. This idea can be very scary. Death is a subject that one tends to stay away from, something מוּקְצֶה/off-limits, taboo, detestable, and ugly, where just thinking about it leaves one scared and קוֹצֶר רוּחַ/short of breath. Nobody wants to think of a time when he will no longer exist. Death for some people is their number one fear.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱ-לֹהִים לְנֹחַ קֵץ כָּל בָּשָׂר בָּא לְפָנַי כִּי מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ חָמָס
And Hashem said to Noach, the time has come for the end of all flesh, because the earth is full of thievery.

The Kli Yakar comments on the words קֵץ כָּל בָּשָׂר, where קֵץ is a pseudonym for the מַלְאַךְ הַמָוֶת/the Angel of Death and also the יֵצֶר הָרַע/evil inclination.

Amalek is also compared to the yetzer hara who sits at the extremities of the heart waiting for an opening. He only has the strength to attack the tail end, the ones lagging behind, the ones who are weak in their yiras Shamayim/fear of Heaven.

Since the yetzer hara is not really who we are, it is detestable to us, for things that we like we desire, but things that are not part of us we abhor. The yetzer hara, in fact, desires our end. When we are in touch with who we really are, i.e., a spark of the Divine, then we are connected to the אֵין סוֹף/the Infinite, literally, “without end.” The contrast is stark: Hashem is the אֵין סוֹף/without end, whereas the yetzer hara is known as the קֵץ/end because it desires our קֵץ and it is detestable to us — lashon קָצָה. 

מִקֵץ: The End

וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ שְׁנָתַיִם יָמִים.
Rashi: all lashon קֵץ is “the end.”
Ohr HaChaim: קֵץ is a name for חוֹשֶׁך/darkness, whereמִקֵּץ  refers to Yosef being locked up in darkness because of the קֵץ/the yetzer hara.

קָצָה: Detestable

וְנַפְשֵׁנוּ קָצָה בַּלֶּחֶם.
Rashi: lashon קוֹצֶר רוּחַ/shortness of spirit and detesting.

שִׁקְצֶה: Goya, Non-Jewish Woman

וַתֹּאמֶר רִבְקָה אֶל יִצְחָק קַצְתִּי בְחַיַּי מִפְּנֵי בְּנוֹת חֵת
And Rivkah said to Yitzchak, “It would be detestable for Yaakov to marry the daughters of Chais”  from the Canaanite nation, i.e., to marry out of the family, because marrying a שִׁקְצֶה/shiktzah is considered detestable. A shiktzah is not only off-limits like מוּקְצֶה, but she will also cut short a man’s eternal life — literally, she will be the end of him.

מוּקְצֶה: Off-Limits on Shabbos

Just like a shiktzah is off-limits, so too objects that are off-limits on Shabbos are called מוּקְצֶה. 

שֶׁקֶץ, שְׁקָצִים: Detestable

שֶׁקֶץ הֵם לָכֶם  — this section of the Torah discusses all things that are detestable to eat.

קוֹץ: Thorn, Sharp End

וַיָּקֻצוּ מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל/and the Egyptians were disgusted with the proliferation of the children of Israel. Rashi brings the Midrash that says the word וַיָּקֻצוּ is compared to קוֹצִים/thorns, in that we were like thorns in their eyes.

The Kli Yakar says that the קוֹצִים/thorns were referring to the Egyptians who themselves felt like thorns obstructing the way of the Bnei Yisrael. Despite the Egyptians’ plan to decrease the numbers of the Bnei Yisrael through hard work and slavery, the will of Hashem prevailed, and instead their numbers increased [פֶּן יִרְבֶּה, כֵּן יִרְבֶּה]. When they saw that their strategy had failed, they felt that Hashem was clearing out Egypt of Egyptians and replacing them instead with the Jewish Nation, like clearing a field of its thorns in preparation for the seeds to grow. 

