Torah Portion: Balak Numbers (B’Midbar) 22:2-25:9

HafTorah: Micah 5:6-6:8

New Testament: II Peter 2:1-22; Jude 11: Rev. 2:14-15

There are several things I want us to spend time on today, most of which have to do with Balaam. Balaam, according to scripture in Numbers 22:5, had a reputation and in fact was a really famous person. Balak even uses words in Numbers 22:6 that are normally reserved for G-d. (Genesis 12:3) However as we read this chapter we see Balaam even stating that he can do only what G-d allows. So, apparently he knew G-d on some level. However he did not know enough. It would seem he may have thought he could manipulate the Father.

It would seem Balaam was ruled by something else. What do you see as the motivating factor that drove him? It would seem he was driven by something the Mishna called “a wide soul”. He was greedy. Not only was he greedy, he was greedy because he was driven by a need to be honored. We may see the same thing in the New Testament in Luke 12:33 where He spoke to His disciples and maybe even more in Luke 18:18-23 where the rich young ruler didn’t just want money but rather he desired the honor that came along with it.

How can we see this? When Balak’s ministers came to him the second time they mentioned great honor that would be bestowed upon him. Up to this point money had not been mentioned except in verse 7 where we are told that they brought along a diviner’s fee with them. But at this point they had never talked about money to him. However, here when honor was mentioned, Balaam’s response was, “Even though Balak were to give me a house full of gold and silver…” Reminds me of when Avraham was wanting to buy the cave to bury Sarah. He asked the price. The Hittite owner said, for you it is free even though it is worth 400 shekels of silver. (Genesis 23:14)

So here Balaam is using the same tactic with Balak. Saying, “I can’t go against G-d but if I could it would cost you a house full of gold and silver.” They mentioned honor. He mentioned money. In equating the two what flaw does this show? If honor is our quest can we ever have enough? Balaam saw them as the same. Balaam had a hole in his soul. In his mind the only thing that would fill it was more and more honor, which came as a result of more and more money. Money is not a bad thing. But the love of money can cause us to miss G-d as we saw in the rich young ruler. What is a healthy attitude toward money? I remember a man we knew in Israel. Once he came to the states after years of being in Israel and discovered he had enough excess money in his bank account to buy a new car! He had no idea the money was there. He lived his time buying just what he needed to live and was unaware the money accumulated in his bank account. He saw money as a way to provide the basics so he could get on with what G-d had for him. For Balaam it was everything because he saw it as a way to be looked up to and a way to feel important. May we never be caught in such a trap. For us, may the Father be our goal and our dependence on Him never waiver.

Two other quick notes about Balaam: In Numbers 22:31-34 we read where Balaam’s eyes were opened and he saw the Angel of G-d. The angel asked him a strange question. He asked, “Why have you struck your donkey three times.” Balaam answers, “I have sinned. I did not know.” There is a lot wrapped up in this exchange. Why did he say, “I have sinned?”

Maybe he could have said, “I made a mistake”, or “I was ignorant.” Why was it a sin? G-d does not see ignorance or a mistake as an excuse. We are expected to know. There was a sacrifice for sins of ignorance. Point being, because we do not know does not absolve us of responsibility. For us today, this is so important. As we deal with the world and for sure as we deal with each other we need to not be ignorant. G-d expects us to study and learn how to live a G-dly life. G-d expects us to be involved. We can’t say, “If only I had known.”

Finally a word about modesty; In Numbers 24:5 we read in Balaam’s second attempt to curse Israel he says, “How lovely are your tents O Jacob.” The Rabbis see this as a reference to the fact that the tents of Israel were arranged so that no one would be looking into his neighbor’s tent. Modesty!

One of the New Testament writings that go with this Torah section is II Peter 2. What do you see as the main message of this chapter and does it apply to us today? Are we in danger of becoming entangled in the pollutions of the world again after tasting the sweetness of truth? Are we in danger of loving the wages of unrighteousness? May none of us ever become entangled again in the pollutions of the world.