Have Blessings Will Travel

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Lech Lecha
Have Blessings Will Travel

This parsha begins with Hashem blessing Avraham Avinu. One of the verses says, “And I will bless those who bless you, Umekalelcha A’ore (and those who curse you, I will curse; 12:3).

The Ba’al Haturim (ibid) says that the words “Mekalelcha A’ore” (spelled without any vovs) is numerically 422, which is the same exact gematria as the words, “Bilaam Haba Lekalel Banecha” (Bilaam who came to curse your children).

It is evident that the Ba’al Haturim is drawing a connection between the blessings which Avraham received and the curses which Bilaam attempted to curse the Jewish people with. The question is, “What is the connection between the blessing which Avraham received and the curses with which Bilaam wanted to harm the Jewish people?”

Moreover, there is a perplexing Midrash Pliyah which quotes a verse which says, “Each man by his flag according to the osos (signs) of their fathers’ household [will they encamp;” Parshas Bamidbar, 2:2]. The Midrash comments on this verse by saying that we should not only read the word as “osos” (signs), but rather we should read the word as “osiyos” (letters). The Midrash concludes, “Therefore Bilaam said, ‘How can I curse – God has not cursed’” (Parshas Balak, 23:8).

This Midrash is baffling. What did the Midrash mean when it changed the word “osos” to “osiyos?” What letters was the Midrash referring to? Additionally, whatever letters the Midrash was referring to, what was the connection between those letters and Bilaam?

The Apter Rebbe (Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel, 1748 Poland-1825 Ukraine) in his Sefer Oheiv Yisrael cites the Rama M’Fano (Rabbi Menachem Azaria of Fano, Italy, 1548-1620) in his sefer Asara Ma’amaros who says that when the Jewish people were in the wilderness, they encamped around the Mishkan (Sanctuary).

The Mishkan was in the shape of a rectangle. Therefore, it had four sides. There were three Shvatim (tribes) encamped on each side of the Mishkan. Thus, there were twelve tribes encamped surrounding the Mishkan.

In Parshas Bamidbar (2:1-31) it lists which Shvatim were encamped on which side of the Mishkan. The order of those sides was east, south, west, and north. We will briefly list the Shvatim which encamped on each side of the Mishkan.

ON THE EASTERN SIDE:

Yehuda, Yissachar, and Zevulun.

ON THE SOUTHERN SIDE:

Reuven, Shimon, and Gad.

ON THE WESTERN SIDE:

Efrayim, Menashe, and Binyamin.

ON THE NORTHERN SIDE:

Dan, Asher, and Naftali.

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba, Parshas Bamidbar, 2:7) tells us that each Sheivet had its own flag. Each flag was a different color, and each flag had on it a different emblem.

However, each side had one Sheivet which served as the chief in command of that side. Here is a list of who they were.

ON THE EASTERN SIDE: Sheivet Yehuda was in command.

ON THE SOUTHERN SIDE: Sheivet Reuven was in command.

ON THE WESTERN SIDE: Sheivet Efrayim was in command.

ON THE NORTHERN SIDE: Sheivet Dan was in command.

The four flags which belonged to these four chief tribes were considered to be the primary flags of those respective sides. There was something unique about those four primary flags. Besides having their own distinctive colors and emblems, they also had printed on them the letters of the names of the Avos Hakedoshim: Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov.

We will briefly list which letters from the names of the Avos that appeared on these four different flags.

ON THE FLAG OF YEHUDA, THE FIRST COMMNADER-IN-CHIEF:

The first letter of each name of each of the Avos was printed on this flag. The first letter of Avraham’s name is an aleph. The first letter of Yitzchak’s name is a yud, and the first letter of Ya’akov’s name is also a yud. Therefore, the letters ALEPH – YUD – YUD appeared on the degel (flag) of Yehuda.

ON THE FLAG OF REUVEN, THE SECOND COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF:

The second letter of each name of each of the Avos was printed on this flag. The second letter in Avraham’s name is a beis. The second letter in Yitzchak’s name is a tzadi, and the second letter of Ya’akov’s name is an ayin. Therefore, the letters BEIS – TZADI – AYIN appeared on the degel of Reuven.

ON THE FLAG OF EFRAYIM, THE THIRD COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF:

The third letter of each name of each of the Avos was printed on this flag. The third letter in Avraham’s name is a reish. The third letter in Yitzchak’s name is a ches, and the third letter in Ya’akov’s name is a kuf. Therefore, the letters REISH – CHES – KUF appeared on the degel of Efrayim.