In a way, the Egyptians felt so disgusted because they were witnessing the possible end of their existence in that the land would soon be taken over by the Jews. In the same way as the Egyptians were disgusted, so too were the Moabites: וַיָּקָץ מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. They were disgusted by the vast numbers of the Bnei Yisrael and were now faced with the prospect of their own annihilation — their end was in sight.

We find disgusting anything that will bring us close to the end. We don’t usually contemplate a time when we will no longer exist. We go about our lives as if we have all the time in the world. If suddenly we were told by the doctor that we had contracted a terminal illness, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, we would feel immense trepidation and be in a state of קוֹצֶר רוּחַ/panic. 

To a non-believer, or to one who is so connected to the pleasures of this world, the end is the end: “…this is the end…” When we are really enjoying life, like the summer vacation, we don’t want it to end.

If someone had a magic potion, an elixir of life that would grant eternal life, he would be a billionaire. Yet many of us fall short of realizing and appreciating that we already have the opportunity for eternal life. Hashem has given us the Torah, עֵץ חַיִּים הִיא לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ/it is a tree of life to those who grasp it; it is the key that opens up the world to אֵין סוֹף.

קַיִץ: Summertime

To what end is the fly? Hashem created it for a purpose. The fly is compared to the יֵצֶר הָרַע, so too the קֵץ is compared to the יֵצֶר הָרַע and so too the מַלְאַךְ הַמָוֶת/the Angel of Death, because the purpose of the יֵצֶר הָרַע is to shorten our lives, to bring us down — it desires our end. The מַלְאַךְ הַמָוֶת comes at the end.

The reason there are so many flies in the summertime is because the יֵצֶר הָרַע is working overtime; it has to work so much harder. In the חוֹרֶף/winter of our lives when we are young, we are all יֵצֶר, untamed and wild, and the יֵצֶר הָרַע is not so concerned with us. Come the summer of our lives, (קַיִץ being lashon קֵץ), when we are in the process of developing fruits, then there is a proliferation of flies, fruit flies, trying to destroy and spoil our beautiful fruits represented by our good deeds. 

Summertime is also when it is hot and when desire is at its peak. The end of the summer is the hottest, שִׁילְהֵי דְקַייטִא קַשִׁיָא מֵקַייטִא, meaning that just at the very end is when the יֵצֶר הָרַע gives its last-ditched attack to try to bring us down — similar to an arm wrestle or a tug-of-war, where before we give up, we give it our all. This is why our Sages say that we should never trust in ourselves until the day we die, for we always have to be on guard against the temptations of the יֵצֶר הָרַע.

The reason the יֵצֶר הָרַע comes on so strongly at the end is because a man is judged where he will be at the end, הַכָּל הוֹלֵך אַחַר הַסוֹף. The tzaddikim, after they have passed on, are likened to the stars that only shine when it is dark, because until they die we never know for sure if they will stay on the true path or be deceived at the end, as was the case with Yochanan Kohen Gadol. 

Just like there is a purpose to בְּרֵאשִׁית/the beginning, so too there is a purpose to the end. Knowing there is an end should motivate us to take life seriously, to value it, and not to waste time. At the end, we will stand before Hashem and be judged. It is our day of reckoning. We have done the test of life; now is the time to be marked. Will our account be in a plus or in a minus?

The purpose of the קֵץ, representing the יֵצֶר הָרַע, is to challenge us. He is, in effect, our friend. Although he is programmed to seek our end, or to bring short our end, in essence he only desires for us to overcome him. There is a mashal for the yetzer hara: Hashem has a beautiful princess whom He sends out of the palace in order to tempt man. The princess does not want to overcome man but to give man the opportunity to overcome her and be victorious over her.

So really she is our friend; wherever we go she goes. She will be there at the end, and then we will realize that she was our friend all along. חָבֵר/Friend is lashon חִיבּוּר/connection, and there is no greater חִיבּוּר than the yetzer hara who is so closely intertwined within us. At the end of our lives perhaps she will say: “This is the end, beautiful friend, the end…my only friend, the end!” 

