Catriel Lev's Blog: VeHaShalom VeHaEmmet

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Catriel Lev
כתריאל לב

Jun 27, 2010

If Bilaam had Learned from the Middot of Avraham Avinu

[My apologies to those who understand only English, since the Hebrew and Judaic Midrashic material to which I have referred in this post does not always translate well into English, and may not be clear to those who do not understand the original Hebrew (and, additionally, I sometimes simply transliterate the original Hebrew without much explanation in English).]

As I discussed the Parshah with my family on this Shabbat (the fourteenth of Tammuz, on which we read Parshat Balak from the Torah), I hit upon an interesting idea, which I think can teach us a great deal regarding how to excel in our Middot (proper behavior attributes).

As Parshat Balak portrays, Bilaam wanted to accede to the request of Balak, king of Moav, to curse Am Yisrael (the people of Israel); and, by the way, I once heard an interpretation (based upon some hints and similarities in the verses about the two men) that Bilaam was actually Lavan (or possibly his great-grandson, as Moshe is Yaacov's great-grandson) who was known to want to destroy Am Yisrael. However, though it is clear that Bilaam acted in a most evil manner by trying to curse Am Yisrael, I do not believe I have ever seen a clear portrayal of what Bilaam SHOULD have done instead of attempting to curse Am Yisrael.

We know that the Middot of Avraham our forefather and Bilaam are contrasted in the Mishnah (Avot, 5:23), with Avraham's positive outlook, of course, being presented as the righteous way to behave. So I believe that we can learn from this how Bilaam should indeed have acted if he had behaved righteously!

In the Parshah (Numbers, 22:6), Balak describes Bilaam's power as "Whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed", making it clear that Bilaam also has a tremendous potential to bring blessing into the world. It is also known that Am Yisrael did not desire war with Moav (and, in fact, avoided it, despite Balak's attempt to harm them), so that Moav had nothing to fear from Am Yisrael.

However, even if the Moabites feared Israel, if Bilaam had been willing to act righteously he would have blessed Moav that they should succeed in having a peaceful cooperative relationship with Am Yisrael. Such a blessing could easily have been fulfilled if the Moabites, and their king, Balak, had been willing to promote the positive spiritual message which Am Yisrael bore.

In such a scenario, Bilaam, instead of being a Rasha (evil person) would have learned from the Middot of Avraham to bring blessing into the world and Moav would have assisted Am Yisrael in their mission (as Moshe's father-in-law Jethro [according to some interpretations a non-Jew who promoted the ideals of monotheism] did) immediately, rather than having the world wait until a single Moabite woman (Ruth) joined Am Yisrael (and promoted the mission of Am Yisrael by becoming the great-grandmother of King David).

This should teach us today, when so many disputes among religious Jews, and between religious Jews and others, result in the sides spewing curses at each other, that when any trouble or dissension arises we should be blessing each other that the true light of the Torah should be clear to all, rather than cursing others with all sorts of epithets for "being on the wrong side of the argument".

Perhaps, if we, too, could learn this lesson, we could hasten the coming of Mashiach (the Messiah), who is a descendant of David, great-grandson of Ruth of Moav!

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