The Prophet Bilaam and the Messiah-1/
King Balak and his three accusations
The holy spark in Sodom that turned into a huge holy flame in David
1: Can we cultivate a Messiah?
No study of the Seven Commandments of Noah is complete without reading about the Prophet Bilaam and his s vision of the Messiah (said the late Lubabitz’ Rebbe zt”l.)
What is the Messianic age? What are the conditions that can produce a Messiah? Is there a prescription for making a Messiah?
These very question stand against anything that most people know about a Messiah.
People usually think about the Messiah as an enormously important and powerful person sent from Heavens to save Israel and Mankind. He is not a’ predicted product’ of any prescription.
And yet the originator of the concept of the Messiah, the Prophet Bilaam, discovers a process that produces a Messiah and describes it in much details. Since Blaam preceded Isaiah by many centuries. Isaiah is considered his student.. And as our rule of thumb says, wherever a concept appears first time in the Torah, there you would find its precise definition. Hence the concept of the Messiah and the conditions to make a Messiah pare DEFINED by the Prophet Bilaam. Indeed, we can bring a Messiah into existence. IT IS UP TO US, so says the prophet.
What exactly does Bilaam say? Let’s read the Torah portion standing only on the main points. i
Bilaam the Noahide
Let’s point out that Bilaam was a non-Jewish Noahide. He observes the process of bringing a Messiah while looking at it from the outside. In fact, he wished to destroy Israel and stop the coming of the Messiah, and his advice to King Balak was very effective, and still is. How amazing it is that we learn about Israel’s merits and strength from no other than our most vicious enemies!
The rabbis also observed that two of the most important segments of the Torah are named after non Jewish Noahides. One is Yithro, Moses’ father in aw after whom the Torah portion including the Ten Commandments is named. The second one is Bilaam (Balak) who describes how to produce a Messiah.
2: Moab’s fear and disgust from Israel
The story begins by introducing Balak, the king of Moab, as follows::
“And Balak the Son of Ztipor saw all that Israel has done to the Emorite
And Moab was sore afraid of the people because they were many.
And Moab was seized with disgust (Va-Y-ikatz) from the Children of Israel.
And Moab said to the elders of Mydian,
now shall that company lick up all that are around us
as the ox licks up the grass of the fields.
And Balak was the king of Moab at that time.” (Numbers 22:1-4)
Who were the Moabites?
Our story took place forty years after the Exodus, just as the Children of Israel were about to cross the Jordan River near Jericho into the Holy Land (from east to west.) Hence the idea of the Messiah is associated with Israel entering the Holy Land.
You need a Messiah to bring Israel back into the Promised Land. .And you need Israel living in the Holy Land to bring a Messiah.
Israel were parking at that point across Jericho in the Plains of Moab (Numbers 21:35.) Our verse says that Balak (and Moab) saw what Israel had done to the mighty Emorites of the north (Golan Heights). Now you see what your heart wishes to see. The same events can ber seen by different eyes. Balak, the king of Moab, saw what Moses had done and he was struck by irrational FEAR and DISGUST, the verse says. .
Why the fear? The Midrash wonders. After all, HaSheM ( YHVH) had forbidden Moses to wage a war against Moab, a descendant of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. Moab was a kin nation of Israel. They spoke a dialect of Hebrew, as Archeology proves. They had no reason to fear Moses’ wrath!
In fact, when Israel had passed by Moab’s borders on the way north from Egypt, HaSheM told Moses to bypass Moah and circumvent them to the east. Moses then asked Moab to purchase water and food, but Moab refused. Their LACK OF COMPASSION enraged the Merciful YHVH so much, that She forbade any inter marriage between Moab with Israel, forever. No other nation was so drastically separated from Israel. An Egyptian may proselyte and join Israel. A Amalekite, the arch enemy of Israel, may also join Israel. It is said that the Babylonian General who destroyed the First Temple, Nevuzar-adan did convert to Judaism, after meeting the prophet Jeremiah. The descendant of Haman converted to Judaism and studied Torah in the Land of Israel. Hence there is not restriction for any one to join Israel. How exceptional it is, then, that YHVH forbade ANY Moabite to intermarry into Israel!
The origin of Moab would play a decisive role in our story.
The Book of Genesis says that Lot departed from Abraham after they quarreled. Abraham found out that Lot’s men were stealing precious water from the local people and therefore told Lot: “If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right, and if you go to the right I’ll l go to the left” (Genesis 13: 9.) Abraham separated himself completely from Lot.
Lot then settled in Sodom,whose faith was “the opposite of Abraham’s faith” (see our classes.) He sympathized with their culture so much that he became one of the infamous Sodomite judges. The verse describes the Sodomites as “exceedingly sinners and evil to YHVH” inferring that they were cruel, indifferent to people’s suffering, the opposite of the compassionate Abraham. The Sodomites’ slogan was “mine is mine, yours is yours” (Talmud.) They did not share anything and did not have any social safety net. After the overturned of Sodom, Lot and his two daughters, who were Sodomite prostitutes, found refuge in a cave. Thinking that the whole world had been destroyed, Lot’s daughters intoxicated their father by wine and slept with him. They had a good intention, a “holy spark’ yet committed a filthy act of terrible incest (called ‘hessed.’) The older daughter, impregnated by her father, gave birth to a son whom she named Moab, namely “from my father.” hence she was not shy to advertise her deed. Moab developed into a small nation who lived in the territory of ancient Sodom around the Dead Sea and in fact continued the Sodomite culture of indifference to people’s sufferings. This is why YHVH forbade any intermarriage between Moab and Israel. Obviously, we are talking here about morality and genetics, or ‘social engineering.’ Moab inherited Sodom. They were so far away from Israel, morally speaking, that any mixture between them was banned by YHVH. .
And why the, disgust?
The verse says that in addition to fear, Moad was struck by “disgust” from Israel. The Hebrew word for disgusted, “ Va-yi-katz” infers a deeply repulsive reaction like towards insects. Later in the verses, King Balak describes Israel as a w herd of wild oxen that consumes the surrounding fields; a natural calamity. Moab’s disgust from Israel was ‘biological.’
King Balk as the first anti-Semitic person, being disgusted by the very presence of Israel, struck by an irrational fear that Israel would take over his culture and territory.
3: More about Balak’s Fear
Who was King Balak?
“And Balak the son of Tzipor saw…and Balak was the King of Moab at that time,” (Numbers 22:4.) Hence the Moabites enthroned him “at that time,” when they faced Israel. (Rashi) They believed that Balak was the right person to handle what they saw as a crisis. .
The name “Balak the Son of Tzipor” means “the son of a Bird.” It might be simply a name, but the Midrash holds that it refers to his wisdom. he could see the map around him as if he was a bird flying over the Middle East.
So when it says that Balak ‘saw’ what Israel had done to the Emorites” it means he understood Israel\s power and he wished to destroy it.
King Balak’s strange dream
But the word for disgust, Va-yikatz also means “he woke up.” he was haunted by a dream (Midrash.) .In his dream, King Balak saw “Israel falling by his daughter’s hand.’ He saw “tens of thousands peoples of Israel prostrating on the ground before her.” When he consulted his wise men about the dream, they all told him that Heavens was informing him to appoint his daughter over Moab’s army and she would overcome Israel by force.
But King Balak was too smart to understand that no one could overcome Moses by the sword. After all he had witnessed what had happened to the mighty kings of the Golan Height. So the king was agonized by his haunting dream which he could not solve.
4: King Balak classical claims against Israel
Alliance against Israel
The smart King Balak then consulted the people of Midyan. Moses lived among them for many years and they should know his weaknesses. The Midyanites confirmed his fear: no one would ever overcome Moses by the sword, they said, but he could be overcome by his won power: The power of words. Hire a prophet, they told the king, and he would curse Israel!. “Is there such a prophet?” The king asked.“Yes, and his name is Bilaam the son of Beor,” they said.
King Balak thanks them and sent officers to hire the prophet.
Who was Bilaam?
