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Vol. 21 No. 40
From Commoner to King
"And Mo'av said to the elders of Midyan 'Now the congregation will lick up all its surroundings, like the ox licks up the vegetation of the field'. And Balak the son of Tzipor was King of Mo'av at that time" (22:4).
In Pasuk two and three the Torah refers to Balak without a title, and it is only in the current Pasuk that it informs us that he was King of Mo'av, and that, in an indirect way (See Rashi).
Moreover, asks the Oznayim la'Torah, why does the Pasuk ascribe the 'seeing' to Balak and the 'fear' to Mo'av?
Rashi, commenting on the words "at that time" explains that, after the death of Sichon and Og, the guardians of that entire area, Mo'av appointed Balak, who was a prince of Midyan, king. But this would have been a strange thing to do, to crown, not only a foreigner king, but someone from Midyan, with whom Mo'av was constantly at war!
What seems to have happened was, that the astute Balak foresaw the danger that Yisrael now posed to both Midyan and Mo'av now that Sichon and Og were no longer there to protect them. So he came to warn Mo'av, who took his warning to heart and were overcome by fear, and, as Rashi explains, they agreed to join forces to combat their common enemy, Yisrael.
However, it was not only fear that Balak brought to Mo'av, but also a plan of action. For, not only did he know that Yisrael's power lay in their mouths (after all, Moshe lived for a long time in Midyan), but he also happened to know the very man who could beat them at their own game. The sorcerer Bil'am, whose power to curse had already been proven when his curse against Mo'av materialized, and they were defeated by Sichon in their battle with Sichon!
And that was when Mo'av decided to make good use of Balak's wisdom and connections by appointing him king.
One might perhaps add, that Bil'am too, had demonstrated his hatred of Yisrael in his capacity as an advisor to Par'oh.
The question arises, however, as to why Mo'av did not make an alliance with Amon their brother - with whom he was on good terms, and who, one would have thought, would make a far more natural ally than Midyan?
To answer this question, the Oznayim la'Torah cites the Chazal, that although Yisrael were permitted to (indeed they did) threaten Mo'av and plunder them, they were strictly forbidden to harm Amon in any way (See Rashi, Devarim 2:9). Consequently, Amon were not worried by Yisrael's proximity, and - at that stage at least, were not in the least interested in attacking Yisrael.
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The Prophet they Deserved
"And he (Balak) sent messengers to Bil'am the son of Be'or, to Pasor (Pesorah), which was on the River (P'ras), his home country, to call him, saying 'Behold the people who left Egypt have covered the face of the land, and they are dwelling opposite me" (22:5).
The Oznayim la'Torah points out that "Pesorah" (which contains the letters of 'Poser') denotes Bil'am's original occupation as a dream-interpreter (See Rashi's interpretation of "Pesorah").
Later he became a sorcerer, as the Pasuk in Yehoshua (13) describes him. At one stage, he merited Ru'ach ha'Kodesh - as Rashi points out, so that the nations of the world should not be able to say that they did not accept the Torah because they did not have a prophet. But, says the Oznayim la'Torah, when he abused this privilege to cause Yisrael to sin (during the episode of Ba'al Pe'or), he was stripped of that honour and reverted to being a sorcerer.
The author wonders why, if G-d saw fit to present the nations of the world with a prophet, who, according to Chazal, was to an extent, on a par with Moshe Rabeinu, why he had to pick, of all people, a sorcerer! And this question becomes even more powerful when we bear in mind the opinion in Sanhedrin (56) that includes sorcery among the sins for which a gentile is guilty of the death-sentence! In any event, everyone agrees that sorcery is an abomination, as the Torah clearly indicates in Parshas Shoftim (18: 9-12).
To answer the question, he cites Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu's answer to Moshe's prediction that Yisrael would not believe "… . that Yisrael were believers, the son of believers". Whereas David ha'Melech defines gentiles as people "whose mouths speak lies".
That being the case, it is obvious that, had G-d given them a prophet who came to them with the word of G-d on his lips, they would not have believed him. What was needed was a man who was popular with people, whose word they would readily accept. And who better than the man to whom the entire world came running with their requests and their questions, precisely because he indulged in sorcery - Bil'am. Moreover, his popularity soared after the stunning defeat of Mo'av at the hand of Sichon - on account of Bil'am's curse, as Balak specifically told Bil'am "Because I know that whoever you bless is blessed and whoever you curse is cursed".
In his infinite kindness, G-d now imbued Bil'am with His spirit, to place him on a par with the greatest of Yisrael's prophets. Had he utilized this newfound asset to convince the people of the world to relinquish their idols and accept G-d's sovereignty and to adhere to the seven Mitzvos of the Noahide Code, there is a good chance that he would have succeeded. Unfortunately, he did quite the opposite. Concerned only in his quest for wealth and honour - and in his impulsive hatred of the Jewish people, he broke all the barriers of modesty that the world had set up following the great flood, setting up a plan that would cause two nations to sin and would cost thousands of lives.
So G-d withdrew His power of prophecy and Bil'am reverted to being a sorcerer, which is how he died not long afterwards, at the hand of Pinchas.
In short, people get the leader they deserve. The nations of the world cannot expect to have a leader the likes of Moshe Rabeinu any more than one expect Yisrael to have have a leader the likes of Bil'am
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(Adapted from the Oznayim la'Torah)
An Eye for an Eye
"How good are your tents, oh Ya'akov" (24:5).
According to the Gemara in Bava Basra (60) the fact that their tents did not face one another was in order to avoid hezek re'iyah (harming one another through sight).
Consequently, says the Oznayim la'Torah, the ayin ha'ra that Bil'am intended to place on Yisrael (See Rashi, Pasuk 2) could not take effect. For if, as Chazal say, something good that a Tzadik does cannot possibly cause harm to his children, how much more so can it not cause harm to himself.
The Tanchuma however, attributes the placing of the entrances to their tents to the high standard of Tzeniyus (modesty) that was prevalent at that time in Yisrael. Reuven, says the Oznayim la'Torah was not interested in seeing Shimon's wife, and Shimon was not interested in seeing Reuven's. So they built their homes in a way that would eliminate this happening. And that was what so impressed Bil'am (whose hedonistic nature was insatiable, as Chazal inform us).
Knowing that the G-d of Yisrael loathed immoral behaviour, the author continues, he had hoped by means of his curses, to cause Yisrael to stumble by committing adultery, but when he saw the measures Yisrael took to avoid sinning in that area, he had to admit that his plan was doomed to failure. After all, what the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve - until he hit upon the idea of bringing in women from Mo'av (who were by nature, a lustful nation).
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