1) AGADAH: BILAM, THE SON OF BE'OR
QUESTION: The Gemara lists several degrading qualities about Bilam which are hinted to in his name. The verse calls him "Ben Be'or" -- "the son of Be'or" (Bamidbar 22:5). The word "Be'or" means donkey (see Bereishis 45:17 for a similar usage of the word). The Gemara explains that he had intimate relations with his donkey. Does the Gemara mean that Bilam's father, Be'or, had relations with his donkey, or that Bilam, the son of Be'or, committed this act?
(a) The YAD RAMAH says that the Gemara refers to Bilam, whom the verse alludes to as a "Ben Be'or" -- "a son who had relations with a donkey." The Gemara later (105b) indeed says that Bilam's donkey implied as much in his conversation with Bilam. The donkey said to Bilam, "I am your donkey which you rode on me... have I ever put you in danger (ha'Hasken Hiskanti) to do this to you?" (Bamidbar 22:30). The Gemara explains that word "Hasken" is used in reference to Avishag ("Sochenes"), who was brought in to keep David ha'Melech warm in his old age. The Gemara understands that Bilam's donkey was referring to its similar companionship with Bilam.
The Yad Ramah explains that this Gemara leads into the following Gemara, which points out an apparent contradiction in the verses. The verse, "Ben Be'or" (Bamidbar 22:5), implies that Bilam was the son of Be'or, while the verse later, "Beno Be'or" (Bamidbar 24:3), implies that Be'or was his son. Rebbi Yochanan answers that Be'or indeed was Bilam's father, but with regard to his ability to prophesy he was like Bilam's son, in that he was a Navi of a lesser degree. The Gemara earlier derived from the words "Ben Be'or" that Bilam had relations with his donkey. The Gemara now seeks to understand the simply meaning of these words. Do they mean that Be'or was Bilam's father, or that he was Bilam's son? Rebbi Yochanan answers that the simple meaning of the words is that Be'or was Bilam's father but he was inferior to Bilam in prophecy.
(b) Alternatively, the Yad Ramah explains that the Gemara refers to the reason why Bilam's father was called Be'or. It was Be'or, Bilam's father, who had relations with a donkey.
(c) The MELO HA'RO'IM quotes the SHELAH who explains that Be'or and Bilam were actually the same person. The Shelah is so certain of this explanation that he asserts that there must be a printer's mistake in the text of Rashi (DH Tana Hu Be'or) which states that Be'or was the father of Bilam. (Y. MONTROSE)
2) AGADAH: PRAYING FOR THE DEMISE OF THE WICKED
QUESTION: The Gemara teaches that there is a moment during each day when Hash-m's anger, as it were, is aroused against the world. One who knows this time can cause destruction by saying certain things at that moment. (See Insights to Berachos 7:1.) The Gemara relates that Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi had a wicked neighbor who was a heretic. Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi decided to utilize the moment of Hash-m's wrath to speak words of destruction about the heretic. He waited for the proper time to arrive, but before it came he fell asleep. When he woke up later, he said, "I see from here that it is not proper to arrange the death of a person in this manner." He cited supported for this from the verse, "Gam Anosh la'Tzadik Lo Tov," which he interpreted as, "Also it is not good for a righteous person to mete out punishment" (Mishlei 17:26).
What was wrong with what Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi intended to do? The Gemara in Avodah Zarah (26a) teaches that the law of "Moridin v'Lo Ma'alin" applies to a heretic (Min). This means that one may lower a Min down into a pit to die there, and there is no obligation to lift him up from the pit to save him. (See AVODAH BERURAH to Avodah Zarah 4b, who cites the CHAZON ISH who said that this Halachah does not apply today.) What, then, was improper with Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi's plan to pray that the Min should die?
(a) TOSFOS in Berachos (7a, DH ha'Hu Tzeduki) answers that one is supposed to kill a Min only in a normal manner. Rebbi Yehoshua realized that it was not right to kill the Min through Heavenly intervention.
The BE'ER SHEVA has difficulty with Tosfos' answer. The Gemara in Berachos records the same incident but with two differences. The Gemara here says that it is not acceptable to use this method "even for Minim," while the Gemara in Berachos does not include the words "even for Minim." Also, in Berachos, Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi quoted the verse, "v'Rachamav Al Kol Ma'asav" -- "And his mercy is on all of his creations" (Tehilim 145:9). If a Min is supposed to be killed, why did Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi quote this verse? Moreover, the Chachamim specifically instituted in the Shemoneh Esreh a blessing for the downfall of the heretics (Berachos 28b, "Birkas ha'Tzedukim"), clearly implying that it is appropriate to pray for their demise.
Although the Be'er Sheva leaves his first question unanswered, he answers his second question. Tosfos does not mean that one may not ask Hash-m to kill Minim. Rather, Tosfos means that one should not use the time of Hash-m's wrath to compel Hash-m, so to speak, to kill the Min. However, praying that the Min should die, through normal means of prayer, is acceptable and permitted.
The ETZ YOSEF in Berachos (7b) makes a comment which answers the Be'er Sheva's first question on Tosfos. He explains that the verse, "v'Rachamav Al Kol Ma'asav," does not refer to the Min, but to the chicken which must be tied to a bed in order for the destructive words to have their effect at the moment of Hash-m's wrath. Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi realized that since the chicken must be tied to the bed for a long time and must suffer pain as a result, he should not use this method to bring an end to the Min's activities.
(b) Tosfos in Berachos records a different text of the Gemara, according to which the Be'er Sheva's first question is answered. According to that text, the Gemara is discussing a Nochri, not a Min. The Gemara in Avodah Zarah (26a) says that one may not kill a Nochri. This answers all of the questions of Tosfos and the Be'er Sheva. Why, then, did Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi pray that the Nochri should die? Tosfos in Avodah Zarah (4b, DH Shema Minah Telas), who seems to favor this approach, says that he did not pray that the Nochri should die but rather that all of the Nochri's wicked activities should cease. (Y. MONTROSE)