Noahide Seven Commandments Torah classes
© 2017 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
The Prophet Bilaam and the Messiah-1/Meet King Balak and Bilaam
“The Greatest Story Ever Told”
The holy spark in Sodom that turned into a huge holy flame in David
1: Can we cultivate a Messiah?
No study of the Seven Commandments of Noah is completed without reading the Prophet Bilaam’s vision of the Messiah (said the late Lubabitz’ Rebbe zt”l.)
What is the Messianic age? What are the conditions that can produce a Messiah? Is there a prescription for making a Messiah?
This very question stands against anything that most people know about a Messiah.
Usually we think of a Messiah as an enormously important person, sent from Heavens to save Israel and Mankind. He is not a predicted product of any prescription.
And yet the originator of the concept of the Messiah, the Prophet Bilaam, discovers the process and describes it in detail in his prophecy. And remember, Bilaam preceded Isaiah by many centuries. Isaiah was his student, so to speak. And as our rule of thumb says, wherever a concept appears first time in the Torah, there you may find its precise definition. Hence the process that the Prophet Bilaam describes is credible. Yes, we may bring a Messiah into existence. IT IS UP TO US, so says the prophet.
But his VISION did not come to him easily without a struggle and without paying a price: an eye that he lost! What exactly happened? Let’s read the Parshah, standing only on the main points. i
Let’s also point out that Bilaam was a non-Jew Noahide. He could observe the process of bringing a Messiah while looking at it from the outside. In fact, he wished to stop the process and destroy Israel. How amazing it is that we learn about Israel’s merits and strength, from no other than our most vicious enemies!
The rabbis also observed that two of the most important segments of the Torah are named after Noahides. One is Yithro, after whom the Torah portion including the Ten Commandments is called. The second one is Parshat Bilaam (Balak) that includes the process of bringing up a Messiah.
2: Moab’s fear and disgust from Israel
The story begins by first introducing King Balak, then the Prophet Bilaam:
“And Balak the Son of Ztipor saw all that Israel has done to the Emorite
And Moab was sore afraid of the people because they were many.
And Moab was seized with disgust (Va-Y-ikatz) from the Children of Israel.
And Moab said to the elders of Mydian,
now shall that company lick up all that are around us
as the ox licks up the grass of the fields.
And Balak was the king of Moab at that time.” (Numbers 22:1-4)
Who were the Moabites?
Our story took place forty years after the Exodus, just as the Children of Israel were about to cross the Jordan River into the Holy Land (from east to west.) Hence the idea of the Messiah is associated with Israel entering the Holy Land.
You need a Messiah to bring Israel back into the Promised Land.
Israel were parking across Jericho in the Plains of Moab (Numbers 21:35.) The verse says that Moab had seen what Israel had done to the mighty Emorites of the north (Golan Heights) and was therefore struck by both FEAR and DISGUST from Israel.
Why the fear? The commentaries ask. After all, HaSheM ( YHVH) had forbidden Moses to wage a war against Moab, a descendant of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, a kin nation of Israel. In fact, archeology reveals that a Moab’s language was a dialect of the Hebrew, and their land was just across the Dead Sea. They had no reason to fear Moses’ wrath!
And why the, disgust? The Hebrew “ Va-yi-katz” infers a repulsive reaction, like towards filthy insects. Later in the verses, King Balak describes Israel as a w herd of wild oxen that consumes the surrounding fields; a natural disaster. Moab’s disgust against Israel sounds genuine, ‘biological.’
The same complete, un breached separation had already existed between Lot, Moab’s forefather, and Abraham. When Abraham discovered that Lot’s shepherds were stealing waters from the locals, he told Lot in rage: “If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right, and if you go to the right I’ll l go to the left” (Genesis 13: 9.)
