Torah Portion: Balak (Numbers) 22:2-25:9
HafTorah: Micah 5:6-6:8
Tonight we study one of the most perplexing scriptures of the year. We read of a man Bilam, a seer who is hired to curse Israel. In the verses we read where he asks G-d about this job that has been offered to him, whether he is free to do this or not. In the course of a few verses we read where first G-d says don’t go, later He says go. Then when he does go G-d is very angry with him. What are we to make of this?
Before we see how to make sense of all this, I want us to take a look at the background of the people or groups involved. First, lets look at Moav, the people most directly involved in our verses. What was their lineage? Moav was the son of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. So Moav was related to Avraham and surely knew of the blessings of G-d toward Israel.
Who were the Midianites? Remember Moshe spent years living with the Midianites. His wife was a Midianite. In Genesis 25:1-2 we read where Midian was the son of Avaraham by the wife of his old age, Keturah. So both of these people, the Moavites and the Midianites knew much about the Israelites before they appeared on their doorsteps. They had been squatting on the Land for generations. Now they were seeking to thwart the plan of G-d by hiring a seer.
They knew that Israel was stronger than they were and the only chance to win this conflict was to hire someone who could counteract the promise of G-d. Even the words of Balak, when he sends for Bilam, sound familiar. Numbers 22:6 and Genesis 12:3
So they sent for Bilam. Messengers were sent to Bilam with gifts. They asked that he only come with them and curse Israel. He told them to spend the night and he would consult with G-d. In Numbers 22:12-13 we read G-d’s answer. He said, “Don’t go, you shall not curse the people for they are blessed.” He went back and delivered G-d’s answer to the messengers. The messengers went back and delivered Bilam’s answer. More important messengers and gifts were sent a second time. Again the messengers asked Bilam to come and curse Israel. Again he refuses but then he added another sentence. He said for them to stay over night and let him see what else G-d had to say. Numbers 22:18-19 What can we tell from this add-on? Bilam really wanted to do this! So he again went back and asked G-d again. Maybe G-d changed His mind. In fact G-d does tell him to go. Why do you think G-d seems to have changed His mind? G-d knows Bilam’s heart. He is saying to Bilam, “If you insist – Go! This is your own heart.” G-d does not force us to do the right thing and also He does not force us to sin. “Man is led down the path he chooses to trod.” Bilam wanted to go so G-d allowed him to go but on the way Bilam saw that he had no power in G-d’s eyes. He could not curse what G-d had blessed. Even his donkey knew more than he did. Bilam did not want to take no for an answer. Many times we don’t want to take no for an answer. We may know G-d’s will, G-d’s direction, yet it does not line up with what we might want so we plunge ahead with our own steps. G-d gives us that choice, but like Bilam, we must live with our choices.
Maybe Bilam thought he could set it right later, repent and it would be okay. In fact we see this idea in Numbers 23:10 where Bilam says, ‘May my soul die the death of the upright and may my end be like his.” Bilam thought he could repent later but later never came for him. Israel killed him in a later battle. (Joshua 13:22) The sad thing was that Bilam knew the truth. He knew G-d at a certain level but he lived for himself. This is always a question we all have to face. Ask yourself, “What am I willing to die for?” When you have the answer to that question check yourself – are you living for that idea/ person/ thing that you are willing to die for? Or are you just living each day for yourself. The only thing that matters is does our life reflect a life lived for the Father each day or does it reflect a life lived for ourselves? Bilam made the wrong choice, and as far as is known never got around to choosing rightly. L’chiam means “to life,” but not just to the physical life but what have we chosen spiritually?