Four Legs Are Better Than Three

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Balak
Four Legs Are Better Than Three

As Bilam was on his way to join forces with Balak to curse the Jewish people, an angel stood in his way. Only his she-donkey saw the angel. Therefore, she did not go where Bilam wanted her to go. Since Bilam did not see the angel, he thought that she was just being stubborn. Therefore, Bilam began beating her.

After hitting her three times, God opened the mouth of the she-donkey, and it said to him, "What have I done to you that you struck me these three "regalim" (times; Nu. 22:28)?"

The normative word for "times" is "peamim" and yet, the word "regalim" was used. This deviation from the norm teaches us that Hashem conveyed a deeper message to Bilam through his donkey. The word "regalim" can also be used as the word for "festivals." Therefore, the message was, "How do you expect to uproot a people who observe the three "regalim" (festivals) throughout the year?" (Rashi, citing Bamidbar Rabbah 20:14).

The Shvilei Pinchas mentions that the mitzvah of the three festivals has a unique ability to protect the Jewish people because they correspond to the three Avos (Patriarchs). When we celebrate the three festivals, we connect to the merits of the three Avos which shields the Jewish people from harm (Shemos Rabbah 1;2; Tur Orach Chaim chap. 417 quoting his brother Rav Yehudah).

Besides the three Avos, there is a fourth personality which fits in to this whole story.

The verse says that Balak sent messengers to Bilam the son of Beor "Pesorah" (to Pethor; Nu. 22:5)." The Arizal (Sha'ar Hapesukim, Nu. 22:5) comments that the word "Pesorah" is not just a name of a place, but it is actually the Aramaic word for "Shulchan" (table). We find an example of this when God commanded us to make the Table of Showbread. The verse says, "And you must make a Shulchan of Acacia wood" (Ex. 25:23). The word in Onkelos for "Shulchan" is "Pesorah."

The Shulchan had a golden crown surrounding it (Ex. 25:24) representing the crown of sovereignty (Rashi citing Yoma chap. 7, "Ba Lo Kohen Gadol", pg. 72b, Rav Yochanan). As such, Balak was sending a secret message to Bilam. Balak claimed that Bilam should not be afraid to attack the Jewish people. Although after the Splitting of the Sea it says that the nations were agitated by the Jews and trembled before them (Ex. 15:14); nevertheless, they had no reason to fear.

This is because Balak used his magical powers to peek into the future. Balak foresaw that another Moabite king, Eglone, would be a descendant of his. Balak saw that Eglone's daughter was going to be Rus (Ruth). Balak saw that Rus was going to be Dovid Hamelech's (King David's) great grandmother.

Balak saw Dovid's power and that he was going to become king. Since the spark of Dovid existed within Moav at that time, Balak thought that they could harness that strength and use it against the Jews.

Balak was encouraged to wage war against the Jews because of who he foresaw would descend from him. This is reminiscent of Korach who was encouraged to lead a revolt against Moshe and Aharon because of who he foresaw would descend from him, Shmuel Hanavi (Samuel the Prophet), who was on par with Moshe and Aharon (Rashi Nu. 16:7 citing Tanchumah 5: Psa. 99:6).

This whole secret message from Balak to Bilam is hinted to in the word "Pesorah" which means "shulchan" which had the crown of sovereignty surrounding it, representing Dovid Hamelech whose spark was found within the ranks of Moav at that time.

The Agrah D'kallah adds that although Balak claimed that there was nothing to worry about, there was one thing he was frightened of. Balak was concerned that the Jewish people would somehow extract the spark of Dovid from Moav, bringing it over to the Jewish side. If the Jews would succeed in doing so, it would mean the end of all idolatrous nations because Dovid would eventually become the Moshiach (Messiah; See Zohar Lech Lecha pg. 82b, Pekudei pg. 232b) who would remove the spirit of impurity from the world by ridding it of idolatry.

It turns out that Dovid is the fourth personality who plays into this whole story. The three Avos parallel the Three Regalim. One reason why the holidays are called regalim (literally "legs") is because the Avos serve as the three legs of the Kisei Hakavod (Throne of Glory; Bereishis Rabbah 47:6).