Lot then departed from Abraham and settled in Sodom, the opposite of Abraham’s faith. He sympathized with their culture and values so much that he became a Sodomite judge. The verse describes the Sodomites as “exceedingly sinners and evil to YHVH.” They were cruel, indifferent to people suffering, the opposite of the compassionate Abraham. The Sodomites followed the slogan “mine is mine, yours is yours.” They did not share, and the y did not have a social safety net. Moab, the son of Lot from his daughter, continued the Sodomite culture. The Moabites continued to be indifferent to other people’s needs and they did not share.
Thus when Israel passed by their borders and asked to buy water and food for money, the Moabites refused, despite being a kin nation of Israel. Their behavior enraged the Merciful YHVH so much, that She forbade any inter marriage between Moab with Israel, forever. No other nation was so drastically separated from Israel. An Egyptian can proselyte and join Israel. So may an Amalekite do. The Babylonian General who destroyed the First Temple converted to Judaism after meeting Jeremiah. The children of Haman, the arch enemy of Israel, later converted to Judaism and studied Torah in the Land of Israel. Hence there is not restriction of any person to join Israel. How exceptional it is, then, that YHVH forbade ANY Moabite to intermarry into Israel.
How then could David come from Moab? What were the chances that a person like David arise in Israel?
But despite this complete separation from Israel, there was a “holy spark” in Moab’s ancestral origin. As you remember, after the overturn of Sodom, Lot and his two daughters found a refuge in a cave. Lot’s older daughter then intoxicated her father and slept with him, thinking that the whole world had been destroyed. She wanted to save Mankind from extinction. She committed a despicable act of incest, “hessed,” in Hebrew, but with a royal intention. When she gave birth to her son from her father, she called him Moab, which a means, ”From My Father.” She was not shy to advertise her action. (Her younger sister followed her example, and gave birth to Amon, the forefather of the Amonite nation who dwelled north to Moab.)
Hence, the fear that Moab felt from Israel was irrational. Israel posed no military threat to them, nor did Israel wish to grab their territory or intermarry with them. So why the fear?
Yes, many see King Balk as the first anti-Semitic person, who is disgusted by the presence of Israel, and is struck by irrational fear that Israel would somehow take over his culture.
3: King Balak’s Fear
To farther understand their fear, we need to understand King Balak.
Who was King Balak?
“And Balak the son of Tzipor saw…and Balak was the King of Moab at that time,” (Numbers 22:4.) Hence the Moabites enthroned him “at that time,” when they faced Israel. (Rashi) They believed that Balak would help them against Israel.
The name “Balak the Son of Tzipor” means “the Son of a Bird.” It might be simply a name. But the Midrash holds that Balak was so smart and a shrewd politician, that he knew everything that was happening in the Middle East. He knew all the plots in all the capitals in the surrounding nations. So much, that people believed that he could fly like a bird and observe the area from above.
This is what the verse says about him that “he saw what Israel had done to the Emorites.” He could read Knew that Israel was a rising power, which he hated.
King Balak’s strange dream
But what exactly did he see, that made him so bewildered about Israel?
The Midrash fills the gape. Kinng Balak feared a weird dream that haunted him night after night.
In his dream, King Balak saw “Israel falling by his daughter’s hand.’ He saw the entire nation of Israel prostrating on the ground, before her throne. When he woke up and consulted his wise men, they all told him: “Heavens is informing you how to overcome Israel. Appoint your daughter over your army, and she will smite Israel.”
But the wise King Balak did not buy their advice. He knew well that no army could overcome Moses by the sword.
4: King Balak classical challenges against Israel
King Balak then consulted the people of Midyan, among whom Moses had lived for years. They too assured him that no one could overcome Moses by the sword. The only one way to overcome Moses, they said, is by using Moses’ own strength: the power of ideas and words. “Hire a prophet who would curse Israel!” they told the worried king.
“Is there such a prophet?” King Balak asked.
“Yes, his name is Bilaam the son of Beor. He can be bought by money. For a good compensation he would curse Israel.”
King Balak thanks them, and sent his officers to hire the prophet, adding the following request:
“Hence he sent messengers to Bilaam the Son of Beor, to Petor,
which is by the River the land of Amo, to call him, saying
Behold there is a company coming out of Egypt.
