Thursday, July 7, 2011

Kokhav Yaakov: A Deeper Look

This post is a follow-up to Comet Elenin and Rebbe Nachman.

In this week's Torah portion, Balaam wraps up his words with a prophecy concerning the end of days:
וְעַתָּה הִנְנִי הוֹלֵךְ לְעַמִּי לְכָה אִיעָצְךָ אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה הָעָם הַזֶּה לְעַמְּךָ בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים

And now, I am going to my people. Come, I will advise you...what this people will do to your people at the end of days.
In verse 17, he mentions the shooting star of Jacob (this is really the accurate translation, if we go by Rashi, whose commentary appears below):
אֶרְאֶנּוּ וְלֹא עַתָּה אֲשׁוּרֶנּוּ וְלֹא קָרוֹב דָּרַךְ כּוֹכָב מִיַּעֲקֹב וְקָם שֵׁבֶט מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל וּמָחַץ פַּאֲתֵי מוֹאָב וְקַרְקַר כָּל בְּנֵי שֵׁת

I see it, but not now; I behold it, but not soon. A star has gone forth from Jacob, and a staff will arise from Israel which will crush the princes of Moab and uproot all the sons of Seth
The words "a star has gone forth" is translation of the Hebrew noun kokhav and the verb darakh, which is related to the root of derekh, way. According to Rashi, this indicaes sudden, swift and direct movement, and is actually a metaphor for the rise of Mashiach:
דרך כוכב: כתרגומו, לשון דרך קשתו (איכה ב ד), שהכוכב עובר כחץ, ובלע"ז דישטנ"ט (מזנק) כלומר יקום משל
A star goes gorth: As it is translated, he drew his bow (Eichah 2:4), that the star passes like an arrow...that is, a ruler will rise
Rebbe Nachman, whose yartzheit falls on the day on which the newly discovered relatively bright Comet Elenin will come closest to earth, on Tishrei 18 5772, gives the following explanation of the statement "a star has gone forth from Jacob":
And know, that there are twelve tribes, corresponding to the twelve mazalot (signs of the zodiac). And each and every tribe has its own special formula (nuscha) and special gate through which (derekh) his prayer enters, and every tribe, through its pryaer, awakens the power of its mazal of the twelve mazalot, and the mazal illuminates below and causes the plant to grow, as well as other things it needs, and this is the meaning of 'A star goes forth from Jacob, and a staff will arise from Israel,' 'will rise' this is amidah, or prayer, when a tribe from Israel stands to pray, its prayer awakens a star, and the star shoots forth (dorekh) and nudges (makeh) various things, that they will grow, as our sages said, 'there is not a single blade of grass below, here on earth, which does not have an angel above telling it, Grow! (Likkutei Moharan 9)
In other words, according to Rebbe Nachman, the shooting of the star of Jacob is related to the power of prayer. Prayers of the various tribes awaken the stars to shoot forth and awaken the flora and fauna of earth to prosper. Life is traced to the stars, and the stars to prayer.

Back to the parsha: According to verse 17, the star of Jacob and staff of Israel will crush the nations of Moab and Seth. The Maharal elaborates that the keshet (bow) and chetz (arrow) symbolize the gevurah to needed for these struggles. Unkolus explains 'crush' as inheritance of the nations' kingdoms.

Verse 18 expands the prophecy to Edom, represented by Europe, the United States, and Western civilization at large:
וְהָיָה אֱדוֹם יְרֵשָׁה וְהָיָה יְרֵשָׁה שֵׂעִיר אֹיְבָיו וְיִשְׂרָאֵל עֹשֶׂה חָיִל

Edom shall be possessed, and Seir shall become the possession of his enemies, and Israel shall triumph.
וַיַּרְא אֶת עֲמָלֵק וַיִּשָּׂא מְשָׁלוֹ וַיֹּאמַר רֵאשִׁית גּוֹיִם עֲמָלֵק וְאַחֲרִיתוֹ עֲדֵי אֹבֵד
When he saw Amalek, he took up his parable and said, "Amalek was the first of the nations, and his fate shall be everlasting destruction."

וְצִים מִיַּד כִּתִּים וְעִנּוּ אַשּׁוּר וְעִנּוּ עֵבֶר וְגַם הוּא עֲדֵי אֹבֵד
Ships will come from the Kittites and afflict Assyria and afflict those on the other side, but he too will perish forever. 
And then Balaam wraps it up:
וַיֹּאמַר אוֹי מִי יִחְיֶה מִשֻּׂמוֹ אֵל
Alas! Who can survive these things from God?
 מה טובו אהלך יעקב משכנותיך ישראל
How lucky we are to have the Torah to guide us through these times.

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