The Sha'arei Orah (based on Zohar Vayeira pg. 99a, Vayeitzei pg. 154b) continues by saying that there is a fourth regel which is Shmini Atzeres. Dovid corresponds to Shmini Atzeres which means that Dovid serves as the fourth leg of the Kisei Hakavod. This means that Dovid completes the Kisei Hakavod. Let us explore in what way Dovid completes the Throne of Glory. What did Dovid bring to the table that the Avos did not?

The Avos represent the three pillars upon which the world stands: Torah, Avodah (worship, offerings, prayer), and Gemilus Chassadim (acts of kindness; Zohar Vayeitzei pg. 146b; Pirkei Avos 1:2). Ya'akov was the man of Torah, Yitzchak was the offering to God, and Avraham was famous for his kindness. However, Dovid represents Teshuvah (repentance).

The Gemarah (Avodah Zarah, chap. 1, "Lifnei Eideyhen", pgs. 4b-5a) explains that there was no way Dovid could have sinned with Bat Shevah because he had already removed his Yetzer Harah from within him (Psa. 109:22). Rather, Hashem decreed that he sin in order that he serve as an example to all people that they, too can repent.

If somebody claims that he could never do Teshuvah because he has already committed so many sins, we tell him to compare himself to Dovid. We ask the person if he was ever as great as Dovid. Dovid was not just a righteous king, he was a posek (halachik authority), a dayan (judge), one of the Seven Shepherds of the Jewish people, and the author of Tehillim (Psalms).

We also ask the person if he ever stooped to Dovid's low level. Dovid fell to a very low place by sleeping with Bat Sheva, a married woman, and then arranged for her husband's death by sending him to the front lines of the battle field.

We tell the person, Dovid was so high and so much was expected of him, and yet he fell to the lowest of places. And you know what? Dovid said that he was sorry. He repented and his Teshuvah was accepted by God.

We tell the person that he was never as high as Dovid and not so much was expected of him, and he probably didn't fall to such a low place. Therefore, if Dovid could repent, so could he.

Who orchestrated that such a great Dovid would sin so terribly? God made him do it. His free choice had been deprived of him momentarily just so that he could serve as the paradigm example for all other penitents.

The Shvilei Pinchas explains that the reason why specifically Dovid was chosen to be the prime example of a penitent is because Dovid atoned for the first sin of humanity. Adam sinned with the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Dovid was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Adam (Arizal, Sefer Halikkutim, Parshas Ha'azinu). This is why Adam gave seventy years of his life to Dovid (Yalkut Shimoni Parshas Bereishis, Remez 41). It was so that he could come back to the world a second time as Dovid and fix the sin that he had committed as Adam.

Therefore, it is fitting that Dovid will be the Moshiach. When Moshiach comes there is going to be Techiyas Hameysim (Resurrection of the Dead). This is the ultimate tikkun (fixing). Adam brought death to the world, and Dovid will bring life back to all those who died.

Since Dovid was meant to rectify the first sin, how fitting it is that he was chosen to serve as the paradigm example of Teshuvah for all subsequent sins.

Dovid complements the Avos and completes them. Yes, the Avos instituted Torah, Avodah, and Gemilus Chassadim. But, what happens if somebody sinned in those areas? What can he do about the ruination he caused? We don't have instruction from the Avos about what we are supposed to do after ruining the pillars of the world. However, Dovid teaches us that we can always mend the damage that was done.

Now the Talmudic words (Yoma chap. 8, "Yom Hakippurim", pg. 86a, Rebbi Levi), "So great is Teshuvah that it reaches the Throne of Glory," becomes even clearer. Teshuvah reaches the Throne by supplying its fourth leg, completing the Kisei Hakavod.

This explains the Talmud's statement (Moed Katan chap.3, "V'Eilu Migalchin" pg. 16b, Rav) that Dovid was even greater that the Avos. The Avos were Tzaddikim Gemurim (completely righteous people). However, Dovid was a Ba'al Teshuvah (penitent). The place in Heaven for Ba'alei Teshuvah is higher that the place for Tzaddikim Gemurim (Berachos chap. 5 "Ein Omdin", pg. 34b).

