Copy Right 2022
Rabbi Dr Zvi Aviner
Bilaam And the Messiah-3/
Examining Israel’s Roots and Faith
The story of the tiny holy spark
that turned into a huge flame of faith
Invoking Noahide’s Covenant
Last class we ended with the prophet Bilaam meeting King Balak on the borders of Moab at a city Kiryat Huzot. This particular site was chosen, says Rashi, to invoke the ancient covenant of Noahide Nations (after the Flood, that forbids one nation to invade another nation’’ border. Hence, Israel’s presence at the Jordan River was a violation of that respected, old covenant. Moab, in contrast, had never spread beyond its borders. Thus Moab, rather than Israel, was more suitable to lead the Noahide Nations.
The prophet, at that point, completely concurred with King Balak’s contempt towards Israel. Henceforth he would act not only as the King’s lawyer, presenting his case to the Heavenly Court, but would identify sincerely with the King’s accusations against Israel. He would do his best to find a blemish in Israel’s behavior and defiles their fame in YHVH eyes, so that the Shechinah would depart from them and they would not be able to enter the Holy Land.
Spoiling Jacob’s Dream
Bilaam, as a prophet, knew well that if that happens, Israel would not be able to fulfill Jacob’s vow at the Ladder Dream – where he pledged that when he or his children would return to the Holy Land, they would build ON THAT PLACE a Temple for YHVH for all people to come and offer their donations and prayers.
Moreover, when he returns, he pledged, “I will make YHVH my ELKM,” meaning
me and my children would establish a new society in the Holy Land in which the values of YHVH are the laws of the land, for all people to see and learn.
Billam also knew that Jacob, before his death, had asked his sons to confirm their faith in his vision. They all answered him with the famous Shema: “Hear Oh Israel, YHVH, our ELKM, YHVH, is One.” By this they meant (see Rashi) “Hear, our father Israel, YHVH is our G-d (ELKM) now, but in the future YHVH will be the One and Only G-d to Mankind.” We fulfil your pledge and make YHVH’s values as our Laws. One day all Mankind will follow us.
The prophet also knew that Jacob, in his deathbed, than elected Judah to lead Israel
and to produce a king – a Messiah – who would rule over Israel – “the scepter would not cease from Judah”. The Messiah, the anointed king of Israel, would raise Israel’s glory among the Nations so that all Mankind would progress together to the future and be deemed Very God at the End of the Days (as Genesis Chapter One says.)
Bilaam, acting as the Moabite King’s representative in the Heavenly Court – would do his best to spoil that vision and prevent Israel to enter the Holy Land and starts the historical process.
In their first meeting, the prophet laid out his plan to the king. First, he said, King Balak should abandon his idolatry, at least for now, and present himself to G-d as a sincere believer. How else could he claim to be the leader of the Noahide Nations? The King agreed, and, as the Rabbis later said, his believe in God was so sincere that the Heavenly Court was shattered by his offerings and prayers. .
Secondly, they agreed that the King would take Bilaam to three geographic sites, from where he would examine Israel’s ORIGIN, FAITH and SOCIETY. He would challenge Israel in YHVH eyes –
(1) Are they the true descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?
(2) Are they truly faithful to G-d?
(3) Are they capable of building an example society, for all Mankind to see and emulate?
Meanwhile, the prophet would also try to find a solution for King Balak’s weird dream about his daughter ruling over Israel. The problem was: If she could not overcome Israel by the sword, and if she was forbidden to join Israel by marriage, how then would all Israel prostrate on the ground before her Throne? That was really a puzzle, even in the prophet’s mind!
The prophet promised King Balak to address his three accusations one by one, yet he warned him that his mouth would say only words that YHVH would place in it, like YHVH did with the she-donkey. And yet, like the she-donkey, in his heart the prophet would have some freedom to escape from these words to the right or left and seek a blemish in Israel. The King agreed to that plan, and promised the prophet a lavish compensation, should he be pleased.
The Three Prophecies
From the Three Heights
Procreation From Ramot Baal
Next morning, King Balak took the prophet Bilaam to a site called Bamot Baal, the Baal Platform, from where they could see the outskirts of Israel’s camp. As it says
“And it came to pass on the morning
that Balak took Bilaam and brought him up
to the Baal Platforms (Bamot Baal.)
And he saw from there the outskirts of the people.” (Numbers 22:41)
What did they see from there?
