Thursday, June 20, 2013
Parashah Balak – Bamidbar/Numbers 22:2 – 25:9
Parashah Balak – Bamidbar/Numbers 22:2 – 25:9
What had Israel done to the Amorites? In last week’s parashah we discovered that other than defending themselves, nothing. Israel had asked permission to pass through the land of the Amorites (Num. 21:21); not a verbal threat was made. There was not a hint of Israel having a desire to have their land. Regardless, Sihon, their king, not only refused passage, but he took military action against the Israelites, and was soundly defeated. Israel then settled in the Amorite cities.
As is disclosed in Num. 21:26, the “kingdom” Israel had just conquered, had itself taken this land from the Moabites many years previously. Israel now controls the land on the east side of the Jordan from about the northern ½ of the Dead Sea northward to about 1/3 of the distance to the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. Moab is to the immediate south of Israel, sandwiched between Israel and Edom. Bashan, part of Ram maintained control from the northern boundary of Israel northward for more than 200 miles. Israel “turned and ascended by way of Bashan” and Og, their king, came out to do battle against them. After defeating the Amorites Israel then went and encamped on the Plains of Moab, opposite Jericho. Let us note that they had not encroached upon the present land of the Moabites.
I find it interesting that as we begin our sojourn in this week’s reading, that the Moabites, children of Lot, were concerned that their land would be consumed by the sons of Abraham. Lot had long ago chosen this land, and Abram/Abraham did not dispute it. In fact, the Holy One had specifically directed Abram to the land that was to be his descendants’ land, and it did not include the land of Lot. However, it seems like we have seen this wild west situation before, as in the time of Lot and Abram - the one wearing the black hat has stated on cue, “This land is not big enough for the two of us.”
In the book of Joshua we read Rahab’s words, “… your terror has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you” (Joshua 2:9b). It seems pretty obvious that the terror of Israel, in reality, the terror of their G-d, has already been increasing among the inhabitants of the surrounding lands. Sihon attacked out of fear, and Og did likewise. Moab is now afraid (22:3); but instead of attacking right away, they want a curse pronounced on the people so that they would be more susceptible to defeat.
As we enter the reading we come upon the name of Balaam, also a descendant of Lot according to the Midrash and Zohar. Representatives of Moab and Midian are sent to entice Balaam to work his magic, speak his curses, upon the children of Abraham. As mentioned before, what fight does Moab have with Israel? Furthermore, and just as bothersome, why is Midian involved? Did not Moses live in Midian for some 40 years? Was not his father-in-law a priest of Midian? Was not Moses’ wife Zipporah a Midianite?
What I see happening in this portion reminds me of Peter’s dream and the ensuing events centuries later (Acts 10:1 – 48). The contrasts are worth considering.
As stated before, Moab is terrified of the Israelites, and Balak decides to send for Balaam to curse them (Num. 22:3 – 6). Cornelius is a G-d-fearing man who received a vision from the L-rd instructing him to send to Joppa for Peter. Peter will then instruct Cornelius as to his obligations to G-d (Acts 10: 1 – 6).
The Holy One does not alert Balaam ahead of time of the coming of the messengers from Balak, but upon their arrival He tells Balaam not to go with them (Num. 22:9 – 12). Peter, on the other hand, falls into a trance, sees a vision, and during this episode is instructed to go with the visitors who are approaching. For emphasis, Peter seemingly has this vision three times.
The morning following the arrival of the emissaries from Moab, Balaam sort of tells them what he had been told by HaShem during the night, that he cannot go with them; but he seems to be hedging his bets, and he therefore leaves the door open for reconsideration. Peter is instructed as to who the men are that he is to travel with, that he is to go with them without doubting, and that the L-rd has sent them.
Balak kept sending representatives to Balaam coercing them to go with them to Balak. After whatever number of attempts, G-d speaks to Balaam and tells him to go with the men, but he is to only speak the words the Holy One puts in his mouth. Balaam must have been pleased at this turn of events, for the next morning he saddled his donkey and went with them – no compelling was needed. Peter, already having been told what he was to do, invited the messengers in for the night, and the next day departed for their destination, Caesarea.
Several times G-d had told Balaam not to go to Balak, but He relented due to Balaam’s obstinacy. However, the L-rd’s anger rises up against Balaam, and He lets him know in no uncertain terms that He is upset with Balaam. Perhaps if he will not listen to the L-rd he will listen to his donkey. Well, the Lord does get his attention through the donkey, but only temporarily. Balaam will still find a way to work around the work the Lord’s will. And he will suffer for it. The directive that Balaam receives from the angel of the Lord is to say only what the Lord speaks to him. In Acts, Cornelius was told in his visitation that when peter arrived, he, Peter, would speak to Cornelius.
As we continue, we find that those in the case of Balaam and Peter, the ones who called them are anxiously awaiting them – Balak for Balaam; and Cornelius for Peter. However, their greetings differed. Balak was upset with Balaam for having taken so long. On the other hand Cornelius was excited to see Peter and explained to him all that had happened.
Let us remember that Balaam has heard the word of the L-rd, and though he does speak what the L-rd has told him to speak, it is obvious that Balaam still has a hidden agenda for himself. He wishes to endear himself to Balak; it is obvious that the “lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16a) are all-consuming in Balaam’s life. Meanwhile as we look at Peter and Cornelius Peter perceives that the dream he had was not about food it was about Gentiles and Jews and understanding that solvation is for the Jew but also for the Gentile he also proceeds to give the word which God sent under the short of Israel preaching peace by Jesus Christ, as it says in Acts 10:36.
For the rest of Acts 10 Peter continues to give the word of the Lord to Cornelius and those who are with him. Peter recognizes that this is a move by the Holy One, for all men were and are created in the image of G-d. As Peter spoke, the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit fell upon those present, and because they had expressed not just belief, but a commitment to the things of G-d, Peter also recognized that there was no reason at all why these who were uncircumcised in body, but possessing circumcised hearts, there was no reason why the should not be mikvaed, and he commanded them to do so.
Balaam, amazingly, takes until the beginning of chapter 24, following two previous blessings of the Children of Israel, before he sees that it is “good in HaShem’s eyes to bless Israel…”. As I read this statement though, I see that Balaam is still full of self and only moving forward in what is good for him. I believe that he truly has no concern for the Children of Israel or for HaShem, for that matter.
As it is related that Balaam gave Balak the information transmitted in the beginning of chapter 25, that the Israelites could and would be stymied through sexual immorality, it is obvious that He had given Balak a piece of information that had not come out of the L-rd’s mouth. This was no different than Moses and Aaron speaking words to the people that HaShem did not say, and then striking the rock twice for water. In neither case was the L-rd glorified and lifted up. Moses and Aaron paid for this by their deaths prior to the people entering the Land of Promise. Balak will also pay for it with his life. There is a difference, though; Moses and Aaron were servants of the Most High G-d.