Behold, they cover the eye of the Earth, and they sit against me.
Come now therefore, I pray thee, and curse me this people,
for they are too mighty for me.
Perhaps I shall prevail, that we may smite them
and that I may drive them out of the land,
For I know, that he whom you bless is blessed
and he whom you curse is cursed.”
King Blak raised three claims against Israel, that would become the prototype of anti-Semitic claims to our times.
(1): They are not whom they claim to be
““Here is a company coming out of Egypt,” (Numbers 21:5) The King charged that this nameless company, the former Egyptian slaves, could not be what they claim: descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Had they not been subjected to their Egyptian masters? Had not their women been molested?
Similar claims have been raised against the Jewish people by modern anti- Semites. Are not the Jews the descendants of the Tatars, the Poles, the Persians, the Greek and all the nations among whom they have lived?
(2) : They have no faith
King Balak placed another charge: “This company has covered the eyes of the Earth” (21: 5) which can simply means that they were numerous, like locust. But the rabbis saw this as a claim against Israel’s faith. The king charge: this nameless company “covers the eyes of the earth” referring to the eye of G-d. In other words, they have cheated G-d, and their faith is false. Had they not worshiped the Golden Calf? Had they not enraged G-d in the wilderness?
You can’t find a more characteristic anti-Semitic charge. The Jews claim to worship the true G-d, whereas in truth they killed G-d. Or, as Islam preaches, they have been cheated G-d since Ezra.
(3): They are not a civilized nation
The king raised his third accusation: “And now they will consume our surroundings as the bull licks up all the vegetation in the field” (21:4) This nameless, faithless company are uncivilized, not worthy of being counted among the nations. Their society is wild, chaotic, like oxen running in the field,
Similar argument has been raised against the Jews even in recent times. Stalin for instance refused to recognize the Jews as a nationality, since “they have no territory, no flag and no hymn.” They can’t be counted among the civilized nations.
5: Meet Bilaam
Now who is the Prophet Bilaam?
Some regard him merely as a ‘magician’ who was endowed with true prophecy, only temporarily, for the occasion.
Others see Bilaam as a true Noahide prophet as great as Moses. Whenever G-d raises a prophet for Israel, He does the same for the Nations. Billaam was a great prophet, but he had personal weaknesses: he was arrogant, haughty and money lover.
Yet Bilaam had a special talent: He knew how and when to appeal to the Heavenly Court. This is why the King said to him: “For I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed.”
Yet al agree that whoever he was, his prophecy was correct and valid, as much as Moses’ words. This is why his prophecy is included in the Torah.
6: The arrogant, money lover Bilaam
You know the story. The king had specified that he wished the prophet to “pierce Israel in YHVH’s Name.” Meaning: to destroy their defense. But for that, Bilaam had to receive YHVH permission.
The arrogant prophet tells the Moabite officers: Sleep here with me tonight, for when YHVH comes I will ask his (hers) consent. He speaks as if YHVH lies in his pocket. But at night it was not YHVH who appeared to him but rather ELKM. And ELKM refused to let him go. Finally, after several nights and pleas, ELKM allows Bilaam to accept the Moabites’ invitation, provided he would say only words that ELKM would place in his mouth.
Hearing this, the Prophet Billaam woke up happily in the morning, saddled the She Donkey by himself, ready to go ahead of the officers to Moab. He knew he would speak only words that ELKM would place in his mouth, but what about his thinking in his heart? YHVH, who dwells in our hear, had not shown up yet. Would he be able to curse Israel IN HIS HEART?
As he drove forwards, his She-Donkey had a revelation.
She saw the Angel of YHVH standing before Her with a sword, something that Bilaam did not yet see.
He had wished in vain to see YHVH, yet Her Angel appeared to his Donkey! What a humiliation to the arrogant prophet!
Let’s read the text.
END OF BLIAAAM AND THE MESSAIAH -1