Another Talmudic passage (Pesachim chap. 10 "Arvei Pesachim pg. 119b, Rav Avira quoting Rav Ami and Rav Asi) comes to light based on all of the above. In the future, when God will bestow His kindness upon the Jewish people, Hashem is going to make a huge feast for all the righteous to join in celebration.

After everybody has eaten, God will ask Avraham to lead the Benching (Grace After Meals) over a cup of wine. Avraham will refuse, claiming that he is undeserving because he had a Yishmael. God will then ask Yitzchak to lead. He too will refuse, claiming that he is undeserving because he had an Eisav. Hashem will then ask that the cup be passed to Ya'akov. He will also refuse, claiming that he is undeserving because he married two sisters while they were alive at the same time. This was something that the Torah was going to forbid in the future. Hashem will ask Moshe to lead. He too will turn it down, claiming that he was unworthy because he never entered Eretz Yisrael. Finally, God will ask Dovid to lead. Dovid will say, "I will lead. It is fitting for me to lead, like it says, "Kos Yeshuos Esah" (I will lift the cup of salvations, Psa. 116:13).

Dovid's reaction seems a little arrogant. This is very much out of character for a person famous for his humility. Dovid compared himself to a worm (Psa. 22:7). How can he now say, "Pass the cup on down?"

The Shvilei Pinchas suggests one answer which is that Dovid watched how all the Tzaddikim before him turned down Hashem's offer just because of a small blemish on their slates. Was it their fault that they had a Yishmael and an Eisav? They showered their children with so much love. Was it sinful for Ya'akov to marry two sisters? He was never commanded to keep that law, and besides, he saw prophetically that the tribes were destined to come from Rochel and Leah.

Moshe's "sin" of hitting the rock is so difficult to explain that the commentaries literally grapple with trying to find out what it was that he did wrong. Did they all sin? Maybe, on their lofty level, it was considered to be sinful.

Then Hashem asks Dovid to lead. Dovid said to himself that if those before him were disqualified on account of such miniscule transgressions, how much more so should he be disqualified. The episode with Bat Shevah was no misdemeanor. It was a mega sin. How could Hashem even suggest that Dovid lead?

Dovid answered his own question. He remembered that he did not sin at all. Hashem forced him to do it in order that he serve as an example for all other sinners that they too can repent. When Dovid saw the other tzaddikim beating themselves up because of their "sins," Dovid said, "Let me lead." Meaning, let me fulfil my mission in leading others to repentance. Dovid's message to the other Tzaddikim was, "You sinned? So what? Why should you be paralyzed from doing Teshuvah and thus, from moving forward? You can always repent and repair that damage that was done."

Dovid's eagerness to lead did not come from a place of arrogance, it came from a place of responsibility in fulfilling his mission. Then, Dovid said, "I will lift the cup of salvation." With those words, he meant to say that if they all followed Dovid in Teshuvah, the salvation would come (Yoma chap. 8 "Yom Hakippurim" pg. 86a, Rebbi Levi), and he (Dovid) could serve as the Moshiach who will bring the Final Redemption.

This explains why Dovid asked to be mentioned in the first blessing of the Shmoneh Esrei (Silent Prayer; Sanhedrin chap. 11, "Cheilek" pg. 107a Rav Yehudah quoting Rav) and it also explains why Dovid asked to be tested by God (ibid). Dovid wanted to be mentioned in the Shmoneh Esrei so that everyone should know that there is a fourth leg called Teshuvah. Dovid wanted to earn being mentioned in that blessing; therefore, he asked to be tested.

In the end, Dovid is not mentioned there because he "failed" his test (forced by God). But, the absence of Dovid's name in the Blessing reminds us that he did "sin", and he did Teshuvah, and it was accepted. This teaches us that we can do Teshuvah, too.

This brings us right back to our story. Balak said to Bilam, "And now, 'nah' (please) come and 'arah' (curse) this people for me" (Nu. 22:6). The Megaleh Amukos (Vaeschanan) teaches that Balak wanted Bilam to curse the Jewish people's ability to do Teshuvah.