The name Baal’s Platforms says it all. The Canaanite deity Baal was the god of FERTILITY and PROCREATION. Its worshipers indulged in sexual orgies and sacred prostitution (no wonder it was so popular.) From that ‘low height’ the prophet gazed at Israel’s ‘low part’ of the body, meaning: their procreation. In other words – he asked: Are they indeed what they claim to be – descendant of the Patriarchs?
King Balak, following the prophet’s instructions, built there seven altars to YHVH and offered there seven bulls and seven rams, invoking the Seven Commandments.
The prophet himself stood humbly before G-d, in prayer. Indeed, the Heavenly Court revealed itself to him – first ELKM then YHVH.
Then, with YHVH’s words in his mouth, the prophet returned to the King and his officers, who had been waiting anxiously to hear his first message.
The prophet began speaking. Many commentaries point out on the prophet’s bombastic words praising himself and the king. This would change, as the tension between them would grow. He said:
From Aram, Balak, King of Moab led me,
from the mountains of the east
Come, curse Jacob for me, come, bring anger upon Israel
How can I curse, what El has not curse?
How can I anger, what YHVH is not angry?
For from the top of the rocks I see him,
and from the hills I behold him,
It is a people that dwell alone,
and among the nations it is not reckoned.
Tradition read this as follows:
I see them ‘coming from the Rocks,’ meaning from their fathers Abraham Isaac and Jacob. And I also see them coming from the hills, their mothers – Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Lea. Yes, they are the true descendants of the Patriarchs as they claim to be.
“How is that possible, after so many years of slavery?” King Balak charged in rising anger. So, the prophet said:
Who can count the dust, afar, of Jacob,
and the number of the ‘fourth parts,’ rova, of Israel?”
He meant- who can count the number of young male and female in Israel who enter marriage still virgin?
Their way of procreation is unique, unlike any other nation in the world!
Their roots are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Hearing him, Balak cried out in anger:
“What have you done to me?
I have hired you to curse my enemies,
and you’ve blessed them indeed!”
So, the prophet said:
“haven’t I told you that I would speak out only
the very words that YHVH places in my mouth?”
Despite his words, the prophet Bilaam remembered that the Angel of YHVH had informed him, via the She-donkey, that in his first revelation he would have, like her freedom to escape to right and left and seek blemish – or create one- in Israel’s way of procreation.
A thought then flashed his mind.
He could advice now the king to send his pretty daughter and her pretty girlfriends to allure Israel’s young males into marrying them, despite Moses’ prohibition. The children from such unions would not belong to Israel anymore, thereby severing Israel’s roots in the Patriarchs.
Yet, this would not solve King Balak’s dream. For alluring Israel’s men out of Israel would not mean that Israel prostrates to the daughter’s throne!
This puzzled the prophet and he decided to keep observing Israel.
King Balak then took the prophet to a higher observatory – called the Scout Fields.
Faith From The Scout’s Fields
The name “Scout’s Fields” tells it all. As Scouts cover their brows with their hands to watch the horizon, so does Israel when reciting the shema:
“Hear our father Israel,
YHVH is now our ELKM,
and one day YHVH will be the only One G-d
to all Mankind.”
YHVH is now our ELKM – as Jacob vowed saying that when he returns home, “YHVH will be my ELKM.”
From that strategic height, Bilaam examined Israel’s faith. Was Balak right by claiming that their faith is false?
After offering again seven bulls and seven rams on seven altars, the prophet stood in prayer. When he returned, he had YHVH’s words planted in his mouth.
This time the prophet skipped any word of praising either himself or Balak.
Without formal introduction he said:
Rise up Balk and hear, give ear to me, you Son of Zippor!
E-L is not a man that He should be deceitful,
nor the son of man that He should relent,
Would He say and not do, or speak and not perform?
“He had not behold iniquity in Jacob,
nor has He seen perverseness in Israel
YHVH, his ELoKiM, is with him,
and a trumpet blast, of a King, is with him…
Surely there is no divination in Jacob,
nor sorcery in Israel…
Behold, the people rise like a lion cub and raise itself like a lion
It does not lie down until it consumes prey….” (Numbers 23: 18-24)
YHVH’s verdict about Israel’s Faith is clear:
Israel faith is pure.
They do not mix God with humans.
They do not believe in sorcery and divination, nor in astrology.
