Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues
IF HASHEM WOULD SPEAK TO ME, THEN I'D BELIEVE.(Adapted from "Ha'aros" by Moreinu v'Rabbeinu HaGaon HaTzaddik Rav Zeidel Epstein, zt"l.)
God said to Bilaam, "You shall not go with them! You shall not curse the people because they are blessed." (Bemidbar 22: 12)
Rashi: You shall not go with them: He said to Him, "If so, I will curse them in my place." He replied to him, "You shall not curse the people." He said, "If so, I will bless them." He replied, "They do not need your blessing, 'for they are blessed.' "As the saying goes, "We say to the wasp, 'Neither your honey, nor your sting.'" - [Mid. Tanchuma Balak 6, Bem. Rabba 20:10]
Hashem told Bilaam don't curse the Yidden, and don't bless them, I don't need your blessing. Why not? What does Hakadosh Baruch Hu care if Bilaam blesses His people. On Yom Kippur we bribe the Satan with a goat to, so to speak, get his blessing (see Ramban on Vayikra 16:8). If the Ribono Shel Olam goes out of His way to elicit a bracha from the Satan himself, it seems that this bracha is very important. So what's wrong with Bilaam's bracha?
And there was no other prophet who arose in Israel like Moshe, whom the Lord knew face to face (Devorim 34:10).
Chazal (Sifrei) darshan that in Klal Yisroel there never has been a prophet the stature of Moshe, but among the goyim there did arise a prophet of such a great distinction: Bilaam. In spite of his terrible self corruption (see Avos 5:19), Bilaam was one of the greatest prophets in history. How could this be? Chazal tell us (Nedarim 38a) that Hakadosh Baruch Hu does not bestow prophecy on a person unless he is specially endowed with wisdom, physical strength and humility. The more elevated one gets in prophecy, the more one must prepare and train himself to acquire the proper character. The parsha of Bilaam contradicts this rule. How could such a horrendous person become one of the greatest prophets?
The Me'imrei Shlomo (Rav Shlomo Harkavi, zt"l, the mashgiach of the Grodno Yeshiva, vol. I chap. 14) explains there are 2 ways for a person to attain greatness. Normally one has to work and toil very hard in acquiring greatness. We find in Avos 6:5 the 48 ways that Torah is acquired. Without hard work to fulfill the proper conditions of character development, it is impossible to acquire any eminence in Torah. Prophecy also has its preconditions as elucidated in the Rambam (Yesodei Hatorah 7:1). "He must be a great Torah scholar, have tremendous control over his character; his evil inclination cannot control him… He must have an exceptionally broad and accurate understanding…" Once a person has attained these qualities, he is granted a Divine inspiration and achieves prophecy.
There is, however, another way for a person to attain prophecy. Not through any effort on his part, but rather because of Hashem's decision, for whatever reasons He decided, to give this person this Divine gift. The recipient has absolutely no relationship to this high status, and, in fact, his personal makeup may interfere. Still, in spite of the fact that he has none of the prerequisites and does not deserve it, Divine wisdom deemed it important to impart upon him the gift of prophecy. He doesn't deserve it, and he is merely a pawn in the Divine plan.
Such was Bilaam. He became a prophet merely because the nations of the world needed a prophet. Hashem didn't want them to have any excuses: "if only we had a prophet of the stature of Moshe Rabbeinu, then, Wow! What we could have become!" (Midrash Rabba 14:20). His level of prophecy didn't require that he live up to its demands. In fact, in spite of his great prophecy, he remained a corrupt sorcerer! His exalted level never affected him personally even one iota. He had the opportunity of raising himself up out of his spiritual quagmire. He spoke face to face with the Almighty. He was granted knowledge of Divine secrets. But, alas. He failed, and attempted to violate the direct Divine command and curse the blessed people. Failing in his role, the power of prophecy was taken from him, and he returned to his former occupation of chief sorcerer and wizard. In spite of his prophecy, Bilaam remained Bilaam.
Klal Yisroel are the exact opposite. Everyone is born with both a physical and a spiritual nature, body and soul, good character and bad character. It is within everyone's ability to purify himself and turn the bad into good. We say, "Blessed are You… Who has sanctified us with Your mitzvos." Every mitzvah sanctifies the person and gives him spiritual life. It is called a Torah of life because Torah converts every action into everlasting life. Clinging to the Divine is true life. Attachment to this world and the material is the opposite of life and the opposite of eternity. Every person has a mixture of good and bad within him and through a life of Torah and mitzvos he can change the material into spiritual, this world into the next world.
Bilaam was totally sunk in the physical, and enraptured with a life of bodily pleasures. This was him, this was his world. Even if he would have blessed Klal Yisroel, it would have been in his terms. And his terms were diametrically opposed to the very being of the holy nation of Klal Yisroel. His blessing was purely material, devoid of any ruchnius whatsoever. Therefore Hakadosh Baruch Hu said to Bilaam, don't give Klal Yisroel a bracha. Your bracha emanates from your perception of the physical world. This is diametrically opposed to very essence of Klal Yisroel. Even your honey is as bad as your sting.
Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!
Shema Yisrael Torah Network