"He has not beheld iniquity in Jacob, nor has he seen perverseness in Israel."
Balaam, the heathen prophet: brilliant, gifted ambitious... Our sages teach us that Balaam - Bilam - the Midianite enjoyed a level of prophecy equal to that of Moshe rabeinu - Moses our master, and Moses, of course, was the greatest prophet Israel ever had. So what went wrong? Why should a man chosen by G-d to receive prophecy make all the wrong decisions when it came to exercising his gift?
The answer to this question can be found in Balaam's own words: "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel!" (Numbers 24:5) Time after time, Balaam seeks and finds a perch from where he can gaze down upon Israel, convinced that if he can only capture the entire nation in his mind's eye, he will be able to employ his dark powers so as to manipulate G-d's will and curse the nation of Israel. But what he perceives each time he locks his gaze upon Israel, are not battalions of warriors ready for battle, or the flash of their weapons reflecting in the sun. He isn't struck by their leaders or men of stature, or their captains of industry. It is not their factories belching out smoke, or their well dressed youth streaming from the malls, their bags full with acquisitions, that shout out for his attention. All these things he could have wrapped his mind around and pronounced curse after devastating curse. No, what Balaam observed was the modesty of their dwellings, the humility with which they addressed one another. These simple moral virtues are what stood forth each time Balaam focused on the nation, and in the face of this Torah society Balaam was helpless.
Balaam lacked the very morality that he couldn't keep from praising over and over. Without this ability to discern right from wrong, his prophecy lacked a mandate. He was loaded with talent, a wordsmith in whose mouth words were precious jewels, but far from curse a righteous nation, all he could do was express his jealousy and rage with begrudging words of praise: "He has not beheld iniquity in Jacob, nor has he seen perverseness in Israel." (Numbers 23:21) Of all his words perhaps these sting the most: even the iniquity that does exist in Israel, (they are only human), G-d, in His love for them, will not reckon! The blessings contained in Balaam's words, (and which are quoted every day by Jews at prayer), derive not from Balaam's evil heart, but from G-d, Who, after all, had His reason for granting Balaam his prophecy.
Balaam provides for us beautifully crafted prophecies concerning the end of days. He correctly singles out Edom and Amalek for rebuke, as they will, to the last day, prove to be the bitter enemies of Israel. How true were his words we can see today: There are no lack of would-be Balaams who have risen up, even in our time, to curse and to weaken and to demoralize and to unravel the precious but delicate moral fabric from which Israel's tents are woven, but all in vain!
What Balaam couldn't see can be understood in his words: "Who has counted the dust of Jacob, or numbered the stock of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!" (Numbers 23:10) "Let me die the death of the righteous" indeed! But live the life of the righteous? Not for Balaam! So it is little wonder that Balaam's prophetic eye that saw so clearly through the millennia remained blinded to the current phenomenon of tens of thousands of Gentiles today who are doing just that: living the life of the righteous and attaching themselves to the G-d of Jacob, pitching their tents alongside those of Israel, as the word of G-d unfolds in our day.
Tune in this week as Temple Talk returns to its two hour format. Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the rabbi's recent visit to the USA, and the fascinating people he met, as well as ths past week's murderous terrorist attack in Jerusalem, the Temple Institute's manufacturing of priestly garments, and the Torah reading of Balak and the heathen prophet Balaam.
Click to hear: