We begin davening with the Pasuk מה טבו אהלך יעקב משכנתיך ישראל. This Pasuk appears in the Nevuah of Bilaam. However the Maharshal in Tshuvah 64 says not to say this Pasuk because he feels uncomfortable being that it was said by a Rasha such as Bilaam. But according to the understanding that the Pasuk is referring to בתי כנסיות ובתי מדרשות (סנהדרין קה) (which is why we say it when we walk into shul), it’s a powerful thing that even a Rasha like Bilaam recognized this attribute of Klal Yisrael and therefore all the more so of a reason that it should be included in our davening.
But even with that tremendous recognition, it didn’t change Bilaam and his ways and he remained who he was. So we read this Pasuk of מה טבו along withואני ברב חסדך אבוא ביתך אשתחוה אל היכל קדשיך to express that the fact that we don’t remain on the outside and we do enter and connect, is not to our credit. Rather it’s only ברוב חסדך that we are able to enter and connect and not be like Bilaam. Therefore, it’s an empowering idea that in spite of the fact that we go to shul and try to connect but still feel like outsiders, it’s the chessed Hashem that gives us the ability to enter and connect.
We begin davening (Pesukei D’zimrah) with the Pasukim in דברי הימים א פרק טז (ח-לו) that begin with הודו לה' קראו בשמו and conclude with ברוך ה' אלוקי ישראל וכו' until רוממו ה'. These set of Psukim were said at the time of the bringing of the Tamid, the first half in the morning and the second half in the afternoon. The subsequent Psukim, רוממו ה' וכו' להדום רגליו were instituted later by the second Beis Hamikdash where there was no Aron so the Pasuk והשתחו להדום רגליו, is referring to the place where the Aron used to be (Seder Oilam brought in the Shulchan Aruch Harav). But where does the הודו come from?
In the beginning of Shmuel Aleph, the Plishtim steal the ארון but then bad things begin happening to them. They decide to tie the Aron to the backs of cows and let them wander. If they walked towards בית שמש, which is where the Jews were currently, then it will become clear that that’s where it is supposed to be and that is the reason for all the calamities that were happening to them. And so it happened that the cows walked in that direction. The Gemara in Avoda Zarah 24b quotes the Pasuk from there as follows וישרנה הפרות בדרך על דרך בית שמש. The simple understanding of the Pasuk is that they straightened out and went on the way towards Beit Shemesh. But the Gemara says as follows:
וישרנה הפרות בדרך על דרך בית שמש וגו' - מאי וישרנה? א"ר יוחנן משום ר"מ: שאמרו שירה וכו' ומאי שירה אמרו? ור' יוחנן דידיה אמר: ואמרתם ביום ההוא הודו לה' קראו בשמו [וגו']
The cows were singing these Psukim from Divrei Hayamim that we begin davening with. In a similar vein with what was said above, when we start davening, we might feel like we aren’t fit to and are inadequate. But then we are reminded that even the cows can sing, so if we want to, we can to. ויפתח ה' את פי האתון ותאמר לבלעם מה עשיתי לך כי הכיתני זה שלש רגלים (כב,כח)
On the above Pasuk, the Sforno writes נתן בה כח לדבר כענין ה' שפתי תפתח. Reb Yerucham in a schmooze as recorded in the Sefer יונת אלם asks on this Sforno what is the comparison of Hashem opening up the mouth of the donkey to the request we says as we begin Shemona Esrei ה' שפתי תפתח? Reb Yerucham explains that you see from the Sforno that the fact that a person can open his mouth and daven to Hashem is just as much as a chiddush as when the donkey spoke because it really only is because Hashem wants it to be so. Therefore, even when a person feels that he is incapable and inadequate, he never really is adequately prepared to speak to the Ribono Shel Oilam as there is a tremendous gap. That gap requires a tremendous leap that is not really possible with the human effort just like it required a tremendous leap for the donkey to speak to Bilaam. But if we commit to doing it even though we don’t really feel capable of doing it, Hashem will grant us the ability to talk to him
The Gemara in Baba Basra 14b says משה כתב ספרו ופרשת בלעם. What is the chiddush of the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu wrote the Parshah of Bilaam?
Rashi says נבואתו ומשליו אף על פי שאינן צורכי משה ותורתו וסדר מעשיו. It’s difficult to understand why Parshas Bilaam would be considered אינן צורכי משה ותורתו as opposed to other parts of the Torah.
The Ritva writes נראין דברי האומרים שאין זו פרשת בלעם שכתובה בתורה דההיא הקדוש ברוך הוא כתבה כשאר התורה, אלא פרשה בפני עצמה היא שכתב והאריך בה יותר והיתה מצויה להם. According to the Ritva, the Parshah we have in the Torah of Bilaam is different than what the Parshah of Bilaam that was written by Moshe.
See the attached Shtickle by the Rav for this vort.
In the Haftorah, the Navi Michah signs off with הגיד לך אדם מה טוב ומה ה' דורש ממך כי אם עשות משפט ואהבת חסד והצנע לכת עם אלקיך. One would think that such an important and foundational Pasuk should be written in a well-known open pronounced place and not tucked away in Michah. However, that wouldn’t be so צנוע because overly pronounced Tznius is not Tznius.
Similarly, sometimes people become preoccupied with the means and they lose sight of the goal. Like the guy who comes home Friday night from Shul and the Challah isn’t covered and he screams and embarrasses his wife even though the entire purpose of covering the Challah Friday night is in order not to embarrass the Challah which teaches us about being sensitive to others and not to embarrass others. Also regarding the Halacha to make a cut in the Challah in order to have the cutting and eating as close as possible to the Brachah but then he can’t find it and spends a few minutes locating the cut, completely defeating the purpose of making the incision to begin with. These are examples of how people become preoccupied with the means and lose sight of the goal. Same thing by Tznius, that if you overemphasize Tznius, it no longer becomes Tznius because Tznius is really about a way of life.