This issue is sponsored
Vol. 20 No. 38
"And now, I am about to go (back) to my people; Come, let me advise you as to what this people will do to your people at the end of days" (24:14).
Although Bil'am is basically informing Balak what Yisrael will do to Mo'av in the time of Mashi'ach (Rabeinu Bachye), an assurance that for the time being, Yisrael would do them no harm, Chazal interpret the words "Come, let me advise you" with reference to something far more evil and shocking. According to Chazal, Bil'am was referring to his sinister plan, where he advised Balak to cause Yisrael to commit a grievous sin, thereby evoking G-d's anger (See Targum Yonasan). If he was unable to hit them above the belt, then he should hit them below.
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:19) describes the difference between the Talmidim of Avraham Avinu 1. a good eye (satisfied with what one has), 2. a humble spirit and 3. abstinence; and those of Bil'am ha'Rasha 1. an evil eye, 2. a haughty spirit and 3. lustful.
The Bartenura (following in the footsteps of the Rambam in the Mishnah) cites the source for each of these Midos, both in Avraham and in Bil'am.
1. When Avraham told the king of S'dom that he would not take from him as much as a thread or a shoelace, whereas in contrast, Bil'am told Balak that if Balak were to offer him a houseful of gold, he would not be able to transgress the command of his G-d, indicating that that was why he had come, and what he hoped to gain when 'G-d was not looking' (Note, that Avraham did not even want what he already had, whereas Bil'am coveted what he did not have.)
2. When Avraham declared to G-d that he was no more than dust and ashes, whereas Bil'am boasted that he heard the words of G-d and that he knew His mind.
3. When Avraham, who had already been married to Sarah many years, suddenly realized (following an unplanned incident) for the first time that his wife was beautiful; whereas Bil'am committed two entire nations to adultery with his evil advice (something which only someone steeped in promiscuity would have thought of, let alone put into practice), as the Pasuk says in Tehilim (97) "Those who love Hashem hate evil". Moreover, Chazal inform us, that depraved character actually had relations with his ass.
What is difficult to fathom is the setting in which Bil'am offered his pervert advice to Balak. He has just described their illustrious beginnings and their glorious present, and he has already begun to talk about their exciting future.
The praises he was currently singing of Yisrael remain unsurpassed before or since.
Only a few Pesukim earlier we are told how he merited that the Spirit of G-d rested with him, in which case when, in the previous Pasuk he commented to Balak that G-d did not let him curse Yisrael, he must have fully understood G-d's love towards K'lal Yisrael and that He did not want him to spoil it. Yet he had the gall to break in the middle of his praises, and to inform Balak that he had a plan to circumvent G-d's wishes by making them sin! It is almost like a Kohen Gadol leaving the Kodesh Kodshim in the middle of the Avodas ha'Ketores to spend some time with a prostitute, and then returning to complete the Avodah.
At one and the same time we can see the extent of both Bil'am's licentious instincts and of his hatred of K'lal Yisrael (or was it perhaps his love of money).
What we can learn from here is the power of Midos. It doesn't matter what level of understanding one attains, or how many Mitzvos one fulfills, if one does not work on one's Midos, one is capable of falling to the level of an animal at a moment's notice, when put to the test. For so Chazal have said "Whereas Tzadikim govern their hearts (i.e. their Midos), by the Resha'im, it is their hearts that govern them!'
* * *
Getting Priorities Straight
"Also you I would have killed and it I would have let live" (22:33).
Rashi extrapolates from the end of the Pasuk that the angel did in fact kill the ass.
Why? Because it rebuked Bil'am in a way that left him with nothing to say in response. This would later cause people to point at it as the animal that outwitted Bil'am, as it were. And as we find with regard to an animal that rapes a woman (which is put to death) G-d takes into consideration the dignity of human-beings.
In other words, the dignity and self-respect of even a man as wicked as Bil'am, takes precedence over the life of an animal.
The Power of the Eye
" … and he saw from there the edge of the people" (22:41).
The Ramban dwells on the necessity to see the person or the people that is cursing, in order to fully concentrate on the curse, and render it more effective.
The Seforno explains that the same applies to B'rachah, and he cites Moshe Rabeinu (at the end of the Torah), whom G-d showed Eretz Yisrael in order that he should bless it.
This no doubt, is connected to the good eye and the evil eye to which the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:22) refers (though it is Avraham with whom the Tana there contrasts with Bil'am).
Both Targum Unklus and Targum Yonasan clearly interpret "the edge of the people" literally. In fact, the latter explains that it refers to the tribe of Dan, who, he says, traveled outside the Cloud of Glory (See also the K'li Yakar).
The Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos however, translates the Pasuk to mean that 'he saw the entire camp from one end to the other'.
Keeping a Leper at Bay
"And G-d met Bil'am" (23:4).
The Da'as Zekeinim explains why G-d called Moshe to Him (Vayikro el Moshe) when He wished to converse with him, but went to meet Bil'am (Vayikor Elokim el Bil'am), with the Mashal of a king who was sitting in his throne-room, when a leper arrived at the palace-gate and requested an audience with him. Not wanting to contaminate his palace, the king ordered the leper to wait, and made his way to the palace-gate to see him. But when his good friend came to see him, he granted him immediate entry into his throne-room and conversed with him there.
The comparison to the two men is self-evident.
* * *
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE BA'AL HA'TURIM
" … and he (Bil'am) saw the angel of Hashem standing on the way, drawn sword in hand … " (22:31).
The Ba'al ha'Turim points out that the Gematriyah of "mal'ach Hashem ba'derech" is equivalent to that of 'Gavriel ha'mal'ach'.
This is strange since, in the very next Pasuk, he explains why the angel was an angel of mercy, and Gavriel (as his name suggests ['Gibor Keil']) is the angel of Din.
Rashi earlier (in Pasuk 22), takes on that (assuming the three angels that appeared to Bil'am were one and the same) it was an angel of mercy, and this is perhaps hinted in the fact that, although the Pasuk there begins with the words that "the anger of Elokim burned against him", it then states that "an angel of Hashem was standing on the way …", and as is well-known, 'Elokim' stands for Midas ha'Din, and "Hashem" for Midas ha'Rachamim.
"And Balak said to Bil'am 'Build for me here seven altars and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams' " (23:1).
Iyov too, brought seven bulls and seven rams. It was normal, the Ba'al Ha'Turim explains, for gentiles to bring seven sacrifices, corresponding to the number of Mitzvos that they are commanded.
"May my soul die the death of the upright (yeshorim)" (23:10).
The Gematriyah of "Yeshorim", the Ba'al ha'Turim explains, is equivalent to that of 'ovos ha'olom' (with reference to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, whose last letters ('Mem'. 'Kuf' and 'Beis') add up to a hundred and forty-two, the Gematriyah of Bil'am.
And that is what Bil'am hinted at when he concluded "and may my end be like theirs".
""And so says the man (ha'gever) whose eye is open" (24:3).
Bil'am uses the word "gever" here, observes the Ba'al ha'Turim, a term that is often used as a euphemism for a cockerel (such as in 'Kara ha'Gevwer' - the cock crowed!')
Indeed, he explains, Bil'am resembled a cockerel in three ways: 1. Just as a cockerel is the most promiscuous of birds (which, according to the commentaries, is the reason why it is not eligible to go on the Mizbei'ach), so too, did Bil'am have relations with his ass. 2. Just as the cock knows exactly when it is morning, so too, did Bil'am know exactly the time in the morning when Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu was angry (as the Gemara in B'rachos explains), and 3. Just as the cock stands on one leg, so too, was Bil'am lame in one leg.
* * *