On the other hand, the one who has wasted his life will cause the מַלְאַךְ הַמָוֶת/the Angel of Death to stand up on his day of reckoning and point out all of his weaknesses and deficiencies. He will feel disgusted with himself when he realizes the truth: that he wasted his whole life and that now it is too late to do anything about it. He will be disgusted with himself because for him it is truly the end.

Our sages inform us that we are rapidly approaching the End of Days at six thousand years, where not only man recalls his end, but the time comes for the world to end and regenerate. As we said before, the sign that the tug-of-war and the arm wrestle is coming to an end is when the weaker one, in a last-ditched attempt, throws in everything he’s got. If we open up our eyes and take a look around us, it is quite obvious that our opponent is throwing at us everything he’s got. No other generation has had to contend with the blatant full-on attack methods that we find so readily available at our fingertips today.

In יִגְדַל we say, יִשְׁלַח לְקֵץ הַיָּמִין מְשִׁיחֵנוּ, לִפְדּוֹת מְחַכֵּי קֵץ יְשׁוּעָתוֹ. Rather than be disgusted with our lives, hopefully we will be counted among the ones who will be redeemed because we have patiently awaited the redemption, the end of days, when Hashem will send His right-hand man, the Mashiach, בִּמְהֵרָה בְּיָמֵינוּ אָמֵן.

1 Bamidbar 22:3.

2 Bereishis 6:13.

3 Ibid., 41:1.

4 Bereishis Rabbah 89:1; see Iyov 28:3.

5 Bamidbar 21:5.

6 Bereishis 27:46.

7 Vayikra 11:10.

8 Shemos 1:12.

9 Shemos Rabbah 1:11 and Sotah 11a.

10 Mishlei 3:18.

11 Yoma 29a.

12 Avos 2:4.

13 Kli Yakar to Shemos 1:1.

14 Brachos 29a.

Balak: A Collection of Curses ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

The Torah says, “A judge shall you not curse and a prince/king in your nation shall you not curse” (Ex. 22:27). This passage forbids cursing a judge or king because one might otherwise be tempted to do so if the judge or king does something against one’s own personal interests. In other words, if a judge rules against somebody in court or a king makes a decree which negatively impacts a given individual, that person might vent his frustrations by “cursing” the relevant authority. In order to offset this attitude, the Torah expressly forbids cursing a justice or sovereign. Interestingly, in this context, the Torah uses two different words for “curse”. Regarding the judge, the Torah uses the word kelalah to denote cursing, while regarding the king, the Torah uses the word arur. Why, in the same verse, does the Torah switch from using one word to using the other?

The Vilna Gaon explains that there is a difference between the word kelalah and arur. The word kelalah, while colloquially used to mean “curse”, is literally a diminutive which one might invoke to belittle another, but is not truly a “curse”. The word kelalah is related to the Hebrew word kal which means “light” or “easy” as one who offers a kelelah about another essentially dismisses him as someone unimportant. When discussing one “cursing” a judge, the Torah uses the word kelalah because in general the harm a judge can do to an individual is not usually so damaging (especially given that society always strives to appoint upright judges), so his “victim” will merely suffice with disparaging the judge and need not actually curse him.

However, when discussing an individual who feels wronged by a king, the Torah uses the word arur because a king’s powers are more overreaching than those of a judge, so he can potentially hurt somebody more than a judge can (especially given that kingship is commonly an inherited position and the king’s moral standing is generally irrelevant). In such a case of grave maltreatment, one might be tempted to actually curse the king, not just disparage him. Because of this, the Torah uses the more intense word arur when warning one not to curse a king.

Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg writes that arur is a broad, all-encompassing curse that wishes all sorts of calamities and misfortunates to befall one’s adversary, while a kelalah is the word for a specific type of curse and cannot be used to stand alone. In other words, one who curses another with an arur can simply declare that an arur shall befall him, while one who offers a kelalah must specify in what way that curse should affect his victim (i.e. he offers a kelalah that…).

