July 17, 2019 at 2:55 AM , , ,

“…Who has counted the dust of Yaakov?…” – Bamidbar 23:10

מִי מָנָה עֲפַר יַעֲקֹב – במדבר כג, י

Bilaam attempted to curse the Bnei Yisrael, but G-d caused him to bless them and praise them instead. Extolling Bnei Yisrael’s great merits and their endearment to G-d, Bilaam said, “Who has counted the dust of Yaakov?” According to one interpretation brought by Rashi, Bilaam was saying, “Even the mitzvos they observe with dust are innumerable!” For example, says Rashi, the Jewish people are commanded not to harness an ox and a donkey together when plowing the earth (Devarim 22:10), not to sow their fields with a mixture of seeds (Vayikra 19:19), and many similar mitzvos.


These two examples given by Rashi emphasize yet another nuance in Bilaam’s praise of Bnei Yisrael. The Talmud enumerates several mitzvos that the Torah demands not only of Bnei Yisrael, but also of all of humankind, “the offspring of Noach” Among the observances incumbent upon non-Jews as well, are the prohibition to crossbreed animals and the prohibition of grafting different species of trees together. Still, as the Talmud (Sanhedrin 56b)notes, only limited forms of these hybridizations are forbidden for gentiles. “They are permitted to… sow diverse seeds together; they are forbidden only to hybridize animals and to graft trees of different kinds.” The Torah prohibits a non-Jew only from direct and active mutation of nature, such as crossbreeding animals or grafting one species of tree upon another. For a Jew, however, the prohibitions of this nature are much broader in scope. The Torah prohibits a Jew from even joining two different animals to plow under one yoke, or from planting a mixture of seeds—in which the hybridization happens on its own.

Rashi therefore cites specifically the prohibitions of plowing with two different animals and planting a mixture of seeds as examples of the numerous mitzvos that the Jewish people observe. In doing so Rashi draws attention to the fact that even in the aspects of mitzvah observance that are incumbent upon non-Jews as well, the Jews’ obligations in those very areas outnumber theirs, thus so do their virtues.

—Likutei Sichos, vol. 38, p. 96, fn. 50


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