Good Erev Shabbos all wonderful readers!  This week’s parsha post should be l’ilui nishmas Chaim ben Clara (Gilman).


Today, we are going to unlock and delve into a few highlights from the first of the prophet Bilam’s trio of curse-turned-blessing orations, that amaze us in this week’s sidra.  Let’s begin!


“Vayisa m’shalo vayomar:  Min-Aram yancheini Balak melech-Moav may’har’rai-kedem l’cha arah-li Yaakov ul’cha zo’amah Yisrael – He pronounced his parable and said:  From Aram, Balak, king of Moab, led me from the mountains of the east, ‘Come curse Jacob for me, come bring anger upon Israel.'”
{Bamidbar 23:7}

The Baal Haturim expounds upon “Min-Aram – From Aram” (and I paraphrase):  Bilam was led from his home of Aram to invoke curses against the Jewish People (which by the word of Hashem were ultimately delivered instead as blessings).  He inquired rhetorically of the king, Balak:  “How can I come from Aram to curse, if the VERY PLACE is the homeland of their forefather Avraham?  How can I curse the children of this man, whom G-d greatly blessed, and commanded to leave the land of his birth to “Lech-Lecha– Go for yourself… to the land that I will show you.”?  How can I condemn the House of Jacob, the Children of Israel, when their namesake (Yaakov Avinu) journeyed to Aram with G-d’s vow of blessing and protection?”  How could Bilam contradict these Divine blessings and pledges, even more incongruously in the very location in which they were proclaimed and received?!

Bilam continues to prophesy:

“Ma ekov lo koba Keil uma ezom lo za’am Hashem – How can I curse?– G-d has not cursed.  How can I anger?– Hashem is not angry.”  {Bamidbar 23:8}

Rashi enlightens us on what Bilam could have meant by “G-d has not cursed.”  Even with all the trouble we had given Hashem throughout our striking history, and perhaps deserving a lesson in guise of a curse, chas v’shalom, it was not the Divine Will.  Even when Yaakov entered his father Yitzchak’s tent with deception, as we recount in Bereishis, when Yitzchak discovered he had given his disguised younger son the firstborn’s blessings, he declared “Let him remain blessed!”– a relieving alternative to bringing a curse down upon our forefather’s head.  Later when Yaakov, as the father of the 12 Shevatim (Tribes), learned of what destruction his sons Shimon and Laivi had wreaked on the city and people of Shechem, he didn’t revile the young men themselves, but instead castigated their wrath, the fire that propelled them to take such shocking action.  It is clear from the language of the Torah that we must be cautious with our words, and reflect the Torah’s discretion in directing curses or criticisms.

How Bilam couldn’t curse since it wasn’t G-d’s will, complements, and helps us to better understand the following.   We will now discuss Bilam’s words of “Hashem is not angry.”  Throughout the period of time during which Bilam and Balak attempted to incite negative forces against the Jewish People, Hashem did not become angry at His children.  The wicked Bilam, the hired Navi of the king, possessed such a limited power of Ruach Hakodesh (Divine Inspiration), that he had absolutely zero independent power to utter any proclamations either pro-Israel or anti-Israel, but was permitted only to speak the words Hashem “put in his mouth”.  He had only the ability to zone in on G-d’s evident “emotions” toward His People, and only then had potential to verbalize the situation, and perhaps incite G-d further against the nation.  In the words of Rabbi Gordon, of blessed memory: “He (Bilam) was good at focusing on the subject of the curse– the people.”  However, the wrath of Hashem wasn’t kindled against His children at this time, so Bilam could only find favor in the people, and praise their virtues.  Hashem saw the beauty and light of the Jewish People, therefore Bilam was compelled to publicly acknowledge it!

Another highlight in Bilam’s first prophetic blessing (pasuk 9):  “Ki mayrosh tzurim erenu u’migva’os ashurenu hen-am l’vadad yishkon u’vagoyim lo yitchashav – For from their beginning, I see them as mountain peaks, and I behold them as hills; it is a nation that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations.” 

Here, Bilam is allegorically alluding to the ancestors of the Bnei Yisroel.  He reflects upon the “Tzurim”, either “mountain peaks” or “rocks”, mysteriously referring to the rock-solid emunah of the Avos (Forefathers).  With his reference to “Migva’os – Hills”, he contemplates the greatness of the Imahos (Foremothers).  Why does he compare them to rocks and hills?  Because he is praising them for their strength, their steadfastness to Torah and their heritage, which manifests itself in their offspring.  Bilam reminds us of two other profound points with his words:  We’re “a nation that will dwell alone”.  This distinctiveness has been our trademark since the start, when Avraham left his homeland (even before he entered the covenant as the first Jew!) and made his mark as the “Ivri”, which denotes, “the other side”.  He left the very different faith of his childhood behind, and ‘crossed the river’, swimming against the current that was the crush of humanity and all its challenges, all in his constant dedication to Hashem.  This is the way it will always be, until the days of Moshiach, may he arrive Bimhayra Beyameinu!  Speaking of Moshiach…  With his coming, the world will be judged.  Every nation, every person, every deed, every word.  The Jewish People though, and all those faithful to G-d, will not be facing the same retributions and accountings that the rest of the nations will.  It is because we are charged with the same challenge, the same precious opportunity, as Avraham Avinu, to remain separate.  Why?  Because we have a constant unique mission in this world:  To bring G-d into the picture, to spread awareness of Him in the world, to “make known His ways”, and share the beauty of His gift, our Torah, with whoever we can!  Because of our wrongdoings, because of the dark we choose to create, Hashem feels ignored, and banished from among us, in a way.  But Hashem seeks to be with His children, and… would you believe G-d seeks to dwell in this world?  That this lowly world once more become His Garden?  Therefore, since we have a unique goal, and a Divinely commissioned responsibility, we will be judged for how we fulfilled it.

Bilam’s eyes were opened to see and understand this.  Perhaps we may sometimes need to open our eyes to it too, and remind ourselves of who we are.  Bilam blessed us more than once in the merit of our ancestors, evoking, as Hashem willed it, favor and blessing towards the nation.  He declared the names and legacies of our forbears, sometimes explicitly, sometimes with an allegory.  He realized that our ancestors imparted to us, in our ‘Spiritual DNA’, what to live by, and what strengths and morals we’d always need to persevere.  He understood that they are the root of our blessing.  A proof from Parshat Lech Lecha: “V’nivrichu b’cha kol mish’p’chot ha’adam – And all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.  (Hashem to Avraham, Bereishis 12:3)”  And if we ever despair, and cry out “I can never reach for the heights that my Forefathers and Foremothers strove for and reached!”…  We just need to take a look at the Hebrew spelling of “Yisrael”–  It is an acronym formed by the initials of the Avos and Imahos!  Yud for Yitzchak and Yaakov; Shin for Sarah; Reish for Rivkah and Rochel; Alef for Avraham; and Lamed for Layah!  Now proclaim “I am Yisrael!  אני ישראל!

— The Messenger Bird