After their conquests over Sichon and Og in last week’s Parshah, the next set of enemies standing in front of Bnei Yisrael were Moav and Midian. Balak, the king of Moav, decided to employ the sorcerer, Bilaam, to curse Bnei Yisrael. Bilaam was unique in history as the only non-Jewish “Navi”. Even though he was not on the level necessary to receive prophecy, Hashem still gave Bilaam that ability since if the Goyim had never had a Navi, they could have possibly claimed that had they had one, they would have followed the Torah as well as the Bnei Yisrael. This way, that claim was made redundant. However, Bilaam’s title still belongs in quotations as there were some key differences between his prophecy and everyone else’s.
After Bilaam arrives in Moav to curse the Jews, Balak gives him everything he needs to accomplish his mission. Bilaam then goes to daven to Hashem that he should know the best way to curse the Jews. Hashem’s response shows us the difference between Bilaam and all other prophets. “וַיִּקָּר אֱלֹהִים אֶל בִּלְעָם וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֶת שִׁבְעַת הַמִּזְבְּחֹת עָרַכְתִּי וָאַעַל פָּר וָאַיִל בַּמִּזְבֵּחַ” “God chanced upon Bilaam, and he (Bilaam) said to Him, "I have set up the seven altars, and I have offered up a bull and a ram on [each] altar.” (Bamidbar 23:4). The Meforshim have different ways to explain this word “וַיִּקָּר”. Rashi explains that it shows that Hashem really did not want to talk to Bilaam since he was not on the proper level to be a Navi. Furthermore, this was the first time Hashem ever spoke to Bilaam during the day! Normally, He would only speak to him at night when no one could see. However, at this moment, out of love for Bnei Yisrael, Hashem came to Bilaam during the day and Bnei Yisrael ended up being blessed because of it (the result of His love for them).
The Ramban gives us a different perspective of how Hashem changed his way of talking to Bilaam. The word “וַיִּקָּר” denotes a happenstance occurrence. Normally, Bilaam received his messages from Hashem at certain times and in certain situations. This time however, Hashem “happened” to come to him, at a time where he was not prepared; similar to a real Navi who had to be ready to receive a message from Hashem at any time during the day. When Bilaam saw that he was receiving a prophecy, he was shocked and completely overwhelmed by it and immediately defended himself by stating that he had built the alters and brought sacrifices and therefore, deserved to have his prayers answered.
The Daas Zekeinim asks an interesting question on this story. How come whenever Hashem called Moshe, Moshe had to come to Him but numerous times in our parshah, Hashem calls out to Bilaam and then meets Bilaam wherever he is at the time! Doesn’t Moshe deserve the same respect? He answers using a parable. If the king has a servant with whom he desires to speak, however, this servant is very ill, there is no way the king would let him into the palace to speak with him! The king would much rather meet him outside than let him in the palace and spread his illness around. However, a different advisor who is completely healthy will be welcomed in with open arms to the king’s throne room. Is the second servant offended that he had to come to the king instead of the king coming to him like the first servant? Absolutely not! Coming into the palace is a privilege that not everyone receives. The connection to our story is obvious. Bilaam is the sick servant who while Hashem desires to speak to him, He doesn’t want him dirtying up the palace by coming in. Hashem would rather go out and meet him by his place. Moshe however, is privileged enough to be welcomes into the king’s palace with open arms and able to have his audience in the Mishkan itself. Do not think that Bilaam was more privileged than any of our Neviim. He was simply a necessity while the Prophets were fully deserving of their lofty status.
For any questions, comments, or to subscribe to our email list, please email is at AIMeMtorah@gmail.com.
Check out our other AIMeMTorah project, Nation's Wisdom!