Furthermore, Rabbi Mecklenburg writes that an arur can apply to something abstract while a kelalah can only apply to something which physically exists. Based on this, Rabbi Mecklenburg explains G-d’s promise to Abraham in which He says (Genesis 12:3), “whoever curses (kelelah) you, I will curse (arur)”. G-d promises to protect Abraham so much so that whoever curses Abraham with a more specific curse—a kelalah—will receive in return an all-encompassing curse (arur) from Above.

There are two more words found in the Bible to mean curse: kavah and allah. How do these words differ from the other words that mean “curse”?

Malbim explains that kavah refers to a general curse in which one declares a certain individual and everything pertaining to him “cursed”. Furthermore, Malbim explains that kavah denotes a curse uttered in public in which the name of the cursed is stated explicitly (e.g. see Num. 1:17), while an arur does not have such connotations. On the other hand, arur refers to the practical ramifications of a curse manifested in a specific element of one’s victim (for example, his body or his property). It is related to the Hebrew word mearah which means “decrease” (see Deut. 28:20) and refers to a reduction in the net yield of, for example, his property as a result of a curse.

Regarding the curse-word allah, Radak explains that an allah is specifically a type of curse in which one expressly invokes G-d to carry out the misfortune. Rabbi Mecklenburg disagrees with this assessment and instead explains that an allah is a curse with conditions. Meaning, if one imposes a curse with certain stipulations (e.g., “whoever does such-and-such should be cursed”), that curse is called an allah.language.png

Balak: A Hollow Curse – Yehoshua Steinberg

Num. 22:11 – Behold! The people coming out of Egypt has covered the surface of the earth. Now go and curse (קבה) them for me; perhaps I will be able to make war against them and drive them away.

The word קבה, which means ‘to curse’, appears 10 times in this week’s Parsha. According to Ribag and Radak, this word derives from the root קבב. According to this opinion, our Parsha is the only place in Scripture where this word is used, while a similar word for cursing based on the root נקב is found in Job 3:8, ibid. 5:3 and Prov. 11:26,. However, Menachem Ben Soruk considers all of these words to be based on the same root קב (he includes all of the above mentioned verses in a single subdivision [of six such sub-sections] that are attributed to that root).

It is interesting to note that there is a verse towards the end of the Parsha that includes two other words containing the letters קב:

Num. 25:8 – He followed the Israelite man into the tent (הקבה) and pierced them both, the Israelite man and the woman into her stomach (קבתה).

The first word קבה is interpreted as meaning a tent, a singular word in this sense in all of Scripture. The meaning of the word קבתה is subject to various interpretations, some of which would indicate that it is also a unique word.

Returning to the discussion regarding the word קבה in the sense of a curse, Yeriot Shlomo (2:28b) explains that it indicates a curse which specifies G-d’s name, based on the verse in Leviticus 24:16 וְנֹקֵב שֵׁם השם.

Others interpret קבה based on the word נקב which indicates stabbing or piercing in the sense that the cursed person becomes empty and hollow (see Hirsch Numbers 22:11). We find the root נקב meaning curse in other places in Tanach (see Job 3:8, ibid. 5:3 and Proverbs 11:26)1. It seems that the above mentioned dispute stems from the two different meanings attributed to words that incorporate the letters קב.

1) To stab or penetrate – as seen in Kings II 12:10 and Isaiah 36:62

2) To fix or state explicitly – as seen in Genesis 30:28, Onkelos ad loc., Numbers 1:17, Onkelos ad loc., Isaiah 62:2, Radak ad loc., Amos 6:1, Metzudos Tzion ad loc.

Rav Hirsch (Gen. 30:27-30) finds difficulty in identifying a single underlying principle for these two disparate meanings.

We will discuss 10 different words that share the letters קב. We can group these words into two categories, 1) The first 6 which relate to the idea of a hole or cavity 2) The last 4 which relate to fixing or limiting. The following are the 10 words that we will analyze.

‘קבב’ 2. ‘נקב’ 3. ‘יקב’ 4. ‘קב’ 5. ‘רקב’ 6. ‘קבר’ 7. ‘קבע’ 8. ‘עקב’ 9. ‘קבץ’ 10. ‘קבל’1.