On the Jewish calendar, there are specific days set aside for Teshuvah. Some of those days are from Rosh Chodesh Elul (the first day of the Hebrew month called Elul) until Rosh Hashanah.

Those days are hinted to in the word "arah" (curse). The "aleph" of that word stands for "Elul" and the remaining two letters, "reish" and "hey" stand for "Rosh Hashanah."

Actually, there are fifty days of Teshuvah, from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Hoshanah Rabbah (including the day of Hoshanah Rabbah). In those fifty days of repentance, there are 1,200 hours (50 days x 24 hours per day = 1,200 hours).

When we do Teshuvah, we return the last letter, hey, of the Name Havayah which drifted from the other letters of that Name on account of our sins. This can be seen in the word

"Teshuvah" (spelled tuf, shin, vov, veis, hey). When rearranged, that word can spell, "Tashuv - hey" meaning "return the hey."

All of this is hinted to in Balak's word, "arah" (curse). The first letter aleph is spelled aleph, lamed, phey. When the vowels are rearranged, it spells "eleph" which means a thousand. The next letter reish is numerically 200. So far, we have one thousand two hundred (1,200). Meaning, Balak wanted Bilam to "arah" (curse) the 1,200 hours of Teshuvah, preventing the Jews from ever repenting. This will cause the last letter of "arah", a hey, to drift away from the rest of the Name Havayah.

The reason why Balak wanted Bilam to curse the 50 days of Jewish Teshuvah is because he wanted to prevent the spark of Dovid (who symbolized Teshuvah) from defecting from Moav to Israel.

Dovid instituted Teshuvah. In the merit of Teshuvah, the redemption will come. How fitting it is that Dovid will be the Moshiach who will bring that redemption.

However, if the Jews never do Teshuvah, there will never be the coming of Dovid Melech Hamoshiach. By nullifying Teshuvah, Balak wanted to nullify Dovid and prevent the redemption.

The truth is that the 50 days of repentance leads up to and prepares for the 51st day which is Shmini Atzeres, the final and greatest day for Teshuvah. Shmini Atzeres is a "Regel" unto itself, which corresponds to Dovid, the fourth leg of the Throne. Balak thought that if he could destroy the 50 days leading up to the 51st day, he could also destroy the 51st day itself. If there is no Teshuvah going on, there will be no Dovid and no Moshiach and no redemption.

This is why Balak said, "Arah nah" (please curse). The word "nah" is spelled, nun, aleph which numerically equals 51. He wanted to curse the 51st day of Dovid. This is why on Hoshanah Rabbah (which is the day before Shmini Atzeres) we say, "Hoshah Nah" (please save). We are asking Hashem to preserve the "nah", the 51st day of Dovid Hamelech so that we repent properly and deserve the coming of Moshiach who will bring the redemption.

May I add that in Eretz Yisrael (Israel), Shmini Atzeres is the same day as Simchas Torah. This teaches us that the highest level of Teshuvah is one that stems from happiness and joy which prevails on Simchas Torah. In Elul, we begin the Teshuvah process from a place of fear. However, as the days of repentance go on, we reach the level of Teshuvah from love.

As a means of a practical application of this teaching, each night before going to sleep, let's try to follow in the footsteps of Dovid Hamelech a little bit more by saying, "Hashem, I'm sorry for such and such a sin that I committed today. Please help me find the strength and the method to succeed a little bit more tomorrow in overcoming temptation."

This is a short exercise in doing a quick Teshuvah which will strengthen the 4th leg of the Throne, and it will also complete the four letters of God's Name, Havayah, resulting in the coming of Moshiach.

So, may we all be blessed to follow in the footsteps of Dovid Hamelech by doing Teshuvah on our sins and thus solidify the fourth Regel of the Throne so that Havayah will send us the Moshiach who will crown the world with the Third Beis Hamikdash in which we will observe all four Regalim in a complete way, together with the Avos, Moshe, and Dovid Hamelech, a time when Hashem's sovereignty will be recognized by all, as we bless God over an overflowing cup of wine.