Chukas/Balak – Holy Superpowers

Everyone growing up in America is enamored by the myth of superheroes like Superman and Wonder Woman. They dream and wish they had superpowers and unique abilities like these characters. However, it will be proven within this double Torah portion of Chukas and Balak that we in fact do have powers which are in fact greater than what is ever imagined.

One of the things Bilaam said when Hashem put words into his mouth to bless and praise the Jewish people was:

“Behold, a people that rises like a lioness and raises itself like a lion. It does not lie down until it eats its prey and drinks the blood of the slain.” כדהֶן־עָם֙ כְּלָבִ֣יא יָק֔וּם וְכַֽאֲרִ֖י יִתְנַשָּׂ֑א לֹ֤א יִשְׁכַּב֙ עַד־יֹ֣אכַל טֶ֔רֶף וְדַם־חֲלָלִ֖ים יִשְׁתֶּֽה:

Rashi understands this pasuk to be telling us a very profound message which can be a life changer in our attitudes in performing Torah and Mitzvos and doing Hashem’s Will:

Behold, a people that rises like a lioness: When they awaken from their sleep in the morning they show the vigor of a lioness and a lion in grasping mitzvoth, to don a ‘tallis ’ [prayer shawl], recite the shema and put on ‘tefillin’ [phylacteries]. — [Mid. Tanchuma Balak 14, Num. Rabbah 20:20] הֶן־עָם כְּלָבִיא יָקוּם וגו’: כְּשֶׁהֵן עוֹמְדִין מִשְּׁנָתָם שַׁחֲרִית, הֵן מִתְגַּבְּרִין כְּלָבִיא וְכַאֲרִי לַחֲטֹף אֶת הַמִּצְוֹת — לִלְבֹּשׁ טַלִּית, לִקְרֹא אֶת שְׁמַע וּלְהָנִיחַ תְּפִלִּין:
It does not lie down: [I.e., a Jew does not lie down] on his bed at night until he consumes and destroys any harmful thing that comes to tear him. How so? He recites the shema on his bed and entrusts his spirit to the hand of the Omnipresent. Should an army or a troop come to harm them, the Holy One, blessed is He, protects them, fights their battles and strikes them [their attackers] down dead.[Mid. Tanchuma Balak 14, Num. Rabbah 20:20]. לֹא יִשְׁכַּב: בַּלַּיְלָה עַל מִטָּתוֹ עַד שֶׁהוּא אוֹכֵל וּמְחַבֵּל כָּל מַזִּיק הַבָּא לְטָרְפוֹ, כֵּיצַד? קוֹרֵא אֶת שְׁמַע עַל מִטָּתוֹ וּמַפְקִיד רוּחוֹ בְּיַד הַמָּקוֹם, בָּא מַחֲנֶה וְגַיִס לְהַזִּיקָם, הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא שׁוֹמְרָם וְנִלְחָם מִלְחֲמוֹתָם וּמַפִּילָם חֲלָלִים (שם);

The Gur Aryeh, which is the Mahara”l’s commentary on Rashi is what will inspire us towards a whole different attitude in serving Hashem. When Rashi says, “’When they awaken from their sleep etc.’ Don’t explain the pasuk in its simple understanding that we will be as mighty as a lion or lioness, for if so then why does the pasuk say ‘that rises like a lioness…and raises itself like a lion’ it should have said, ‘they are a nation like a lioness and a lion,’ rather the pasuk must be referring to the mitzvos. And since doing the mitzvos are a sign of might, for one who performs a mitzvah is doing a wonderous G-Dly action therefore it says that all the actions of this nation aren’t lowly and degrading actions, rather they are great and wonderous actions, and they are mitzvos for they are the deeds of G-D. So to Chaza”l say in Yoma 71a that ‘these Torah scholars, who are similar to women (as Rashi there says, in that they are more humble and naturally physically weaker) , but nevertheless, they act mightily like men when engaged in Torah study.’ This is because the Torah is G-Dly, and when one learns it and becomes mighty in Torah, that is the mightiness (gevura) one receives through G-Dly things. So to performing the mitzvos is exactly like this in that it is called mightiness (gevura). The words of Chaza”l are very similar to the basic understanding of the pasuk to those that understand the truth of their words.”

