While en route to cursing the Jewish Nation, Bilaam struck his donkey three times when it turned off the path, blocked by the angel of Hashem. The donkey then spoke and said, “What have I done to you that you struck me these three times?” (Devarim 22:28)
HaGaon R’ Yitzchak Pinchas Goldwasser refers to Rashi’s statement that Bilaam was being asked how he could hope to destroy a nation that celebrates the shalosh regalim (the three Pilgrimage Festivals). This would seem to imply that the fulfillment of this particular mitzvah impeded Bilaam’s success. Yet in an earlier posuk (22:26), Rashi states that the angel’s stopping in three places alludes to the three Patriarchs. This suggests that it was the merit of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov that would protect and shield the Jewish Nation.
R’ Goldwasser asks: What will actually protect the Jewish Nation from Bilaam? And what is unique about the shalosh regalim that could serve as a safeguard for the wellbeing of the Jewish Nation?
He explains that it is not merely the personal merits of our forefathers that will protect the Jewish Nation. It is the lifestyle, their righteousness, and their ethical conduct with which they have imbued their children, that will shield the Jewish Nation. Moreover, he cites the Tur in Orach Chaim that describes the three regalim as in fact referring to the three avos.
Pesach is associated with Avraham, Shavuos with Yitzchak, and Succos with Yaakov. Avraham Avinu is recognized as the paradigm of emunah, which he demonstrated in the face of his many challenges, and this strength was inculcated into the Jewish Nation. It was heightened and reinforced by the miracles that the Jewish people experienced when Hashem took them out of Mitzrayim and split the Sea of Reeds.
Yitzchak transmitted to us yiras Shamayim, fear of Heaven. On the occasion of matan Torah, fear and awe prevailed, amplified by the sounds of the shofar, as it states (Amos 3:6), “Is the shofar sounded and people do not tremble?”
The shofar is also reminiscent of the ram’s horn from Akeidas Yitzchak. Yaakov instilled within us the recognition of hashgacha pratis (Divine Providence). The succah symbolizes the Clouds of Glory, which represent the concept of being watched over and protected by Hashem.
The angel criticized Bilaam: You wish to uproot a nation that celebrates the three regalim which are intertwined with the merits of their forefathers. You will not be successful because the Jewish people are saturated with the goodness of their forefathers and it will be impossible to eradicate that.
Many enemies throughout the generations have tried to extinguish the resolve and spirit of the Jewish people. But we remain undaunted, our morale and courage indomitable, bolstered by characteristics and qualities of our forefathers and protected by the merit of the shalosh regalim, reminiscent of the virtues of the avos.
An Unexpected Intervention
HaGaon R’ Tuvia Goldstein, rosh yeshiva of Emek Halacha, once related the following: During the war a number of bachurim who had learned in Baranovich with R’ Elchonon Wasserman and afterwards in Kamenitz with HaGaon R’ Baruch Ber were sent to a work camp. The group was assigned to split logs and stack them. During the week they did their work faithfully, but on Shabbos they tried to minimize the labor that was forbidden. Well versed in the halachos of Shabbos, they knew that if one log could be carried by one person and two carried it instead, there would be no Shabbos desecration. Additionally, when they had to carry the bigger logs, they would stop after every three steps.
They worked this way every Shabbos, until one week a supervisor observed their odd conduct. As the bachurim returned after a hard day of work to obtain their meager rations they were instead redirected to the supervisor’s office. There they were berated by the supervisor for ostensibly slacking off their duties. He informed them that there would be a court case to determine their fate for this deliberate slowdown. Needless to say, they were apprehensive, but there was not much they could do. Desperately, one of the group called out that they were only heeding their laws, but this only further infuriated the supervisor.
Just then, an inspection contingent from the commander’s office in Moscow entered the supervisor’s office. Standing close to a bachur, one of them quietly whispered to him, “A gutten voch.” The bachur shuddered with fear, but the man quickly added, “I am also a Jew.” He then revealed something amazing.
He had been born in Slutzk, and when he joined the NKVD his mother was distraught and declared that he would burn in gehennom. Finally, she begged him that at the very least he should try to do something good for an observant Jew once in his lifetime.
“Until now, I have not been able to fulfill her request,” said the officer, “but it looks like that moment has arrived. It must be Divine Providence that our jeep broke down close by and we were forced to come here this evening to have it repaired.” He asked how he could be of assistance, and when the young man related the details of what had occurred, the officer, who was the head of the inspection group, addressed the supervisor.
“Allow me to intervene in the judgment of this case,” he said. He asked when the prisoners had arrived in camp and was informed that they had come on Tuesday. “How was their work performance?” he asked. He was told that their work was satisfactory that day, as well as on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. “In fact,” he was told, “on Thursday there was an incident, and the men actually prevented us from incurring severe damage.”
“If so,” noted the inspector, “that would indicate that these men are neither lazy nor unskilled workers, and they have no intentions of delaying your work. In fact, they are weak and tired. Perhaps you should increase their rations with another 200 grams of bread.”
Those orders were followed, and the bachurim were not only saved from an immediate death sentence but were able to survive the war with additional sustenance. For the remainder of their lives these bachurim celebrate the 12th of Tammuz as the day of their salvation.