ON THE FLAG OF DAN, THE LAST COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF:

The last letter of each name of each of the Avos was printed on this flag. The last letter in Avraham’s name is a mem. The last letter of Yitzchak’s name is a kuf, and the last letter of Ya’akov’s name is a beis. Therefore, the letters MEM – KUF – BEIS appeared on the degel of Dan.

By now you may be wondering about one of the letters from the names of the Avos that was not accounted for. You see, Yitzchak’s name is comprised of four Hebrew letters, and Ya’akov’s name is also made up of four Hebrew letters. Therefore, it is very convenient that each one of their four letters was divided up amongst the four primary flags of the four sides of the Mishkan.

However, Avraham’s name is comprised of five Hebrew letters, and the letter hey of Avraham was not accounted for. Whatever became of the letter hey in Avraham’s name?

The Oheiv Yisrael and Rama M’Fano say that the letter hey of Avraham’s name hovered over all of the encampments of the Jewish people and brought three gifts to them. They were:

1) Protection from Bilaam’s curses.

2) Parnassah (livelihood).

3) Children.

There is a hint in a verse which supports this idea that the letter hey contains an energy which helps with parnassah and children. In Parshas Vayigash (47:23), Yosef said, “Hey Lachem Zera” (Here is seed for you). Simplistically speaking, Yosef was providing seeds for the Egyptians. However, one can also understand these words a little differently. “Hey Lachem Zera” can also mean that through the letter Hey, you (lachem) can benefit from zera which can refer to two things. Zera can refer to seeds which bring produce and parnassah, and zera can also refer to children. According to this way of reading the verse, we see that there is a connection between the letter hey and parnassah and between the letter hey and children.

There is another hint which supports this idea that the letter hey has the ability of bringing people children. When analyzing our holy Matriarchs, although Sarah and Rivkah were childless at first; nevertheless, they eventually gave birth because of the fact that they all had the letter hey in their names. The letter hey is the last letter of the name Sarah, and the letter hey is also the last letter of the name Rivkah. Leah gave birth right away because the last letter of her name is a hey.

However, Rochel did not have a letter hey in her name. Therefore, Rochel could not have a child until she said to Ya’akov, “Here is my maid Bilhaa, come to her that she may bear upon my knees, and I too may build up through her” (Parshas Vayeitzei, 30:3).

The reason why Rochel was only zochah to a child after bringing Bilhaa into the family was because Bilhaa has two “heys” in her name. One hey was for Bilhaa and the other hey was for Rochel.

Prior to making Bilhaa one of Ya’akov’s wives, Rochel was barren. The Hebrew word for barren is “akarah” which is spelled ayin, kuf, reish, and hey. When you move the last letter hey away from the rest of the word, it spells, “Akar – Hey” which means that the letter hey was uprooted (akar). Rochel was an akarah because she had no hey in her name. But with the Bilhaa addition to the family, that was taken care of.

The Radvaz (Rabbi Dovid ben Zimra, 1479 Spain – 1573 Tzfas), in his Sefer Magen Dovid, brings a proof to this idea that the letter hey has a spiritual energy which can help people have children.

He points to a Midrash (Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Lech Lecha, 44:10; Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzchak) which says, “Avram will not have a child. Avraham will have a child. Sarai will not be able to give birth. Sarah will be able to give birth. Therefore, the verse says, ‘Do not call her name Sarai, for Sarah is her name’ (Parshas Lech Lecha, 17:15), ‘And I will bless her and I will give you a son through her’” (Parshas Lech Lecha, 17:16).

It is clear from this Midrash that the letter hey possesses the power to bring people children.

At this point, let us get back to the letters on the flags of the four chief tribes who were encamped on each of the four sides of the Mishkan, because we must speak about them a little bit more.

We said above that on the first side of the Mishkan, on Degel Machaneh Yehuda, the first letters of the Avos’ names were found. Those letters were ALEPH – YUD – YUD.

On the second side of the Mishkan, on Degel Machaneh Reuven, the second letters of the Avos’ names were found. Those letters were BEIS – TZADI – AYIN.

On the third side of the Mishkan, on Degel Machaneh Efrayim, the third letters of the Avos’ names were found. Those letters were REISH – CHES – KUF.

On the final side of the Mishkan, on Degel Machaneh Don, the final letters of the Avos’ names were found. Those letters were MEM – KUF – BEIS.

There seems to be a strong question that can be raised about all of this. Degel Machaneh Don was not just the final side of the Mishkan, he was more specifically the fourth side of the Mishkan. As such, apparently, the fourth letter of the Avos’ names should be found on Don’s flag.

