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Insights into Parshat Balak

Updated on September 25, 2016

Right Actions, wrong intention

There is a long standing history that Balak and Balaam had evil intentions for the Jewish nation. However, in the case of Balaam, I have often wondered what is the deal with this individual in the parsha of Balak. A lot of people get caught up in the story of a angel with a fiery sword that was send to kill Balaam and the wonderful mystery and miracle of a talking donkey. Although these aspects of the story help to make it a wonderful story, ultimately they are what gives the story its flavor.  Balaam seems to talk to the donkey as if it is a normal occurrence to have a conversation with a beast of burden, yet rarely do we hear the question about why he was not shocked at this occurrence.

I have studied this parsha several times. A first glance, or even reading it a couple of times, It is hard to find what is wrong with Balaam. I am talking about this Parsaha and this Parsha alone, and I am looking straight to the text itself. The next parsha my questions are answered easily, and midrash has a lot to offer in addition. However, in this parsha I am left with a strange feeling.

In Numbers 22:8 Balaamsays that he is going to wait on an answer from the HaShem, and this gives us the impression that he is obedient, this is what is appropriate for a prophet.

In verse 12, HaShem says that he can not go, and that he can not curse the Jewish people but only bless them. Sounds good so far.

In verse 12 Balaam sends Balaks messengers away and says that HaShem will not allow him to go with Balak's messengers. Up to this point it still gives the impression that  he is obedient.

In verse 18 Balaam says that for all of this wealth, "I cannot transgress the word of HaShem, my G-d, to do anything small or great" This gives the impression that he a man that is even righteous.

Obviously he knows HaShem, he is mention elsewhere as being a prophet, and he sounds obedient to this point. What is going on? As the reader to this point, I still do not understand the negativity against him in the story. It is not making sense logically.

In verse 20 G-d says that if the men come and summon you than you have to go with them. In addition he was restricted to only speak that which G-d commanded him.

Then in verse 22 G-d's anger flared against him. The question of why did G-d's anger flare against him? It seems to me that he has been obedient to this point? There has to be something that we are not clearly seeing. In this verse, an angel with a fiery sword is going to kill Balaam, for what purpose, because he was being obedient to HaShem?

When the angel is revealed to him in 22:31 he responds in a correct manner for someone that has a understanding of G-d.

The answer appears in verse 32, the angel (speaking as a messenger for G-d) says because you hastened on the road to oppose me. It appears that the angel is a protecting angel for the Nation of Israel. This would be the angel Michael (possibly).

The key here is the intent, he was obedient to HaShem, but not with the right intention of the heart. We find out in the next parsha that he plotted against the children of Israel and that he is also linked to the story of Pinchas.

HaShem will use even the wicked to bring about the will of HaShem. Obedience and intention goes hand and hand. No one wants to receive from someone who is a miser and is forced to give, it is like a slap in the face. Balaam could have been great, he had a connection to HaShem. He recognized who G-d was and was able to receive prophecy from HaShem. Many people in the world desire to have this spiritual connection,  and only a few in the history has had that connection. Mystics strive for it and do not even come close. However, surely his intention could be discarded.

When someone does something really bad to you, and the response in their remorse is that they did not mean to hurt you, it does not change the fact that they hurt you, good intention with a bad outcome is not good, and bad intention with a good outcome is not good. Both good intention and good outcome need to be there. This is a small insight to the concept that we could be doing everything right, but if we do not have the right frame of heart, it might considered as if we are not doing anything at all. We need to be humble and bring both concepts together to help effect change and do are tikkun olam, (our repair of the world, our mission that HaShem has given to us).


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