Torah Portion Balak (B’Midbar) Numbers 22-25
Haftorah Reading: Micah 5:6-6:8
Tonight’s Torah portion is somewhat unusual in that it deals mainly with an idol-worshipping magician, Bilaam, ad his failed attempts to curse the Jewish people. First, to put things into a geographical perspective, Moav, where these verses take place, was on the southwestern side of the Promised Land. The people of Moav were the descendants of Lot. Because of this we read in Deuteronomy (D’Varim) 2:9 where G-d told the people, through Moses, to not distress the people of Moav or provoke them to war because their land was not part of the Promise Land. However, from Balak’s reaction we can assume he was unaware of this and feared the coming Israelites. He thought he needed more help than an army so he turned to Bilaam, apparently a famous person in the ancient world, known for his ability to bring curses down on people and nations. Something to keep in mind, Bilaam lived in what is now Iraq which was a long journey for the messengers of Balak to travel. This distance also speaks of his fame and gives us some idea of how much time it took to bring Bilaam to Moav.
So now with the stage set let us get into the spiritual lessons we can learn from this portion. In the first encounter between Bilaam and Balak’s messengers we read of their plea to Bilaam to come and help Moav defeat the Israelites camped on their border. Bilaam asked them to stay the night while he inquired of the L-rd. Notice that here Bilaam uses the holy name of G-d indicating he had some idea of who he was dealing with. Then in Numbers 22:9 we read G-d’s response to him. “Who are these men with you?” Surely G-d knew who they were so why did He as this question of Bilaam? We have seen similar questions before. In Genesis 4:9 G-d came to Cain and asked, “Where is Abel your brother?” and in the following verse when G-d said to Cain, “What have you done?” As we look at all of these cases what is the common thread that ties them together? In each of these questions what was the point and what does it say to us in our lives?
Let’s start with Adam when G-d asked, “Where are you?” As each of us go through our days has there ever been a time when you heard this question from G-d? “Where are you?” Sometime we get into a pattern of life where we just go through our days on autopilot. The problem comes when we wake up one morning and wonder, “Where am I spiritually?” In our days we have wandered far from home and find ourselves in a place we never intended to be.
It is the same with Cain’s questions from G-d. “What have you done?” We find we are involved in things that would have never even been a temptation before when we were in a close relationship with the Father. But now we are involved with or participating in things we would never have dreamed of being a part of when we were close to G-d. Then we come to G-d’s question to Bilaam, “Who are these men?” We find the company we keep or the seemingly friends we have are people who have led us away from our faith.
Even the words, “Then G-d came to him,” we read in the beginning of the verse gives us a sense of the serious nature of what Bilaam is doing. The words in Hebrew are Va’ya vo Elohim. These words are only used twice more in the Hebrew Scripture, once in Genesis 20:3 where G-d came to Avimelech and told him basically, “You are a dead man because you have taken Sarah Avaraham’s wife.” We also read the same words in Genesis 31:24 when G-d came to Laban and told him to not speak a word to Jacob. In our case here in Numbers and these other two cases these words introduce the idea that these people are in a place where G-d is speaking to restrain the person from some intended action.
So in our lives it should be a wake up call when G-d comes to us with a word of correction. This is a serious thing and G-d is giving us pause to consider these questions we have mentioned. “Where are you, what are you doing and who are these people?” In His mercy G-d is reaching out to us to correct our actions. The questions should give us time to see where we truly are and a time to repent. But the outcome is up to us. Sometime we feel we can bargain with G-d as Bilaam did in our portion. Always remember we are not able to bend G-d to our will. Instead we should be striving to mold ourselves to G-d’s will. G-d will allow us to walk the path we choose. Life is not a puppet show. G-d allows us to walk outside of His will. However we will suffer the results of our choices. How we live our day is up to us.
To help us in this struggle against our human will is the use of prayer, worship and study of G-d’s word. It is so important to not just let life happen but to, everyday use the tools He has given us until it is second nature to us, to stay in the place where when challenges arise we can lean on Him for direction, not our own feelings or desires.
May He give us all the strength to follow Him each day leaning not on our own understanding. Don’t expect the world to applaud, for we are a people who dwell alone a nation not counted among the nations. Numbers 23:8