Divrei Torah

PARSHAS BALAK 5776

In this week’s Parsha, we read about the king of Moav, Balak, and his attempt to destroy the Jewish people. He did not raise an army to fulfill his goal. Rather, he hired a non-Jewish prophet, Bilam, to curse the Jewish people. Our Rabbis teach us that Bilam was as great a prophet as Moshe. The Torah says, “there was no prophet among the Jewish people like Moshe.” Among the Jews there was no prophet who was the equal of Moshe. However, among the non-Jews there was a prophet the equal of Moshe. That was Bilam. However, Bilam used his G-d-given talents for evil. Whomever he blessed was blessed and whomever he cursed was cursed. Bilam was more powerful than any army. Therefore, Balak hired him to curse the Jewish people.\ 

Bilam knew very well that G-d did not approve of him going to curse the Jewish people. Nevertheless, he still went. Along the way, Bilam’s donkey stopped and refused to go any further. So, Bilam hit his donkey. Suddenly and miraculously, the donkey began to speak. And, as if it was normal, Bilam responded to the donkey. 

For most people such an event would give them pause. Imagine yourself driving on the highway and your car suddenly stops. So, several times you pump the gas and turn the key. Then, your car says to you, “Enough already. Can’t you see that I don’t want to go there?” Would you try to get the car started, or would you sit back and reconsider your trip? There is little doubt that we all would be shaken by such an event. But Bilam, the prophet, was nonchalant about it.

Rabbi Yissachar Frand explains, based upon a comment of this event by the Sforno using the verse, “G-d, open my lips and my mouth will tell Your praises.” Speech is a miracle. The ability to communicate and to express is no less a miracle than a donkey speaking. This should have been clear to Bilam. He should have said to himself, “My strength is my speech. Who gave me the power of speech? G-d. The same G-d who gives me the power of speech just gave the power of speech to this donkey. Just as a talking donkey is a miracle, so is a talking human being. G-d is sending me a message that I plan on using my speech in a manner that He does not approve. Perhaps, I should not go on this mission.” 

But, for some reason, despite all of his wisdom, Bilam missed this clear message. And if it can happen to Bilam, it can happen to each and every one of us. If Bilam can be blinded, we can also be blinded. When people are driven by a personal motive, they can become blind to the reality. They only see what they want to see . . . that which will advance their purpose. Everything else they miss. These are the comments of Rabbi Frand. 

G-d often sends us messages. Strange events occur. Dangerous situations arise. Then, the situation passes, and we don’t give it a second thought. You have to go somewhere and suddenly your keys are missing. You know that you had them five minutes ago. Where could they have gone? You look for them up and down and turn the house over. Yet, no keys – isn’t that strange? You drive to work daily along the same route. One day you run into this massive traffic jam. What would you say in such a situation? Is it some colorful language or is it along the lines of “this is unusual . . . why is this happening?” 

Unfortunately, we often completely miss the point that G-d is sending us a message. People must realize that G-d sends messages regularly. Sometimes, we catch that idea. We might misinterpret the message, but, at least, we realize that G-d is behind what is happening.  So, the next time your car refuses to start – despite all of your entreaties – don’t hit it. You never know what kind of response you will receive.