Parshas Balak tells the famous story of Bilaam attempting to curse Bnei Yisrael, but being continuously forced to bless them instead. We have discussed many different aspects of this story over the years, and many more still remain.
Balak, the king of Midian, sent messengers to Bilaam to convince him to come and curse Bnei Yisrael. The messengers told Bilaam, “הִנֵּה עַם יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם הִנֵּה כִסָּה אֶת עֵין הָאָרֶץ” “A people has come out of Egypt, and behold, they have covered the land” (Bamidbar 22:5). Balak was scared of Bnei Yisrael coming to attack him, so he wanted to hire Bilaam to curse them and take away Hashem’s favor.
Later on that night, Hashem came to Bilaam in a dream. Bilaam explained his encounter with Balak’s men. “הִנֵּה הָעָם הַיֹּצֵא מִמִּצְרַיִם וַיְכַס אֶת עֵין הָאָרֶץ” “Behold the people coming out of Egypt has covered the land” (22:11). Why would Bilaam say that Bnei Yisrael are currently coming out of Egypt, by this time, it’s been almost forty years since then!
The Kli Yakar explains that, as with almost everything he said, Bilaam was trying to show Hashem that Bnei Yisrael deserved to be cursed. Bilaam looked at all the complaints Bnei Yisrael had made while in the desert and how many times they had said they would have rather had stayed in Egypt. By saying that Bnei Yisrael were still coming out of Egypt, he wanted to show that the influence of Egypt had never left them. If by this point, after spending forty years in the spiritual bubble that was the desert, Bnei Yisrael still had not been affected positively, then they were not so great after all.
This obviously was not true, but it was not only Bilaam that thought this. The commentaries show how each one of Bilaam’s blessings was really the opposite of what he wanted to accuse Bnei Yisrael of. In one of his blessings, the pasuk reads, “כִּי לֹא נַחַשׁ בְּיַעֲקֹב וְלֹא קֶסֶם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל” “For there is no divination in Yaakov and no soothsaying in Yisrael” (23:23). Egypt was known as the sorcery capital of the world; after being there for over 200 years, the world expected the only way Bnei Yisrael had left was through harnessing some powerful sorcery of their own. This blessing showed this wasn’t true. There was no sorcery in Bnei Yisrael, they had been saved through the work of Hashem. And because they had relied on Hashem throughout their journey through the desert, they deserved to be blessed at this point, not cursed.
Many of the stories found in Sefer Bamidbar are not so flattering to Bnei Yisrael. From Korach, to the miraglim, to the many complaints, to the very serious story found at the end of this week’s parsha, it’s easy to assume that the generation in the desert was not the greatest people; and we see that Hashem never hesitated to punish them by any of these episodes. And yet, here by Bilaam and Balak, they end up receiving some of the most beautiful brachos ever given!
Bnei Yisrael spent forty years in the desert. They received the Torah, ate manna every day, built the Mishkan, and experienced countless miracles that showed Hashem’s direct presence in their lives. The bad stories we read about, make up a total of maybe a few months’ time. The majority of the time, they studied Torah and followed the word of Hashem. The proof is in these brachos; going through the brachos, we can see what praises the nation deserved. They only served Hashem, they were modest, they definitely were not affected by their time in Mitzrayim, among other things. These brachos are our way of appreciating our ancestors for who they were, some of the greatest people in history. And imagine, we learn it from the brachos of the wicked Bilaam!
For any questions, comments, to subscribe to our email list, or to submit your own Dvar Torah, please email us at AIMeMtorah@gmail.com.
Please check out our other AIMeMTorah project, Nation's Wisdom!