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Balak: Doubt, hitting, abundance/satiation ~ Yehoshua Steinberg

Updated: Nov 25, 2022


Someone sent me the following question: Anyone knows why do doubt and satisfaction, ספק וסיפוק, share the same Hebrew root?

Answer: very appropriate this week, because the word appears in the Parshas hashavua: במ’ כד:י – וַיִּחַר אַף בָּלָק אֶל בִּלְעָם וַיִּסְפֹּק אֶת כַּפָּיו וַיֹּאמֶר בָּלָק אֶל בִּלְעָם לָקֹב אֹיְבַי קְרָאתִיך The meaning there is hitting, as it is in Jer. 31:18, Ez. 21:17, Job 34:26. On the other hand, in Jer. 48:26, Job 34:37, Job 20:22 (I Kings 20:10 is disputed, but the simple meaning probably fits here too) it means contentment, fulfillment. Where does the meaning of “doubt” derive from? We find the following verse in Isaiah: ישע’ ב:ו – כִּי מָלְאוּ מִקֶּדֶם וְעֹנְנִים כַּפְּלִשְׁתִּים וּבְיַלְדֵי נָכְרִים יַשְׂפִּיקוּ For you have abandoned your people, the house of Jacob, because they are replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers. Rashi’s commentary appears somewhat paradoxical, and is subject to different interpretations. On the one hand the verse refers to the sinners’ pleasure with foreign women, and their offspring from them. But Rashi then compares it to Job 36:18 where it means “incitement resulting from abundance.” The OF word he uses for incitement is “debatement”, which sounds at first blush like the source for the “doubt” meaning of ספק.

But this could be the key to understanding the common thread amongst the meanings: 1. hitting 2. abundance 3. doubt. Balak’s clapping his hands is an expression of frustration and angst – and confusion/doubt as to his next step. But just as anxiety can lead to doubt and uncertainty, so can satiation and abundance. The Torah expresses this elsewhere as וישמן ישורון ויבעט And Yeshurun grew fat and kicked (Deut. 32:15). One has everything he needs, and he begins to doubt whether he still needs the Lord at all C”V. This is my take at first glance at least.


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