The verse says that Balak sent messengers to Bilaam the son of Beor, Petorah” which means “who lived in the city named Petor. But Petorah also means “one who solves dream.” The kng therefore wished Bilaam to solve his haunting dream about his daughter ruling over Israel.
Obviously, from the rest of the story Bilaam was a prophet. In the book of Joshua (13: 22) he is described as “Bilaam the son of Beor, the magician, kosem” . Hence his prophecy was a temporary gift, for the sake of the story.
In his invitation, the king told Bilaam that “for I know that whoever you blessed is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.” (22:6.) The sages said that Bilaam ‘knew’ how and when to address the Heavenly Court.
The rabbis also insisted that despite his personal fault, Bilaam was a true prophet, almost equal in rank to Moses. G-d treats all Mankind equally, they said, and when He sent Moses to Israel he also sent Billam to the gentiles (“nations.”)
Moreover, the rabbis said that “Moses wrote his (five) books and the words of Bilaam,” Hence Bilaam words are equal to the Torah. it also means that Moses placed his signature on Bilaam’s worlds. The rabbis therefore went out of the way to insist the truthfulness of Bilaam’s worlds. why? We’ll have to find the answer in the text.
Later on we’ll see in the text that Bilaam was arrogant, money lover and cruel. Together with the Moab and , Midyan, a coalition of features was formed: the opposite of the Meciful, Compassionate Abraham. It would be David, a descendant of Moab (through Ruth) who would coin the words: “Whoever is not compassionate, comes not from Israel’s seeds.” David was the opposite of the coalition of Moab, Midyan and Billam. . .
Three accusations against Israel
In his invitation to Biallam, King Balak raised the following three claims against Israel that would become the classical prototype of anti antisemitic claims till heard today: : :
“Hence he sent messengers to Bilaam the Son of Beor, to Petor,
which is by the River the land of Amo, to call him, saying
Behold there is a company coming out of Egypt.
Behold, they cover the eye of the Earth, and they sit against me.
Come now therefore, I pray thee, and curse me this people,
for they are too mighty for me.
Perhaps I shall prevail, that we may smite them
and that I may drive them out of the land,
For I know, that he whom you bless is blessed
and he whom you curse is cursed.”
King Blak raised three claims against Israel.
(1): They are not whom they claim to be
““Here is a company (aam) coming out of Egypt,” (Numbers 21:5) These people, who park against my land, claim that they are descendants of the Patriarchs, Abraham Isaac and Jacob. But in fat they are just “aam” nameless mob, run away Egyptian slaves who most likely were molested by their Egyptian masters for 400 years! They have no right to be here! (Whereas I am a legitimate descendant of Lot, Abraham’s nephew.)
Similar claims have been raised against the Jewish people by modern anti- Semites. The current “Jews” are nothing else than a mixture of Tatars, Poles, Germans, Greek and Persians and Yementites among whom they have lived. .
(2) : They have no faith
“They have covered the eyes of the Earth” (21: 5.) These words can simply mean that the people across of him were so numerous that they cover the sky, like locust.
But the rabbis saw here another claim against Israel: they faith. They ‘cover the eyes of G-d,’ or cheat Him. They claim to be pious, but in fact they seek material things, they pursue wealth and power, and they do not really care about G-d. Have they not worshiped the Golden Calf?
You can’t find a more characteristic anti-Semitic charge against Israel. The Jews cheated in the time of Ezra, say the Muslim. The Jews claim to be Israel, whereas everyone knows that King David was a Muslim. Everyone knows that Ishmael, not Isaac, was on the Altar. The antisemitic among the Christians have claimed that the Jews are money lovers, who care bout material things while pretending piety. >
(3): They are not a civilized nation
The third accusation:was that Israel is like a herd of wild oxen who would consume our fields (21:4) They are disorganized mass of people with no social structure, no order, unworthy to be counted among the civilized nations.
Similar argument has been raised against the Jews in modern times. Stalin, for instance, refused to recognize Jews as nationality. They have no territory, no flag no hymn and no army.
Let’s remember these three basic accusations since Bilaam would address them one by one.