My notes on Balaq

Parashat Balaq

Numbers 22 (continued)

22:21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.

Comment: Balaam is traditionally regarded as a bad guy, and is contrasted with the good guy Abraham in Jewish culture. This contrast is used to bring important moral teachings (see a detailed comment later on Numbers 24:2). Rashi noted in this verse, that both Balaam and Abraham “saddled his ass” personally: compare (Genesis 22:3) “And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.” Both Abraham and Balaam are influential people who own servants. They could have asked their servants to saddle donkeys. Instead, they do this themselves since they are both zealous in carrying out their missions, albeit completely opposite ones – a good mission for Abraham (offering his son to Gd) and a bad mission for Balaam (cursing Gd’s people). I noticed other similarities between these two people: both of them rose up in the morning (even both in Chapter 22 of the respective books), both of them brought two servants with them (see Numbers 22:22 for Balaam), and an angel appeared later to both of them. Their roles in the Bible were completely opposite, one represents blessing, since Abraham was going to become a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:3); the other represents curse, since Balaam was appointed to curse Gd’s people. Yet both of them were needed to appear in the Bible, in order to play complementary roles; Balaam’s intended curse was turned into a blessing due to God’s love to His people (Deuteronomy 23:5). In our journeys of faith, it is a fact that our enemies do exist, but we have to remember that it is Gd Who allows our enemies to exist, and ultimately this seemingly uncomfortable arrangement will be turned into a blessing for us, due to Gd’s love for His people.

These hints of a contrast between Balaam and Abraham reveals a deep secret regarding how to be immune to curses. Whatever belongs to Gd, curses are not effective on it. When Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice, he offered his descendants to belong to Gd, then they are blessed and can no longer be affected by curses. That is why any later curses such as those intended by Balaam and Balaam have to be turned into blessings. Whatever you worry about, be it your children, or your money, or your reputation, or your relationship, or your house, or your health, or even yourself, just say to Gd, it is You Who gave it to me, but now I claim that it belongs to you, since even I myself belong to you, please use it and protect it according to your best wishes, and please also use me and protect me accordingly to your best wishes. Then whatever was yours which you worried about, now becomes Gd’s property and He will take care of it and use it in His best way, much better than what you can do yourself, since He is the Creator of everything.


Numbers 23

23:21 He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.

Comment: Rashi cited a beautiful way of interpreting “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob”, that the merciful and gracious Gd does not intensely fix His eyes upon our sins against us – otherwise we wouldn’t be able to survive. As King David says in Psalm 130:3, “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” This surely doesn’t mean that we are free to sin. This is more like a small child who accidentally breaks a vase in a hotel. She cries, since she regrets and is scared, since she has no ability to pay. Her father will first scold her and warn her to be more careful in the future, and then pay for the damage and comfort her. We are fortunate that Gd is our Heavenly Father. When we fall short and become overwhelmed by our sin and its consequences, He will be our redeemer. David said later in Psalm 130:7,8 “Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”


Numbers 24

24:2 And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes; and the spirit of God came upon him.

Comment: Here Rashi says that the “eyes” Balaam lifted up were “evil eyes”, which would find satisfaction to see Israel’s downfall. (His intended curse was , however, prevented by the spirit of God which later “came upon him”.
Rashi commented on three traits of the bad guy Balaam: evil eye (here), pride (Numbers 22:13) and greed (Numbers 22:18). There are scriptural sources that his good guy contrast, Abraham, possesses the three opposite traits: good eyes (which are glad to see other people succeed), humbleness, and contentment in his portion. This is discussed in Pirkei Avot 5:19, which is explained nicely in this article:

Abraham’s three traits make people who possess them happy, and they are based on knowledge of Gd.

“Good eye” (This is in contrast to “evil eye”, see, e.g.,
When other people succeed, we should not be jealous or feel bitterly, since Gd decides what their portions are and Gd is fair. It is important to learn to be happy to see other people’s success.

Humbleness: We are sinners who depend on God’s grace, without which we wouldn’t be worthy of any of the good things that we get. So there is no need to be upset and feel that people don’t show proper respect to us. Abraham regards himself as just ashes and dust (Genesis 18:27).

Contentment: When I was young I dreamed for getting the Nobel prize. I made some progresses over the years, but as my age increases, I gradually find that this dream seems to be less and less possible. I realize that each person’s achievement has an upper limit, for someone it’s lower, for someone else it’s higher. However, when I realize that it is Gd who ultimately sets this limit to each person, and that this defines his lot or his portion, and that Gd is a good Gd, then I become content. My portion, if it is decided by Gd my maker, then it will be the best and most suitable to me, and certainly sufficient. In Psalm 16:5,6 David says “The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.” In Psalm 23:1 he says “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”


Numbers 25

25:1 And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.

Comment: In Jewish division of the Books of Moses into weekly portions, this new story in the beginning of Chapter 25 is combined into the same portion together with the story above about Balaam. The reason is that Jews believe that it was Balaam who provided this idea to seduce the Israelites to sin with foreign women, after his failure to curse Gd’s people by word. The Israelites erred in both sexual immorality and worshiping idols in this incident, and were punished with a plague, which killed more people than the entire size of the Levite tribe. The fact that Balaam is behind this incident, is hinted in Numbers 31:16 “Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.”

Sexual immorality and worshiping idols both occurred in this incident. Both were very effective ways to harm Gd’s people. Gd is likened as a husband to the Israelites, since the two parties have a covenant between them like in a marriage. That is why in the book of Hosea, idolatry is likened by unfaithfulness in marriage. In the Ten Commandments, the commandments forbidding idolatry and adultery are ordered similarly on two different tablets (forbidding idolatry is listed as the second commandment on one tablet, and the commandment forbidding adultery is listed as the second on the other tablet). It is taught that even for modern Jews, it is preferred to die rather than to commit idolatry, or murder, or adultery. (See,e.g.,


25:2 And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods.

Comment: These Israelites have been eating manna in the wilderness; they now experience eating regular food for the first time since about forty years ago. They seem to enjoy the new mundane lifestyle, mundane food, and mundane religious activities (of worshiping lowly idols). A wonderful article relates their eating of mundane food to the particular way of idol worship in this incident. See