  1. KVV קבב – This root means to curse according to Radak, who cites three examples of this usage in our Parsha (Numbers 23:8, 23:13 and 23:27). As we saw above from Rav Hirsch, the common theme may be the desire of the curser to render cursee pierced/empty/hollow.

As mentioned above, this root appears twice in Numbers 25:8 with two different meanings: a) .s this same root twice whcurse ם, ‘יס, שנת רס תולדותן ק ון.   לקללה הנראת ‘קבה’. the first appearance, קבה, is interpreted to mean a tent, which is a unique usage in Tanach. b) the second appearance, קבתה, has three possible interpretations: 1. Stomach (as in Deut. 18:3. So interprets Onkelos in Numbers 25:8). 2. Tent[1] (similar to the word used at the beginning of the verse). 3. Female genitals (Sanhedrin 82b, Chulin 134b) (we find elsewhere the stomach being used as a euphemism for such, e.g. Ibn Ezra Genesis 15:4).

It is interesting to note that each of these three interpretations fits with the underlying meaning of an empty space or a hole (קבה in the sense of curse being interpreted as a desire to “empty” the cursee, as above).

  1. NKV נקב – As mentioned above, this word can have three different meanings; 1. A hole or cavity 2. To fix the terms of an agreement 3. To curse.
  2. YKV יקב – Generally refers to a vineyard. Rashi (Numbers 18:27) explains that this word technically refers to the pit into which the wine flows from the winepress.
  3. KV קב – A Scriptural measure of volume, equivalent to four לוג (Rashi Numbers 16:36). That is, a measure of the empty space corresponding to this volume.
  4. RKV רקב – The name of a type of worm. This usage is based on the nature of this worm to eat wood thereby carving out a cavity. (Hosea 5:12, Rashi ad loc.[2]; see also Avot DeRebbi Natan addendum to version 1 chapter 9). רקוב means spoiled or rotten; this may stem from the רקב worm that eats through and ruins wood.
  5. KVR קבר – A grave, which is a cavity in the ground in which a dead person is buried. (The word קבר is a permutation of רקב; this similarity is the basis for the ruling of the Talmud Yerushalmi that, in certain circumstances, deteriorated matter causes Tuma (ritual impurity) (Talmud Yerushalmi Nazir 7:2, Pnei Mosh ad loc., Bartenura on the Mishna Nazir 7:2).
  6. KVA קבע – This word can have three different meanings: 1. A goblet (Isaiah 51:17, Rashi ad loc. Others interpret it as referring to the residue at the bottom of the cup). 2. A helmet (I Samuel 17:38, see Metzudot Zion to 17:5 there). 3. Theft (Malachi 3:8, Rashi ad loc. Ibn Ezra points out that it can also have a related meaning, to inflict a wound. (Ibn Ezra Proverbs 22:23). All three meanings are related to the fundamental idea of a setting limitations. 1. A goblet can contain a limited volume of liquid. 2. A helmet must be fitted to the size of the person’s head. 3. Theft also relates to the fact that you are limiting the possessions of the victim (in the context of the above mentioned verse, the Jews were cutting  back on the required apportionment of tithes).
  7. AKV עקב – One meaning of this word is delay[3] (Job 37:4, Targum Yonatan ad loc., Ralbag ad loc.). This relates to the idea of withholding or limiting progress. (Note: there are those who interpret the word ויעקביני in Genesis 27:36 as synonymous with ויעכבני despite the replacement of the כ with a ק. See Gen. Rabba 67:4, Tiferet Tzion ad loc., Ramban to Leviticus 23:28, Radak to Psalms 89:52[4]).
  8. KVTZ קבץ – To gather. Chazal indicate that the word קבץ is related to the word קמץ, also meaning to gather, based on the principle that the phonetically related letters בומ”ף can be interchangeable (Ketuvot 77a, Psikta Zutra Lekach Tov to Genesis 41:47)[5].
  9. קבל – This word has two meanings: 1. To receive. This word also relates to limiting the object’s freedom of motion (Ezra 8:30, Chronicles 12:18, Proverbs 19:20). 2. To stand opposite to (Numbers 19:5, Kings II 15:10, Radak ad loc., Ezekiel 26:9). This meaning is also related to the idea of setting limitations because something standing between two opposing bodies is limited to a specific place, e.g. a river that flows between the two banks of the river.

