The following is from Rav Motti Greenberg, one of the Roshei Yeshivah at Kerem B’Yavne.
The name of this week’s Torah portion, Balak, is remarkable. What merit did such a cruel man, who wanted to destroy Yisrael, have – such that an entire Torah portion was named for him?
In today’s article we will delve somewhat into mystic issues, namely, the light of the Mashiach. It is written in the Zohar that the soul of the Mashiach can be found in a palace called “Ken Tzipor” – the nest of a bird – and the mitzva of sending away a mother bird from a nest can be understood in terms of the Mashiach. And in his commentary on the portion of Metzora, the Or Hachaim Hakadosh writes that the two birds involved in the ceremony of purifying an impure person are related to the two instances of Mashiach, Ben Yosef and Ben David. He writes, “Thus, we see that Mashiach can be compared to a bird.”
This week’s Torah portion involves Balak, son of Tzipor – a bird. “Due to the merit of the forty-two sacrifices that Balak brought, he was privileged to have King Shlomo as his offspring … Rabbi Yossie Ben Choni said, Ruth was the daughter of Eglon, the son of Balak.” [Sota 47a]. Thus, the soul of the Mashiach, symbolized by a bird, exists in Balak, and he is the one who is attempting to block him being revealed. Bilam says to him, “Listen to me, son of Tzipor” [Bamidbar 23:18] – but this can also be read as, “one who has a son named Tzipor.” And this phrase, “beno tzipor,” has a numerical value of 434, which is also the value of “Mashiach Ben David.” Balak fears the nation “because it is many” [22:2]. The word “rav” is an acronym for the names, Ruth and Boaz. According to calculations by the Chatam Sofer, Boaz married Ruth on the eve of the seventeenth of Tammuz, and he died the next day. As a result of that night, Oved, father of Yishai the father of David, was born. It is written, “And Balak Ben Tzipor was the King of Moav at that time” [22:4]. The numerical value of “ba’eit” – at that time – is 472, which is the value of the phrase “the seventeenth of Tammuz.”
There are 85 verses in the Book of Ruth. Balak sent messengers to Bilam “at Petor” [22:5]. The word used, “petorah,” can be rearranged into “po tor,” where the first word (which means “here”) has the value 85, and the second word is a dove – that is, a bird. And the letters of tor can be rearranged into the name Ruth.
Why is it necessary for the Mashiach to appear through an evil person such as Balak? Knowledgeable people have discussed this question many times in the past. The soul of the Mashiach spends its time hiding in places where it would never be expected to be found, in order that the accusers will not be able to interfere with the process of his development. That is why the very spark of the Mashiach makes its first appearance in Sedom, in the incident of Lot and his daughters. As is written, “I found my servant David” [Tehillim 89:21]. The sages teach us, Where did He find David? It was in Sedom, as is written, “his two daughters who were there” [Bereishit 19:15] (Yevamot 77a). And then, in the affair of Yehuda and Tamar, on the main highway, which involved relations with a daughter-in-law, and in the way that Boaz and Ruth met in the harvest field. And then the story of David and Batsheva took place.
Rabbi Yosef Karo, in his book “Magid Meisharim,” where mystic secrets were revealed to him by heaven, writes that because of these events the Mashiach has the power to overcome the evil powers, which would never think that he will be revealed through bastards and ugly acts of evil.
The same is true of modern times. “The people who were chosen for this mission are of this type (not yet religious), and all of this is part of the wonders of the One who is Perfectly Wise” [“Eim Habanim Semaicha” page 125].
And that explains why the mentioning of the Mashiach takes place specifically in this Torah portion. The Rambam writes, “This also appears in the passage of Bilam, and there he prophesies about two appearances of the Mashiach. ‘I will see him but not now’ [Bamidbar 24:17] – this refers to David. ‘I will view him but not soon’ [ibid] – this is Mashiach, the King.” [Hilchot Melachim 11:1].