Thursday, July 2, 2015

Torah Thoughts on Balak

This week’s Torah portion, Balak, (Num. 22:2 – 25:9) tells how King Balak of Moab, fearing that the Israelites have grown too numerous and are a threat to his people, deals with them.  He hires Balaam, a prophet of Midian, to curse the people Israel.  Balaam at first declines the job, having heard directly from God that this is a blessed people.  But when Balak sends delegations of important Moabites and promises of great rewards, Balaam weakens.  God speaks to him once again, saying that he may go if he chooses, but the only words he will be able to speak are those which God puts in his mouth.

When Balak and Balaam arrive at the chosen spot, overlooking the Israelite camp, Balaam opens his mouth to curse Israel, but only words of blessing come from his mouth.  Balak thinks perhaps there is something wrong with where they are standing and moves them twice, but still, all Balaam can do is bless Israel.

A note in the Etz Hayim Torah Commentary, attributed to Beit Ramah, wonders why, if “he whom you [Balaam] bless is blessed indeed, and he whom you curse is cursed” (Num. 22:7) Balak did not hire Balaam to bless his own people instead of cursing Israel.  Because, the commentary reasons, he was so consumed by hatred that he forgot about his people’s needs and could think only about hurting his enemy.  Hatred does indeed make us stupid, and works against our own best interests.  Let us not depend on God to changes curses to blessings, but do it ourselves.

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