Master of the Moment

Parashat Balak, Numbers 22:2–25:9

by Rabbi Isaac Roussel, Congregation Zera Avraham

The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 4a–b) discusses our Sages’ belief that God gets angry only once a day. The discussion revolves around the scene of God’s anger at the Golden Calf incident. Moses tries to appease God, and God tells him to wait until his anger passes. Moses had already affected reconciliation between God and Israel over the incident, so God still couldn’t be angry over that. So, the sages conclude that this means that God has an appointed time every day in which he is angry. Our Sages then ask, “How long does his anger last every day?” The answer is “a moment.” I am surmising that this is based on Psalm 30:6, which says “For his anger only lasts a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime.”

The Hebrew word for moment is rega. It means a wink, a motion so fast that one cannot actually see it. Our own English word, moment, has the same basis. It comes from the word momentum and has the connotation of the swift movement of the second hand on a clock. The Talmud goes on to define a rega in two ways. The first is that it is as long as it takes to say the word “rega”. But another authority defines it as 1/58,888 of an hour, basically one quarter of a second.

The Talmud continues to state that Bil’am knew when this moment was every day. It was because of this knowledge that King Balak sought him out so he could curse Israel at that precise moment and thereby bring God’s judgment down. It quotes our Haftarah reading from Micah, where God says to Israel, “Remember my kindness when Balak and Bil’am plotted against you” (6:5, paraphrase).

One could say that Bil’am was a Baal Rega, a Master of the Moment. But he was thwarted by Hashem and instead was forced to bless our people instead of cursing them (Num. 23:20, 24:12–13).

Yeshua, however, is the true Baal Rega, the true Master of the Moment. He dies at the precise moment of God’s anger and thereby takes on God’s judgment of Israel and the nations of the world. In Isaiah 54:8 God says to Israel, “In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment [rega], but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you.” While this is a message to Israel, we can view this midrashically to be a statement to Yeshua as the One-Man-Israel. Yeshua as he is dying is rejected by Hashem for a rega, a moment. And Yeshua cries out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani” (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?). But then God elevates him with everlasting compassion to sit at his right hand and rule as King Messiah!

The Talmud also asks, “What could Bilam have said in an instant?” In other words, what curse could someone utter in such a brief span of time, a rega? The answer given is that he could have said “kaleim”, (chaf-lamed-mem), which means “Destroy them!” But it goes on to state that God thwarted him by reversing the letters to “melech” (mem-lamed-chaf), which means “king”. The Talmud references Numbers 23:21, where it says “and the shout of the king is among them.” The Hebrew translated as shout is actually the word teruah, which is one of the sounds made by blowing the shofar.

We can create our own midrash using this and Rav Shaul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:52, “It will happen in a moment [rega], in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet [teruah] is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.” At the end of time, Yeshua, our Baal Rega, will return as King with a shout, a trumpet blast, a teruah. And in an instant, a rega, will usher in the Messianic Age!

As we march towards Tisha B’Av (August 1 this year), when we commemorate the destruction of the two Temples and also—as is the practice in our congregation—Yeshua’s death, let us have gratitude for God’s mercies. Let us be grateful that he sent us his only son to be our Baal Rega, our Master of the Moment. Let us praise and worship Messiah Yeshua for his mighty act of redemption. In a rega he died for the sins of Israel and the whole world. In a rega he reversed Kaleim to Melech, Destruction to King. And in a rega, he will return as King with a trumpet blast, bringing all to its final consummation. May Hashem bring it speedily and in our days!

Shabbat Shalom!

Stephanie Escalnate