The fourth letter of Avraham’s name is a hey. The fourth letter of Yitzchak’s name is a kuf, and the fourth letter of Ya’akov’s name is a beis. Therefore, the letters which should have appeared on Don’s flag should have been HEY – KUF – BEIS, not MEM – KUF – BEIS.

Why was the mem of Avraham found on the fourth flag if the mem is the fifth letter in Avraham’s name? The fourth letter hey should have been on Don’s flag, and the remaining letter mem should have hovered over the Jewish people and do for them whatever a letter mem can do. Why was this not the case?

The Shvilei Pinchas answers this question by saying that if the letter hey would have been imprinted on Don’s flag, then the letters HEY – KUF – BEIS would have appeared. HEY – KUF – BEIS is not a good combination because those three letters could be rearranged in the following order: KUF – BEIS – HEY.

The letters KUF – BEIS – HEY spell the word KABO which means a “curse” as we find in a verse where Bilaam said, “How can I curse – God has not KABO” (cursed; Parshas Balak, 23:8). Hashem did not want there to be any letters on the degalim which could have been unscrambled in such a way that it would have spelled a word which would have meant a curse. Had there been letters on the flags which could have been rearranged to spell a word that would have meant a curse, it would have allowed Bilaam to direct his curses at that flag. That flag would have served as an opening for Bilaam to enter and penetrate into the camps of the Jewish people and annihilate them completely with his curses.

Therefore, Hashem still considered the letter mem in Avraham’s name to be the fourth letter, just as it was before the letter hey was added to his name. In this way, the fourth letter mem could be added to the fourth flag of Don. Then, the remaining letter would be the hey which could hover over the Jewish people and bring them protection and blessings.

This explains the verse which says, “And Hashem your God reversed the curse [of Bilaam] to a blessing” (Parshas Ki Seitzei, 23:6). What did God reverse? The answer is that He reversed the letters hey and mem in Avraham’s name by considering the mem to still be considered as the fourth letter in Avraham’s name, and Hashem considered the letter hey of Avraham’s name to be the fifth and remaining letter which would hover over the Jewish people. In this way, there would be no letters on the flags which could be rearranged to spell a word which would mean a curse.

On the contrary, the letters MEM – KUF – BEIS which are found on Don’s flag stand for good things. The mem stands for the manna which is a form of parnassah. The Jews had that parnassah because of the letter hey which the letter mem displaced which Hashem placed hovering over them.

The next two letters, kuf – beis, serve as the acronym of, “Klala (curse) – Bracha (blessing),” teaching us that Bilaam’s klala was transformed into a bracha because of the letter hey that Hashem placed hovering above them.

Now we can understand that Midrash Pliya we mentioned above which expounded upon the verse, “Each man by his flag with osos (signs) according to their fathers’ households” (Parshas Bamidbar, 2:2). The Midrash told us to read the word “osos” as “osiyos” (letters). We wanted to know which letters the Midrash was referring to.

The Oheiv Yisrael says that the Midrash was referring to the letters of the names of the Avos that were imprinted on the four major flags. The words in that verse, “L’veis Avosam” (according to their fathers’ household; Parshas Bamidbar, 2:2) refers to their forefathers, the Avos. This means that the Jewish people were encamped according to their flags which had the letters of the Avos on them.

Bilaam observed the encampment of the Jewish people and noticed the letters of the Avos spread across the chief flags of the Jewish people. Bilaam also noticed that Hashem had changed the order of the letters of the names of the Avos by putting the mem of Avraham’s name on Don’s flag instead of putting the letter hey of Avraham’s name on Don’s flag.

Bilaam understood that in order to do so, Hashem had to switch around the letters hey and mem in Avraham’s name so that the mem would still be considered the fourth letter which would appear on the fourth flag, whereas the hey would be considered the fifth remaining letter which would float over the Jewish people for protection.

Bilaam understood the reason for this switch. He understood that this was done so that the word KABO would not appear on the flag of Don. This would prevent Bilaam from tapping into that flag to use it as a means of infiltrating into the Jewish camps and curse the Jewish people.

Perhaps we could add that this must be what Bilaam meant when he said, “Ma Tovu Ohalecha Ya’akov” (How good are your tents Ya’akov; Parshas Balak, 24:5). The word “Ma” literally means “what.” According to this translation, this pasuk asks, “What is good about your tents Ya’akov?” The answer to that question is found within those very same words.

The word “Ma,” is spelled mem – hey. It is the letters mem-hey which are so good (tov) about the tents (ohalecha; encampments) of Ya’akov. Meaning, since Hashem exchanged the mem for the hey in Avraham’s name by placing the mem on Don’s flag, and by causing the hey to hover over the Jewish people, it served the Jewish people well because now they were protected from Bilaam’s curses.

