[Avodah] Vayisa m'shalo vayomar

Micha Berger micha at aishdas.org
Fri Jul 30 09:47:57 PDT 2021

On Wed, Jun 23, 2021 at 10:38:49PM -0400, Akiva Miller via Avodah wrote:
> There's a word that appears frequently this week in Parshas Balak, and I'd
> like to understand it better: mashal (often translated as "parable"...

> According to my concordance, the word "mashal" - often translated as
> "parable" - appears only 9 times in the Chumash. Of those nine, only one
> (Devarim 28:37) is not in reference to Bil'am....

> What's more, of the seven times it appears this week in Parshas Balak, all
> seven are in the exact same phrase: "vayisa m'shalo vayomar".

> Does anyone go into the meaning of this word? The usual translation
> (parable) makes me think of stories and the underlying point of the
> stories....

I am thinking of the role of mashal in nevu'ah. Except for Moshe

Why did other nevi'im get their nevu'ah bederekh mashal? Because they
had ties to gashmiyus, no matter how much less so than ours, far more
so than MRAH. And therefore their koach hadimyon perforce clothed the
messages in familiar imagery.

Which navi would this be more true of than Bil'am? Chazal so emphasize
his gashmiyus, they tell us of his intimate relationship with his ason!

Perhaps the emphasis on mashal is to emphasize the quality of a
nevu'ah granted to someone who wasn't on the highest planes of personal
development. So, he was enmired in the mashal, and to get to a message
he shared with the people, 'vayisa meshalo vayomar..."

Yes, there is the aggadita that says that Bil'am was given to the nations
so that they cannot complain about not having been given an opportunity
like Moshe. Which may imply that Bil'am was miraculously given nevu'ah on
Moshe's level. But it's clear that until his donkey speaks and he sees the
angel, he expects to have to work himself up into a prophetic state, and
to get his nevu'os in dreams. It would seem that even if that implication
is correct, Bil'am's norm was regular nevu'ah, bederekh mashal.

Jumping back a bit, I am interested in a side-issue RAM raised

> like to understand it better: mashal (often translated as "parable", not to
> be confused with the homonym connoting rulership).

I think we should "confuse" them, as homonyms in Lashon haQodesh are
usually (always?) hinting at some commonality in meaning.

As for "moshel", it stands in contrast to melekh. The Gra has a long
piece on this. "Ki Lashem haMlukhah uMoshei bagoyim" vs. "Vehayah H'
leMelekh al kol ha'aretz". The notion of "ein melekh belo am", that a
king is king by public acclimation, isn't true of moshlim in general.
A moshel rules, whether as a publicly accepted melekh or not. Which is
why Hashem is Moshel over the other nations until the messianic era,
when He will be Melekh over all. (And on RH, Malkhiyos is us accepting
the Melekh.)

"Mashal" also has a third meaning, at least in Rabbinic Hebrew, it could
mean an example. As in, "If you buy something expensive, lemashal, a 3
carat diamond, ..." Admittedly, I didn't see that usage in Tanakh. But
even if the usage is Chazal's, maybe is sheds /some/ light as to how
the shoresh was viewed by them. Perhaps to them a mashal illustrates
an idea either by giving a concrete an example, or a concrete image
for a more abstract concept.

What common meaning would come out of that chulent?

To RSRH (Bereishis 4:9), /m-sh-l/ is to give the character and designation
something *should* have. (Not what it has right now.) A moshel determines
the nation's goal state. A mashal is not just a metaphor, but one that
allows someone in the real to get an image of the ideal.

Wouldn't explain the later evolution of the word, though, as an example
is often an existing instance.

Genesius: "Learned men have made many attempts to reconcile the
significations of making like, and ruling; However I have no doubt but
that from the signification of making like, is derived that of judging,
forming an opinion (compare nei'im)."

Not sure what to make of that. Apparently neither did Brown-Driver-Briggs,
since there is no linkage of the usages in their lexicon, which
the subtitle says is "[b]ased on the lexicon of William Gesenius, as
translated by Edward Robinson, and edited with constant reference to the
thesaurus of Gesenius as completed by E. Roediger, and with authorized
use of the German editions of Gesenius' Handwoeterbuch ueber das Alte

What appealed to me was what I saw in Jastrow. He points to Yoma 46a,
and says the shoresh means "to handle or touch". And thus a mashal is a
tangible version of an abstract truth, and a moshel handles to attend,
manage or control. And that does indeed explain the later development
of mashal as an example.

Would any of these help for "vayisa meshalo vayomar", or answer why
the word is particularly apt for Bil'am?


Micha Berger                 Man is a drop of intellect drowning in a sea
http://www.aishdas.org/asp   of instincts.
Author: Widen Your Tent                            - Rav Yisrael Salanter
- https://amzn.to/2JRxnDF

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