מה טובו אהליך יעקב משכנתיך ישראל.
“How beautiful are your tents, Yakov, and your dwelling places, Yisroel.” (Bamidbar 24:5)
What is the significance of the double reference to the Jewish people, first as Yakov and then as Yisroel? And what is the significance of the double reference to their tents and dwelling places, both meaning the Jewish people’s homes?
There is a beautiful insight found in this verse, which answers these questions:
A tent is a temporary residence, while a dwelling place is a more permanent home. The word “mishknoisecha – your dwelling places” could mean the Mishkan, the place where bnei Yisroel served Hashem. The name Yisroel is a more beloved reference to the Jewish people than Yakov, and symbolizes their adherence to the Torah and service of Hashem.
The world we live in is a temporary world; it is likened to a waiting room or antechamber. The World to Come is the real world, the world of eternity. Our sages tell us that Yitzchok’s two sons, Yakov and Esav, inherited both worlds and they divided this inheritance between themselves. Yakov inherited Olam Habbah, the World to Come, while Esav inherited Olam Hazeh, the transient physical world. If so, how could the Jewish people have any benefit of the physical world? How could they enjoy wealth and prosperity when they have no share in this world, since it belongs to Esav?
Our sages discuss this difficulty and explain that the Jewish people became entitled to benefit from the physical world when they accepted the Torah. Hashem created the world on condition that the Torah should be kept. None of the nations agreed to keep the Torah; only the Jewish people took this awesome responsibility upon themselves. When the nations rejected the Torah, the world was in danger of being destroyed (Avoda Zara 5a). By agreeing to accept the Torah, the Jewish people essentially saved the world from destruction. Therefore, the Jewish people have entitlement to the world, just like a person who pulls a valuable gem out of the ocean is entitled to keep it (Bava Metzia 24a). So we arrive at the conclusion that bnei Yisroel have inherited the World to Come, but they may also benefit from Olam Hazeh because the world exists in their merit.
This is the meaning of Bilam’s praise: “How beautiful are your tents, Yakov.” Yakov deserves to benefit from the physical world, which is like a temporary tent, because “mishkenosecha – your dwelling places, Yisroel,” you study the Torah and serve Hashem. When the Jewish people study Torah, they are worthy of being called “Yisroel” and they create a Mishkan, a place for the Divine presence to rest in this world. Yisroel is saving the world by keeping the Torah, and therefore they are entitled to Olam Hazeh as well.
We now understand why the Jewish people are entitled to benefit from the physical world after they accepted the Torah. Why were they permitted to enjoy wealth and prosperity before kabalas haTorah? They were worthy of this in the merit of Yakov who studied Torah, as the possuk says, “And Yakov sat in the tents” (Bereishis 25:27). This, too, is alluded to in the above-mentioned verse: “How beautiful are your tents, Yakov.” The Jewish people are entitled to benefit from the temporary world which is likened to a tent, in the merit of Yakov who studied Torah.
The world exists in the merit of those who keep the Torah. By keeping the Torah, we are not only worthy of inheriting the World to Come but we may also benefit from this world’s bounty.