They wake up in the morning to recite the Shema, and they lie down on their beds at night reciting the shema.
They accept the yoke of G-d Kingship twice daily with no exception.
On Rosh Hashanah they blow the trumpets and horns to announce YHVH Kingship. Yes, their faith is pure, unlike what King Balak charged.
A proof for this interpretation? During the Second Temple time, 2200 years ago, the rabbis incorporated Bilaam’s words into the daily Shema. Only much later this practice was cancelled in order to shorten the daily prayer.
This time the angry King wished to cancel the entire endeavor, saying to the prophet:
Neither shall you curse them at all,
nor shall you bless them at all.”
Yet the prophet pressed on, lest he loses his entire compensation!
In his heart he remembered the Angel of YHVH who had informed him that in the second revelation he would have, like the She-donkey, some freedom to move forwards on his own. He could still seek or create a blemish in Israel that would smear them in YHVH eyes.
An ingenious thought flashed Bilaam mind. He could use King Balak’s daughter and her girlfriends to corrupt Israel faith. How? Not by marrying them, which Israel’s young men wouldn’t do, but by enticing them into casual sexual relationship.
He had a plan: The Moabite girls would ask their prospect Israeli male sex partners to defecate before the statue of the Peor, the Moabite idol, before she surrenders herself to him. The ignorant Israeli young man would do that gladly, thinking they dishonor the idol, while in fact they would perform the exact proper service to the Peor. This way the corruption would spread in Israel causing the anger of YHVH.
The prophet felt a thrill. He had come with a good plan that would sever Israeli men’s connection with the patriarchs, and in addition destroys their faith.
On the other hand, would that solve Balak’s dream? How would a prostitute sit on a throne while all Israel bow to her legs? The prophet remained puzzled.
“Come with me,” King Balak said to the prophet, waking him up from his thoughts.
Israel’s Camp From Baal Peor
How did Bilaam Lose One Eye?
This time the King took the prophet to the highest plateau in the area, called the Head of the Peor.
From there, Bilaam could scan Israel’s camp in its entirety, with its flags and its perfect tribal arrangement, with G-d’s Tabernacle in its midst.
It was a marvelous sight of order and good organization, that the prophet watched with adoration. It was certainly the opposite of what King Balak had claimed against Israel.
The prophet also recalled that this time, on that third revelation, he would have no leeway to escape YHVH’s words. As the Angel of YHVH had told him through the She-donkey, he would not be able to move right or left, backwards or forwards. He would have to crouch on the ground and accept YHVH’s words. Moreover – his Mouth and his heart would concur.
So, after offering again the seven bulls and seven rams on seven altars, it is said:
And Billam saw that it was good in YHVH eyes to bless Israel,
So, he did not go as in other times towards divinations,
but he set his face towards the wilderness.
And Bilaam raised his eyes and saw Israel
dwelling according to their tribes
and the spirit of ELKM was upon him.
And he declaimed his parable and said:
The words of Bilaam the son of the Beopr,
the words of a man whose eye is closed,
The words of the one who hears the words of El,
and see the envision of Shaddai,
falling down revealing his eyes…”
Let’s stop here and examine his important words.
Earlie it is said “Billam raised his eyes,” referring to his two eyes,
whereas in the middle of his prophecy he mentions:
“the words of the man whose eye is closed.”
Tradition says that as he started his last, thirds revelation, just before examining Israel’s society, Bilaam had a vision of Shaday – a Name that designate G-d as a CREATOR.
In fact, he saw something that made him lough.
He saw “Shaddai” examining people’s semen and eggs!!
“My CREATOR, Shaddai,” Bilaam said, “why are you engaged in such filthy work, looking at people’s eggs and semen?”
To which G-d answered: “Since Man’s CREATION, I’ve been looking into drops of semen and in eggs, searching for a drop from which a righteous person would rise…”
“G-d, do you see such a drop here and now?” Bilaam asked, still giggling.
“Yes, I do” G-d answered. “It is here!” And G-d pointed at… King Balak!
This shocked the prophet to the core, so much that he fell to the ground, as he attests himself. As that moment G-d frowned, and Bilaam lost one of his eyes, as a result of his laughter.
Yet, with his one remaining eye, Billam could still see more than other people can see with two eyes.
And what he saw shocked him even more.
On that we’ll dwell next class.