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The end of parshas Balak is the sin at Shitim with the Bnos Moav, culminating in the sin of Zimri and Cozbi. Pinchas kills them both, stopping the plague. That would have been a good place to stop, but the last verse says (Numbers 25:9):

וַיִּהְי֕וּ הַמֵּתִ֖ים בַּמַּגֵּפָ֑ה אַרְבָּעָ֥ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֖ים אָֽלֶף׃

Those who died of the plague numbered twenty-four thousand.

That's a rather depressing note. The Rema in OC 138:1 says:

. וִיכַוֵּן שֶׁיַּתְחִיל תָּמִיד לִקְרֹא בְּדָבָר טוֹב, וִיסַיֵּם בְּדָבָר טוֹב

And one should aim to always begin to read on a good matter and to end on a good matter

Why does the parsha end in a way that doesn't fit this halacha? Better yet, stop before the whole story with Shittim. I must admit I haven't checked this Rema against every aliyah in the Torah, and for all I know there are other counter examples, but this one is pretty striking. Now I wonder if someone would argue that it's good the sinners died, but I think it's pretty bad that the sinning got to such a level that that many died.

  • Better yet, why not end the parshah later on, when HaShem rewards Pinchas for his actions? – DonielF Jul 9 '17 at 2:55
  • Where to end the parsha isn't a choice, as Aliyah breaks are. That halakha is about Aliyah breaks within a parsha – Double AA Jul 9 '17 at 2:59
  • Noach ends with Terach's death. Toldos ends with Eisav joining forces with Yishmael to kill Yaakov at the right opportunity. Mikeitz ends with the winebearer forgetting Yosef. Vayechi ends with Yosef's death. Va'eira ends with Paroh reneging on his promise to let the Jews go. Ki Seitzei ends with the pleasant reminder of what Amalek did and the commandment to wipe them out. Ha'azinu ends with HaShem telling Moshe he won't enter Eretz Yisrael. Vezos Haberachah ends with Moshe's death, and that nobody will ever be like he was. (Con't) – DonielF Jul 9 '17 at 3:08
  • For those communities that read Im Kesef, the parshah ends with the curse that one who afflicts orphans and widows, his wife will become a widow and his children orphans, and he will die. – DonielF Jul 9 '17 at 3:09
  • As @DoubleAA alluded to, the siman you quoted, with its discussion of reading no less than 3 Pesukim rather than 10 would seem to be discussing aliyos rather than parshios. – DonielF Jul 9 '17 at 3:10
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Baruch Hashem, I'm not alone. This question is addressed by various sources, all brought in Ma Shehaya Hu Sheyihyeh Shir HaShirim II 5:3 fn. 8 by Rabbi Eliyahu Wolf from Yeshivas Ner Yisroel, Baltimore. He brings as follows:

Birkas Aharon Berachos § 268 by Rav Aharon Levine asks this question, as well on how parshas Kedoshim ends. He leaves it as צ"ע.

Death of the Erev Rav

Pardes Yosef HeChadash Balak § 212 (at the end) suggests an answer:

י"ל ע"פ מש"כ בזוה"ק פ' פנחס דהכ"ד אלף שמתו במגפה היו מערב רב שהולידו מבנות שבט שמעון

He brings from the Zohar III p. 236b that the 24,000 people who died in the plague were really the wicked erev rav. The reason the verse says they're from the tribe of Shimon is because these were offspring from the erev rav who married woman from the tribe of Shimon.

Presumably it's good that the erev rav died, as they were a negative influence. Even though these individuals were raised by Jewish mothers, it sounds like the Pardes Yosef HeChadash is suggesting that they too were wicked (presumably because of their wicked fathers, and the fact that their mothers married them proves they weren't too good either).

Chomas Anach Balak § 7 by the Chida also brings the Zohar. Not clear if he's addressing this question also, or just wants you to know about the Zohar.

Also, Sanhedrin 106a says ‏כ"ד אלף [שהפיל מישראל]‏, with the last words in brackets. Margaliyos HaYam Sanhedrin 106a § 14 points out that this could work with the opinion of the Zohar, that these words don't belong here.

Doesn't apply

In Ma Shehaya Hu Sheyihyeh Haftaros I p. 87 fn. 5, he brings a few other sources.

The Maharsham (in his glosses to Moed Katan 28b) asks this question. His first answer doesn't seem to be helpful here, as he is addressing parshas Kedoshim and says that verse is talking to Beis Din. His second answer sounds like he's saying that the entire Torah is good. As well, it's all letters from the name of Hashem. It sounds like according to this, he's saying this halacha doesn't apply

The Ben Ish Chai in Rav Pe'alim IV Orach Chaim § 42 answers that this rule only applied when there was the original halacha that only the first person makes a beracha on reading the Torah and the last person (Megillah 21a). The people in between shouldn't finish their aliya on a negative note. However, the person who makes the beracha, that is really how they're "ending". That's always considered ending on a positive note. Today, where everyone makes a beracha after, it always ends on a positive note. This halacha doesn't apply then.

According to these answers, I'm not sure why the Rema brought this halacha.

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