בלק

This week’s parsha takes a break (for the most part) from the mishaps befalling the Israelites to tell us what the Israelites’ advance through the wilderness looked like from the perspective of the other non-Canaanite nations, specifically the Moabites.  The king of Moab, Balak, seeks out a well-known prophet named Bil’am to curse the Israelites, hoping thereby to spare his people the fate that befell Sichon and Emor (in the previous parsha).  Things do not go as planned, however, as Bil’am is faithful to Hashem, and all hoped-for curses are turned into blessings.  Bil’am’s eventual blessing takes place after Hashem seemingly having a change of heart.  When the king’s messengers come to Bilam a second time, Bil’am repeats that he can do nothing but speak the words Hashem provides him, but allows the messengers to stay the night in case something changes.  Indeed, something does change, as Hashem instructs Bil’am “If these men came to call on you – pick up and go with them, but only do those things which I tell you to” (22:20, translation mine).  Bil’am then does just as Hashem asks, and saddles his she-donkey and goes with the king’s messengers (22:21).  However, this somehow angers Hashem, with the text explaining “And Hashem was angered that he had gone…”  (22:22) What did Bil’am do wrong?  Rashi and his grandson the Rashbam explain that the sin here is that Bil’am always wanted to go to actually curse the Israelites, and it was for this reason that he so speedily went with the king’s messengers – in other words, Hashem was angry with him for having the wrong intentions.  Sforno tries a different tack, and argues that Bil’am’s sin was not his mind-set, but the physical evidence of his intentions.  Sforno explains that the language “and he went with the ministers of Moab” (22:21) implies that Bil’am led the delegation, whereas Hashem instructed Bilam to follow the ministers.  Based on the place in the retinue Bil’am took, he disobeyed the command of Hashem.

With our feet

We communicate much

Of what we will do

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