This week’s portion is one of the most fascinating psychologically-revealing portions in the whole Torah! Bilaam, a non-Jewish prophet, was granted a level of prophecy close to Moshe’s level of prophecy. The Almighty gave Bilaam these powers so that the nations of the world could not say at some point in the future, “If we had a prophet like Moshe, we too would have accepted the Torah and would have lived according to it.” Bilaam is an intriguing character — honor-driven, arrogant and self-serving. Unfortunately, not too unique amongst mankind.
Balak, the king of Moav, wanted to hire Bilaam to curse the Jewish people for a fortune of money. It is interesting that Balak believed in God and the power of invoking a curse from God, yet thought that God would change His mind about His Chosen People. (God is not a man who changes his mind). Bilaam was very desirous to accept the assignment to curse the Jews — more for the profit motive than the prophet motive.
The Almighty allowed Bilaam to go to Balak (cautioning him to only say what God told him). The Almighty gives every person free-will and allows us to go in the direction that we choose. Three times Bilaam tried to curse us and three times the Almighty placed blessings in his mouth. Balak was furious! So, Bilaam gave him advice with hopes of collecting his fee — “If you want to destroy the Jewish people, entice the men with Moabite women and tell the women not to submit until the men bow down to an idol.” Balak followed the advice and consequently the Almighty brought a plague against the Jewish people because the men fell for Bilaam’s plot. We see from this that the Almighty hates licentiousness and idol worship.
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based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states: Bilaam tells the messengers from Balak, “God refuses to let me go with you” implying that he could only accompany representatives of a higher social status. How is it possible that Bilaam misunderstood the Almighty’s message to refer to the honor due someone of his own “distinguished” status, rather than the plain meaning of the words?
From here we see the power of bias to blind a person. Bilaam’s own arrogance led him to fool himself about what he thought were the Almighty’s intentions. It is clear to any unbiased person that the Almighty did not want Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. However, a person usually hears just what he wants to hear.
Each of us must realize that we too have biases and selective hearing. By being aware of our biases, hopefully we can avoid making embarrassing and costly mistakes. By discussing with a friend, we can further protect ourselves from our biases.
By Rabbi Kalman Packouz