We mentioned above RSR Hirsch’s difficulty with the apparent lack of connection between the various meanings of the word נקב. We can now suggest that just as the word קבע can be used to mean theft or injury because it limits the possessions or activity of one’s fellow, so too the word נקב can mean a curse, because such action is designed to limit the victim’s ability to succeed – in short to “peg” him in a fixed hole, as it were. So too in the phrase נוקב השם one could be said to be, G-d forbid, attempting to assign a limit to G-d’s capabilities[6].

There seems to be an interesting connection between the word קבה used in the beginning of the Parsha and the words הַקֻּבָּה and קֳבָתָהּ used at the end of the Parsha. The Midrash Tanchuma (Balak Chapter 8) points out that Balak initially used the word ארה for ‘curse’ when a requested that Balak curse the Jews. Bilam, however, substituted a different word קבה to mean curse in his response to Balak. The significance of this substitution can be appreciated based on the Midrash Rabba (20:7) which points out that the word ארה can also mean to harvest figs. The unique aspect of harvesting figs as contrasted with other fruits is that figs do not ripen simultaneously, thus they must be harvested individually. Likewise, Balak’s strategy was to curse each person individually and not the nation as a unit, in the same manner that Amalek began by attacking the weaker individual Jews ‘כל הנחשלים’. Bilam, however, felt that a different strategy would be more successful and that was to entice them all to succumb to desire and immorality. This is hinted at in his choice of the word קבה which relates to the words הקבה and קבתה which allude to the sin of immorality. This idea is also hinted at in the blessing that Bilam was forced to give the Jews ‘מה טובו אהלך יעקב’ ‘How goodly are your tents, Oh Jacob’. The sanctity of the Jewish home was the source of their strength and its contamination would bring about their downfall.

The word used here for tent is אהל which can also mean light (as in the verse in Job 25:5), to indicate the sanctity of the Jewish home. On the other hand, in the verse describing the sin of immorality the word קבתה is used to hint at the disgrace of the קבה which refers to the act of immorality. Unfortunately, this plot of Bilam succeeded in causing the destruction of a 24,000 Jews in Shittim.

We pray that the sanctity of the Jewish home will return to its full glory and will become a beacon of light to the nations. May this be fulfilled speedily in our times.

Shabbat shalom, Yehoshua Steinberg, Veromemanu Foundation for research of the Holy Tongue.



[1]  [ראב”ע כאן בבלק. ובאור חדש הציע שנקרא האהל כן בדרך לשון נופל על לשון מטעם  מקולל (בגין שימושו)].

[2]  [השוה גם משלי יב:ד].

[3]  [בענין המשותף לכל הוראות ‘עקב’, ראה מאמרינו לפרשת תולדות].

[4]  [כך פירשו שם]: רד”ק תה’ פט:נב – חרפו עקבות משיחך, הִתְאַחֲרוּת מְשִׁיחֲךָ, שֶׁמִּתְאַחֵר כל כך לבוא ואומרים שלא יבוא לעולם. וכן: וְלֹא יְעַקְּבֵם כִּי יִשָּׁמַע קוֹלוֹ (איוב לז:ד), ולא יְאַחֲרֵם, כי עקב הוא אחרית הגוף וסופו.

[5]  [וכן משמע מריב”ג ורד”ק (ערך ‘קמץ’)].

[6]  [הכוה”ק (במ’ יא:ד) מציע הקבלה לכך]: וּקְדוֹשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל הִתְווּ (תה’ עח:מא) – [נסיון להגביל את כחו ית’ ח”ו].