What are these G-Dly or Divine powers that the Gur Aryeh is speaking of? Where do they come from and how do they work?

There are actually many stories in the Talmud of great sages who because of their intense focus in learning, created fire over their heads. Like the sages at the bris of Elisha ben Abuya (who became the notorious Acher) (see Yerushalmi Chagiga 2:1 daf 7b), or after many years of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rebbe Eliezer learning Torah in a cave. They came out and were able to burn with their eyes, whatever was in their eyesight (see Shabbos 33b). There are other stories of sages just looking at people who had done severely wrong, who were deserving of punishment, who would turn into a pile of bones (See Brachos 58a, Bava Basra 75a, and Sanhedrin 100a). These seem like superpowers of the like that are read in comics; how can they be true?

However, the gemara at the end of the 3rd perek of Niddah, (31a) states, “The Sages taught: There are three partners in the creation of a person: The Holy One, Blessed be He, and his father, and his mother. His father contributes the bones, the sinews, the nails, the brain that is in its head, and the white of the eye. His mother contributes the skin, the flesh, the hair, and the black of the eye. And the Holy One, Blessed be He, inserts into him a spirit, a soul, his countenance [ukelaster], eyesight, hearing of the ear, the capability of speech of the mouth, the capability of walking with the legs, understanding, and wisdom. And when a person’s time to depart from the world arrives, the Holy One, Blessed be He, retrieves His part, and He leaves the part of the person’s father and mother before them. Rav Pappa said: This is in accordance with the adage that people say: Remove the salt from a piece of meat, and you may then toss the meat to a dog, as it has become worthless.”

Every human has 3 partners who create him or her: a father, mother, and Hashem. Each one is in charge of a unique job, to contribute towards the building of the human being. Hashem gives and takes the esoteric essence of the person, namely his or her senses, spirit, soul, facial radiance, and intellectual abilities. If these are what Hashem contributes to the make-up of the human being, then the ability for a person to use these parts must be potentially infinite since their source is infinite. No wonder the Torah scholars were able to reach such heights through their learning that fire could shoot out of their eyes or hover over their heads. But the Mahara”l said this Divine power doesn’t only apply to Torah learning, although Torah learning is equal to all the mitzvos put together. With each individual mitzva, one can muster up gevura/mightiness to perform that mitzvah in ways that can change worlds. That will be so impactful to the world around them that people will be impressed and say how could this person do that act the way it was done, it’s incredible, a miracle, a stunning feat!

The truth of the matter is that if one focuses all his abilities and senses and puts his mind into doing something as Divine as performing the Torah and mitzvos, then he is using His G-dly abilities for good and Hashem will allow him to take these powers and extend them as much as the person puts in effort to extend them. Based on the effort and energy a person puts in, the greater the feat he will attain, and therefore it’s possible to do things even if physically one might look and even feel weak. The result will be courageous, unbelievable, and mighty because one can focus all his Divine powers into performance. Logic dictates that the more effort and focus one puts into his or her G-dly powers, the greater feats one can attain. Nowadays, with the waning of the generations, hiskatnus hadoros, to reach the levels of the sages in the time of the Talmud and before is pretty much impossible. However, there are incredible feats that observant Jews, tzadikim, and sages have attained even in today’s age. For example, Rav Pinchas Scheinberg zt”l wearing close to 200 pairs of tzitzis all at once well into his 90s, in his frail state.

This whole new outlook should be an impetus for us to be charged, enthused, and motivated to perform Torah and mitzvos consistently, on the best level that we can strive to reach. There could be now a new excitement in our attitudes towards serving Hashem since it can be such a thrill that we have the abilities to reach heights and perform deeds that are unimaginable according to physical means!