Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Balak) Profits!
In this week’s Parsha we are introduced to a non-Jewish prophet named Bilaam. Bilaam was hired by Balak the King of Moav to use his powers to curse the Jewish nation.
A non-Jewish Prophet? The Medrash explains that G-d rested His Holy Presence on a non-Jew so that the nations of the world should not have an excuse by saying, “Were we to have had prophets we would have repented and been upstanding.” G-d established prophets for them. Yet they misused their prophetic gifts and breached “the fence of the world.” For originally the nations of the world were restrained regarding sexual immorality by the Noachide Law, but Bilaam advised them to abandon themselves to licentiousness behavior to lure the Jewish men to sin.
A question raised is how did G-d appease the nations of the world by establishing prophets to lead them on a correct path? After all, Bilaam was a wicked person, so what good could his prophecy do for the non-Jews?
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky explains that when G-d originally conferred prophecy on Bilaam he was indeed righteous. However, once he was sought after by the masses for his counsel and direction, his popularity, high demand, authority and talent went to his head, and he became conceited, arrogant and haughty. These character traits led him to become wicked.
Our Sages teach us that Bilaam’s level of prophecy exceeded the level of prophecy of our leader Moshe!
When examining these two prophets, Moshe and Bilaam, we see that underlying Moshe’s success was his humility and Bilaam’s failure was due to his arrogance and deceit. The greatest compliment the Torah gave to Moshe was that he was the humblest of all people, while the Torah describes Bilaam as one who sought honor and was interested in material gain for his services.
Our Sages tell us that Bilaam was one of Pharoh’s cabinet members who advised the Pharoh to enslave the Jewish people. This same Bilaam is here again trying to stop the Jews from entering the land of Israel with his evil powers.
Here are some other things to know about Bilaam. He was blind in one eye, due to his involvement with occult practices. He used his one eye to cast an evil eye on others. Bilaam had a lame foot. Bilaam practiced bestiality, which became known through his donkey herself when she miraculously began to speak as the Torah describes.
Bilaam had all the opportunities to ascend to greatness and spiritual heights; sadly he misused them and is remembered by his evil intents and sordid lifestyle.
Taking a look at Moshe’s life, the average person would have used his personal challenges as excuses for their personal failures. Moshe was born with a Divine spirit. At infancy, he was taken and raised by an adoptive mother, Basya, the daughter of Pharoh. Moshe had a speech impediment. Living as a prince in the palace would be some type of compensation for being separated from his family – for most people; but not for Moshe. He retained his Divine gift and when he was twenty years old he went out to help his fellow Jews. Although he had great intentions of saving his fellows, a Jew informed the Pharoh on Moshe and he became a fugitive running for his life to the land of Midyan. The Medrash relates that Moshe became king in Midyan for some time. He was also jailed for ten years.
With these challenges, Moshe retained his purity, humility and his deep belief in G-d. At the age of eighty he was summoned by G-d at the burning bush to lead the Jewish people. Due to his humility, it took seven days for G-d to convince Moshe to lead the Jewish nation.
When Moshe finally acquiesced, he led the nation as a faithful shepherd through negotiating with the stubborn Pharoh during the plagues and dealing with the many challenges of leading the nation during the forty years in the desert. He also advocated for them at some very critical moments.
With all that, at the last stretch of the journey to the land of Israel, Moshe, because of an infraction, was barred from going into the land.
The humility that Moshe maintained throughout his life helped him meet this challenge as well. Moshe prayed over and over to enter into the land, but G-d told him to stop, and he did. He was never bitter about any of his challenges – he was a devoted soldier of G-d, recognizing that G-d’s plan is ultimately righteous.
Moshe’s honorable name and ethical and moral teachings are remembered and mentioned each day millions upon millions of times because he made the right decisions in the course of all the challenges he faced!
Wishing you a most enjoyable and uplifting Shabbat!
Rabbi Dovid Saks