Parshat Balak Highlights

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First Portion:

  • Apparently the fear of the Israelites, with them winning wars over their neighbors, forced the Moabites to choose a new king, Balak. Although Balak was not of pure Moabite descent, nevertheless, because of his military prowess and ,more importantly, his sorcerer abilities, he was chosen to lead the Moabite people and destroy the Jewish nation. Sorcerer abilities? one may ask. Well, are you ready for this. As an example of his powers, he was able to manipulate evil forces, like some others of his time. They could create birds that revealed secrets of the future. They used certain combinations of materials (gold for the head, silver for the beak, copper for the wings and so on) and assembled the parts at certain hours of the day. Finally they inserted in the bird’s mouth the tongue of a living bird and then put the artificial bird on the sill of an open window so it faced the sun by day and the moon at night. Seven days later the magicians pierced it with a golden needle and the bird began to talk. Balak was more of an expert than anyone else at creating this magic bird. His name Balak ben Tzippor implies “Balak who can discover the future by means of the magic bird”.
  • In order to destroy the Jews Balak attempted to recruit Bilam, who was a very prominent figure in the world. Bilam was one of the most complex characters in the Torah. He was the last non-Jewish prophet, a gift which was taken away from the nations because the privilege was abused by Bilam. We use the term prophet loosely though. He first appears in the parsha as a human menace, one who with his magic or evil eye, wreaked havoc. At the same time his dependence on G-d is stressed, for he decides nothing without G-d’s consultation. Originally, Bilam’s task was positive, to bless the Jewish People, which he did rather vociferously at the end. However, Balak sends a delegation to Bilam to recruit him to curse the Jews. Where as G-d warns Bilam not to go with them. “You shall not curse the people for they are blessed”.

Second Portion:

Bilam turns the delegation away however he leaves the door open. Later in this section,G-d permits Bilam to travel with another delegation of Balak. Why a change of heart ? Why this time did G-d allow it ? When G-d sees a person is realy insisting on going in a certain direction, not only does he allow it but he actually paves a path for him. Man has to realize in his heart if he’s correct in his assessment of the subject matter. This is freedom of choice.

Third Section:

  • There is a comparison in this section “getting up in the morning and saddling his donkey” with Abraham our forefather when he got up in the morning of his final test of sacrificing his son. There “donkey” is referred to as chamor,which can also mean materialism. Here, by Bilam, who saddles up his donkey to meet with Balak, it’s “atano”. The sages teach us Abraham was able to ride over, or dominate over (overcome), his materialism whereas Bilam succumbed to it. Money and physical pleasures was his weakness.
  • One of the most mind boggling and bizarre, if not funny, episodes in the Torah happens here. Apparently the thick-headed Bilam just didn’t get it about continuing with his quest. So an angel was sent to stop Bilam on the road. However he didn’t realize the angel was there and scolded and physically struck his donkey in frustration when the donkey refused to move ahead. The donkey then opens his mouth and starts to talk. ” Why are you hitting me, have I not been loyal to you? There must be a reason why I stopped on the road”.

Fourth Section: Bilam meets Balak.

  • The reason Balak took tremendous pains to recruit Bilam for his evil mission was that Bilam knew the precise moment of G-d’s anger and he figured by cursing the Jews at that moment his desire of destroying them would be accomplished.
  • Again we see the complexity of Bilam’s personality. Who was he? In this section he brings a sacrifice to G-d in the hope that G-d would change his mind about the Jews. His reliance on G-d was very commendable.

Fifth Section:

We learn a valuable lesson about speech. We once mentioned in our newsletter how when we were kids we would taunt others with the phrase “sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never harm me”. Oh do we know now how untrue that is. Words can have a tremendous psychological impact. Bilam and Balak were obsessed with uttering curses against the Jews and The Torah goes out of its way to tell us that the words that came out instead were a blessing. One should know even the curses of the wicked are dangerous!!

Sixth Portion:

Bilam was quite impressed,observing from the top of the mountain, with the way the the Israelites pitched their tent. Purposely the opening of a tent would not face the opening of the neighbors. One of the virtues of the Jews is modesty and privacy. This thought was perhaps subconsciously implemented in his blessing.

Seventh Portion:

  • Although Bilam and Balak were not successful in cursing the Jews they did manage to make the Jewish males sin through the the Moabite female seductresses. One such person that sinned, Zimri, was the Nassi of the tribe of Shimon. He was seduced by Cosby,who happened to be Balak’s daughter. He brazenly and rebelliously took her in public to have relations with her in the tent. Pinchas, who was the grandson of Aharon, was so enraged by Zimri’s despicable act, that he took a spear and killed both of them in the act.
  • Approximately 24,000 were killed as of the result of Bilam’s plan.

Credit to: Rabbi Avi Matmon