Shabbat Parashat Balak| 5767
Fight with Your Own Weapon
In the midst of Bilam’s struggle to harm Bnei Yisrael, an episode transpired that seems more comical than profound. Bilam’s progress was stymied when an angel holding a sword intimidated his donkey. Bilam lost an argument on the matter with his suddenly verbal animal. Hashem allowed Bilam to continue on his mission. What then were the purpose and lesson of the break in Bilam’s journey?
A key word in the Torah’s description is the sword. Bilam told his donkey that if he would have had a sword with him, he would have killed her. Why didn’t he have a sword? The midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 21:13), picks up on the unusual phenomenon of a sword in the hand of an angel who does not need a sword to kill. The midrash says that Hashem was hinting to Bilam that he was acting improperly by trying to curse Bnei Yisrael, as the mouth is Bnei Yisrael’s domain and the sword is the nations’ domain (see Bereishit 27: 22, 40). According to this midrash, we can understand the significance of Bilam’s being “swordless” and wordless in reaction to the donkey’s criticism. He had given up on the weapon that was appropriate for the nations he represented and tried to usurp Bnei Yisrael’s gift. Hashem showed him that he lost out both ways, and lacked both the mouth and the sword. Not surprisingly, Bnei Yisrael ended up killing Bilam, as the Torah stresses, “by sword” (Bamidbar 31:8). The message is further bolstered by the fact that Hashem opened the donkey’s mouth, as if to say, “If you think you can excel at using your mouth, which is unnatural, you will be outspoken by an animal.”
Why, though, was it so inappropriate for Bilam to use his mouth? After all, he was a prophet who was supposed to talk and invoke Hashem’s Name, as he had successfully done in the past. Would it have been more appropriate or moral to take a sword to slaughter Jews like Amalek did? The answer is that to a great degree it would have been preferable. The reason is addressed in the very beginning of Bilam’s first two speeches. “How will I curse? Hashem did not curse” (ibid. 23:8). “He is not a man that He should lie or a human that He should change His mind” (ibid.:19). In other words, Hashem had promised Bnei Yisrael certain blessings and support, some of which came at the expense of the nations. The nations should optimally have followed Hashem’s Will and let Bnei Yisrael execute their legacy. However, it is understandable for them to use the sword that Eisav and others were blessed with and see if their merits could secure them some success. However, Bilam was attempting to create a direct chillul Hashem by Hashem fulfilling Bilam’s curse against Bnei Yisrael. It is a chutzpah to even attempt to make Hashem break His promises.
At the end, Bilam learned the lesson and tripped up Bnei Yisrael spiritually. After he orchestrated their clear sin, their setbacks were not a chillul Hashem but a clear punishment for their behavior [see also Moreshet Shaul].
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.
Hemdat Yamim is also dedicated by Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z"l.
May their memory be a blessing!