Torah Portion: Balak (Numbers) B’Midbar 22-25
Haftorah Reading: Micah 5:6-6:8
Tonight we study the Torah portion named Balak, after a Moabite king. It is the only Torah portion we study that is looked at through the eyes of non-Jewish people. As you know, the setting takes place very near the time Israel enters the Land in an area geographically just across the Jordon River from what is now Israel.
Before getting into the story and the spiritual lessons for us, I would like to take a minute and identify the people who play a part in this portion. Who were the Moabites and Midianites? Who was Balaam?
The Moabites were descendents of Lot by his incestuous relationship with his daughter after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah found in Genesis 19:37. Lot was Avraham’s nephew and Lot’s child with his daughter was named Moab.
The Midianites were more closely connected to Avraham. In Genesis 25:1-2 we read where Avraham married Keturah and they had children, one of which was named Midian. So from these connections it is clear that both of these tribes were not thrilled to see Israel on their doorstep. They both had grudges so to speak and did not want Israel to come back and claim the promises of G-d. However, they were aware that G-d was with Israel. So from a military standpoint they could not stand against Israel. As a result they sought to defeat Israel by using the spiritual world, very similar to how American is being destroyed spiritually from within. For this they called upon Balaam, the most famous gentile prophet of the time. Interestingly we read in Deuteronomy 23:4-5 Balaam was from the same area as Avraham. In Genesis 24:3-10 we read that this is the same area that Avraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac. Midian and Moab went to hire someone from the same area as the father of the Hebrews.
In fact, we see some of the same wording used. In Genesis 12:3 we read, “I will bless those that bless you and curse those who curse you.” In our portion in Numbers 22:6 we see Balak use the same words when he touts the ability of Balaam. So Moab and Midian knew and saw this as a spiritual battle. They thought to hire the best gun around to confront Moshe and the people. They forgot that rather than the people, they were coming against G-d Almighty and Balaam was no match for Him.
We see in this Torah portion Balaam believed he could manipulate G-d into agreeing with his desires. I asked you for an explanation of the conversation between the two in Numbers 22. G-d told him not to go then when Balaam came back again the second time G-d told him to go. When Balaam went what happened? G-d was angry and sent an angel to confront Balaam. So how do we understand these confusing events? It would seem that Balaam wanted to do what Balaam wanted to do. He exercised his free will. G-d allowed him to do so and He allows us to do the same. We sometimes make decisions and take paths that are contrary to His best for us. Balaam went back for a second opinion after G-d had already said no. G-d knew his heart and allowed him to take the path he had chosen. I expect at times we have all been Balaam. We really want something. G-d tells us He has another plan for our life. However, we really want what we have chosen. He will allow us to take the road we choose. With that choice there may be results that we did not expect and we suffer as a result of what we have done. This is such an important lesson for us all. When we hear G-d’s voice, when we know His will for us, we must listen and not allow our own desires to override His best for us. We all have free will. May we always be able to use that will to line up with His will for our lives.
Now I want to take a bit and look at the blessings that Balaam spoke over the people of Israel in this portion. The first blessing in Numbers 23:9, “The people shall live alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.” What does it mean to “not be reckoned among the nations?”
I think this speaks of the fact that Israel is different from the nations spiritually. Because of this Balak sought a spiritual solution. For sure they often stumbled in this walk as we see in this week’s Torah portion, where they committed sexual sin with the gentile women and even worshipped idols. They suffered the results of that decision. However, over the centuries we can see over and over again where they are not reckoned among the nations, even when they try to blend in. The Holocaust is a graphic example. I believe Hitler thought that if he could rid the world of their spiritual connection with G-d then he could control the world. This view is still held in our world today. We as the grafted in ones are also being marginalized by the world. The world is bothered by the truth. The world is bothered by G-d. So the world seeks to shut us out with laws and ridicule and whatever means they can. We, along with Israel, are in a spiritual battle. Be reckoned with the nations or not, it is our choice. G-d’s will is that we are always to walk in His Spirit, to be a light on the hill. It is not easy and will probably get harder but we must not give up the struggle. It is our life. It is our road to walk each day. May G-d bless each of us.