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G-d came to Balaam at night and said to him: 'If the call of the messengers who came is for you, you may get up and go with them. But you must do whatever I tell you' (22:20)…
…is followed by:
G-d was furious that he (Balaam) went (22:22).
The contradiction of G-d granting permission to Balaam to set on his mission against the Israelites with His wrath at him having actually done so is explained in different ways by the commentaries. Rashi interprets it as a concession to Balaam's greed for the Balak's gold and silver. The Ramban argues that G-d's agenda revealed to Balaam at night was very different to the one that he communicated to Balak's messengers. Ibn Ezra focuses on G-d's permission as an example of the free choice He extends to mankind whether He approves of what they do or not.
In addition, G-d's wrath against Balaam may be explained by the development of Balaam's relationship with G-d, as recounted in the previous verses. Balaam never turned to G-d for advice, even though he 'had the knowledge of the Supreme One' (24:16). Instead, it was G-d that 'did the appearing' to Balaam. When the previous, lest prestigious delegation came from Moab, G-d told Balaam: 'Do not go with them' (22:12). When the next, higher-profile representatives turned up, he admitted that he would have to wait for G-d's directions.
But he did not ask G-d for advice - very likely because he did not want the advice he believed He would give. As G-d had previously spoken to Balaam, it was up to Balaam to make use of the 'relationship' that already had fallen into his lap. That would have put G-d on his side - had He said no, no it would have been. He would then have become a servant of G-d.
But that was not what Balaam did. He only wanted to hear the advice that suited his agenda - go with those people, so he might make his fortune cursing Israel. In doing so, G-d allowed him go. But it was in the frame of someone who knew Him, but still did not want to trust Him. And in doing so, he was travelling it in the capacity of using G-d rather than serving him.
This principle reflects more mundanely where people turn to others for advice. Some are genuinely interested in learning from the other, even if the points are a little uncomfortable. But others - under the guise of asking advice - are only trying to put the adviser into the role of 'someone big and important agreeing to my plans'. It is that conduct of Balaam that brought G-d's wrath on Balaam…
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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