This week’s parshah features the classic story where Balak and Bilam partnered up and attempted to curse down the Jewish nation. Here is how everything started and unfolded.
Balak, a descendent from the nation of Moav was fearful that his nation which he was king of (Sanhedrin 105), Moav, were going to be attacked and ruined as the Jews were about to pass their land. We learned in last weeks reading how the Jews defeated many of the enemy in their passage through the wilderness.
Hashem actually commanded the Jews not to provoke any from the nations of Moab, Ammon and Edom, despite this assurance, Balak was still fearful that the Jews would not obey Hashem, and attack anyway. In order to thwart a potential attack, Balak had a plan; he was going to hire Bilam, a non Jewish prophet, who was also famous in sorcery and black magic, to curse the Jewish nation in the hope of this triggering off a downfall (Bamidbar 22:6).
Balak sent messengers to Bilam, requesting that he commit himself to the job of cursing the Jewish nation. Bilam was hesitant, however quickly his greed got the better of him, saying how only a huge price would motivate him.
The wicked Bilam is one of four people according to the Mishnah and Talmud who have no portion in the world to come, included in the four is Achitophel, Doeg and Gehazi (Sanhedrin 90).
Bilam agreed and set out on his mission to curse the Jews. We learned from the Midrashim in Parshah Shemot how Bilam, who was an advisor of Pharaoh, urged Pharaoh to kill Moshe when he was a toddler (Sota 11). Bilam was a famous wicked man, many believing that he was a son or grandson of Lavan.
As Bilam was travelling he rode on his female donkey, setting out in his mission with enthusiasm. On route to meet Balak, the she donkey stopped on three occasions, pressing Bilam against the wall and injuring his foot. Bilam in turn lost his temper with the donkey and Hashem then performed a miracle, the donkey spoke and rebuked Bilam (Bamidbar 22:28-37)! Bilam in shock continued his journey and met Balak. G-d guided Bilam along the journey he wished to take (Makkot 10).
As the two villains met they decided the position that Bilam would curse the Jews at (Bamidbar 22:41). On each of the first three attempted curses, Balak, to his credit offered up 14 sacrifices to Hashem offering bullocks and rams. In reward for having G-d in mind, Balak merited to have two very righteous descendants, Ruth and King Solomon (Nazir 23a).
On each of the four occasions that Bilam attempted to curse the Jews, a potent blessing came from his mouth instead! In fact to Balak’s disgust he continued reciting blessings against his will. Hashem clearly performed a huge miracle. G-d refused to get angry at the Jews during Bilam's attempt to use Hashem's daily moment of anger to curse the Jews (Berachot 7a/ Avodah Zara 4a)).
One of the blessings was even suggested by the sages to be included in the daily recital of the Shema, but due to its length the prayer would be too much for the reader to read (Berachot 12).
Despite Bilam suffering all this humiliation, now looking like a charlatan, he didn’t leave without causing damage.
Bilam gave some advice to Balak, informing Balak that if they were to get some of the Moabite and Midyanite ladies to seduce the Jewish men (Bamidbar 25:1-6), Hashem would get very angry with the Jews as Hashem hates immorality.
As the Jews were travelling near the Moab town centre, the town was packed with loads of shops, outside each shop/ building the Moabite ladies invited the Jewish men in. They flirted with the men, saying that they would only continue speaking if the man would worship their idols (Sanhedrin 106a). Many Jewish men succumbed to this test and worshipped the idols and touched the ladies. We learned how Yosef passed this test with flying colours in Parshat Vayeshev when he ran away from Potifar’s stunning wife, when she attempted to seduce him, in turn not commiting the act of adultary (Sota 3b)!
Hashem got very angry with the Jews, in turn making a plague, where 24,000 Jews died, mostly from the tribe of Shimon. The men were being totally enticed by the ladies, then the leader of the tribe of Shimon, Zimri, grabbed a Midyanite princess named Cosby and publicly was having relations with her (Sanhedrin 82b), many of the Jews cried with shame about the behaviour of Zimri. Pinchas quickly got a spear and killed both Zimri and the Moabite princess, Cosby, and the plague stopped (Bamidbar 25:8).
Pinchas was a zealot for Hashem, in turn saving many Jews lives as the plague stopped as early as it did, we will learn more about this story at the start of next weeks reading… so stay tuned!!
The Haftorah for this weeks reading comes from the section in the Tanach of ‘Micah,’ Chapter 5 and 6 (Micah 5:6-6:8). Micah recalls some of the ways in which G-d protected the newly emerged nation during their 40 year wilderness journey.
I would like to dedicate this Dvar Torah in the merit of Miriam Bat Rachel getting better. Dvar Torah written by Michael Zaroovabeli.