This explains why the Midrash concluded, “Therefore, Bilaam said, ‘How can I curse – God does not KABO (curse)’” (Parshas Balak, 23:8). Meaning, Bilaam realized that there was no word KABO found on the degalim. This prevented any type of curse from taking affect on the Jewish people.

Now, this letter hey that Hashem added to the name Avraham is already hinted to in the verse, “And I will bless you, Va’agadlah Shimecha (and I will make your name great), and it will be for a blessing” (Parshas Lech Lecha, 12:2). The Shela Hakadosh (Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, 1565 Prague – 1630 Tzfas) says that when you move the letter hey away from the word “Va’agadlah,” it spells, “Va’agadel – Hey” (I will increase the letter hey). So, “Va’agadlah Shimecha” means, “I will increase (add) the letter hey to your name (shimecha).”

Once Hashem said that He would add the letter hey to Avraham’s name, a person with some knowledge might become concerned. One might be worried that since the additional letter hey in his name will now become the fourth letter, maybe that letter would appear on the fourth flag of Don, which would result in having the letters that spell KABO (curse) appear on that flag, which would give Bilaam a way of infiltrating the Jewish camp with his curses.

In order that we should not be troubled by this thought, right after the words, “Va’agadlah Shimecha,” Hashem said, “And it will be for a blessing” (Parshas Lech Lecha, 12:2). Hashem meant to convey that the additional letter hey would not result in any type of negative side effect. Meaning, Hashem would reverse the letters hey and mem of Avraham’s name so that the mem would appear on the flag of Don and so that the hey would float over the Jewish people and protect them.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can appreciate the Ba’al Haturim who drew a connection between the blessings that Avraham received to the curses that Bilaam intended to curse the Jewish people with. This connection is to be understood as follows.

First Hashem said, “Va’agadlah Shimech,” which meant that He would add a hey (Va’agadel – Hey) to Avraham’s name. Then Hashem added, “Don’t worry, this additional hey will be a blessing, with no bad side effects because the hey would not be on Don’s flag, rather it would hover over the Jewish people and protect them.” Bilaam saw this and understood that he had no chance of cursing the Jews. Yet, he proceeded with his evil plan to curse them anyway.

This is why right after it says, “Va’agadlah Shimecha, and it will be for a blessing” (Parshas Lech Lecha, 12:2), it says, “Those who curse you I will curse” (Parshas Lech Lecha, 12:3). Who are those who tried to curse the Jews? It was Bilaam. Since there was no place for Bilaam’s curses to take effect, they backfired. Bilaam was the one who became cursed with his very own curses.

Again, this is the connection between the blessings that Avraham received and the curses that Bilaam tried to curse the Jewish people with. Since Avraham was blessed in such a way that no curse could penetrate his descendants, Bilaam’s curses backfired on him when he tried to curse the Jews.

One lesson that we can learn from this entire approach is the power of a blessing and the destructiveness of a curse. Bilaam’s curses had the potential power to completely destroy the entirety of the Jewish people. Yet, it was the blessings which Hashem bestowed upon Avraham that protected the Jews from annihilation.

Hashem did not just bless Avraham, but Hashem gave Avraham the ability to bless whomever he desired (Rashi, Parshas Lech Lecha, 12:2; citing Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Lech Lecha, 39:11, Rebbi Brachya).

Since we are descendants of Avraham, we inherited this power of blessing others from him. After all, the Gemara (Berachos, chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 7a) says, “Do not take lightly the blessing of [even] a simple person.”

Therefore, our practical application of this teaching would be to try and bless at least one person each and every day. This person may live in the same house as we do. Or, we could pick up that phone, call someone and say, “I just wanted you to know that I was thinking of you, and I want to bless you with great health, nachas, and parnassah. Have the best day ever!”

Not only will we have made that person’s day, but we will benefit from that blessing as well. This is because the verse says, “I will bless those who bless you” (Parshas Lech Lecha, 12:3). This does not only mean that if a foreign nation blesses Israel, then that foreign nation will be blessed. Rather, it also means that if one descendant of Avraham (a Jew) blesses another descendant of Avraham (another Jew), then Hashem will bless the blesser.

Imagine that. As you are blessing somebody else, at that moment, Hashem is blessing you directly. What a win-win situation!

So, may we all be BLESSED by blessing each other and ultimately receive the greatest blessings which come with the Geula, when all of our tribes will be firmly planted within our Holy Land, each one standing proudly by his flag on his territory, protected by the zechus of our Avos, and benefit from the letter hey with healthy children and the parnassah to support them.