Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Balak - Numbers/Bamidbar 22:2 - 25:9
Greed. Lust for ruling power, lust for wealth and respect, and lust in personal relationship. It could be said that lust is the overwhelming theme of this parashah, except zeal for the Lord makes its grand entrance in the final three verses of our parashah.
Balak was terrified of the Israelites for they were encamped just north of his territory. They had come out of Egypt almost 40 years prior, but they had remained encamped along the Gulf of Aqaba for most of the last 38 years or so. Having been situated there for so long they had not been a threat to anyone, though they bore watching.
However, over the previous few months they had been moving in a generally northward direction towards the Land of Canaan and its environs. Recently they had had to defend themselves against the mighty Amorites, and they thoroughly smote them. They dealt with Bashan in a like manner.
It was no small wonder that Balak was afraid, for this was a mighty people. If they could not be defeated by military might, then perhaps they could be overcome spiritually, by having them cursed. Nearly 300 miles to the north was a seemingly well-known prophet, Balaam by name. Balak sent emissaries seeking his aid.
Balaam sought the Lord about accepting the invitation, but at the Lord’s instruction he did not accept the king’s invitation, even though it would have meant receiving great riches. Upon being rebuffed, Balak, the Moabite, redoubled his efforts to persuade Balaam to attend to his request. Balaam received the new ambassadors, and though he had already had an answer from the Lord, he still entertained their offer and seemingly sought the Lord’s advice, which in a comparison of Numbers 22:20 and 21 he did not seem to heed, for he was prepared to go with the men even though the conditions HaShem had set had not been met. The lure / lust of the riches was more than he could resist.
The Lord was quite angry at Balaam’s decision, but He advised Balaam that the people were to be blessed and that he was not to curse them in any fashion. During his time with the Moabites, Balak built 7 altars three different times prior to Balaam’s speaking a word over the Children of Israel. Each time he pronounced a blessing/prophecy over them. Balak was incensed at the lack of a curse and abruptly dismissed the prophet.
It appears though that Balaam gave Balak a method of corrupting the Israelites, for in the beginning of chapter 25 we find that the women of Moab had begun consorting with the Israelite men, and as a result the people of God began to worship Baal-peor. Not only were the people individually committing whoredom, but they were doing so corporately as well, for they had already entered into a marriage covenant with the Lord back at Mt. Zion.
The result of the whoredom being committed - the judges of Israel were to slay every man that had served Baal-peor. There were those of Israel who were faithful who were lamenting at the entrance to the tabernacle. During this time of intense mourning an Israelite man boldly brought a Midianite woman into the camp, among the congregation and proceeded to take her into his tent. Phineas, son of Eleazar, grandson of Aaron, in his zeal for the Lord immediately rose up, went into the tent with his javelin, and thrust it through the two of them. This action immediately assuaged the wrath of the Lord and brought to an end the plague which had consumed twenty-four thousand of the children of Israel.
Balak and Balaam lusted and were zealous for that which would benefit them personally; Phineas was zealous for that which would bring the Lord honor. Zealousness is often looked upon as not being something virtuous. Perhaps it is time that we take another look at zealousness; maybe our zeal for the things of HaShem needs to be more apparent more often.