The Divrei Torah in this section have been translated by Rav Reuven Ungar, Director of Alumni Affairs
Human Status and Prophecy
By: Rav Aryeh Hendler
Sfat Emet on the parsha with commentary and analysis from Rav Aryeh Hendler, Sgan Rosh Yeshivat Sha'alvim.
Introduction: The Jewish People are identified with the image of man, while the nations of the world are associated with the images of the animal kingdom. The brit milah generates this distinction. Brit milah enables a person to receive prophecy in a standing position, as opposed to gentile prophets who fell to the ground upon receiving prophecy. Nevertheless, the Jewish People lower their profile as if they are animals, due to humility and submission to Hashem. The converse transpires amongst the nations of the world. The respective humility and arrogance generate the ability or in-ability to receive prophecy.
The Ba'al Ha'Akeda comments that terming Bilaam a prophet is similar to labeling a lion the king of the animals. Prophecy is not intrinsic to the nations of the world, for they are not on the level of humans. Indeed, Balak the son of Tzipor (bird), Shechem the son of Chamor (donkey). This lies in stark contrast to the Jewish People who represent the ultimate man as Rabi Shimon ben Yochai notes (Masechet Bava Metzia 114b).
This is not mere semantics; each nation is rooted to a source in the upper, spiritual world. Consequently the spiritual constitution of each nation differs. In the spiritual vision of Yechezkel (Ma'ase Merkava) a human is located at the apex. This alludes to the Jewish People, who are elevated over the nations symbolized by members of the animal kingdom. Thus, the exalted experience of prophecy is appropriate exclusively to the Jewish People.
Circumcision (brit milah) enables the Jewish People to receive prophecy upright. Normally the spiritual and physical realms clash. Brit milah cures the body of spiritual shortcomings and allows the spirit and matter to complement each other. Thus, prophecy can be received without the human falling to the ground (which transpires when physical properties are not fit to receive spiritual input). Via brit milah we realize our intrinsic state of being a man. The Zohar reveals that the milah unites the higher and lower worlds- thus the human is elevated and is adequately prepared to receive messages of elevated content.
The verse in Psalms (36:7) states that Hashem sends salvation to humans and to animals. Chazal comment that this refers to people who are intellectually sophisticated as humans, yet relate to themselves (via humility) as animals (Masechet Chulin, 5b). This was exemplified by Moshe Rabeinu who reached unparalleled heights, yet was the most modest person on earth. The converse applies to Bilaam; he claimed to be privy to celestial knowledge. This arrogance reveals how he is not fit to receive normative prophecy. Indeed, arrogance is a prime possession of the students of Bilaam; the disciples of Abraham possessed a meek nature (Masechet Avot 5:19).
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