motzei Shabbos: G-d’s Integrity

the 2nd set of Balaam’s blessings

“G-d is not man to be capricious, or mortal to change His mind.
Would He speak and not act, promise and not fulfill?”

– Numbers 23:21, JPS 1985 Tanach

Targum Jonathan renders the same verse, in the following manner, essentially providing a significant explanation of the import of Balaam’s declarations:


“The Word of the living G-d is not as the words of men for the L-rd, the Ruler of all worlds, is the unchangeable, (but) man speaketh and denieth. Neither are His works like the works of the children of flesh, who consult, and then repent them of what they had decreed. But when the L-rd of all worlds hath said, I will multiply this people as the stars of the heavens, and will give them to possess the land of the Kenaanites, is He not able to perform what He hath spoken? and what He hath said, can He not confirm it?” (Targum Jonathan on Numbers 23:19, sefaria.org).


The nature of this explanation denotes Balaam’s insistence on G-d’s track record, with regard to not breaking His word. For not only multiplied B’nei Yisrael, like”the stars of the Heavens,” He also gave the Torah to B’nei the Yisrael, as he had told Moshe, that He would do at Mount Sinai; and, surely He would bring B’nei Yisrael into the promised land of Eretz Canaan, after the incident with Balak and Balaam.


R’ Bachya states, that “the essential difference between G’d and man is that G’d keeps His promises whereas man often deceives, [and] disappoints the people who have been promised by him” (sefaria.org). Furthermore, “Whereas man may change his mind concerning matters he had planned, which did not involve undertakings to his fellow man, he nonetheless is apt to have remorse, to change his mind before executing his plan. Not so G-d. When G-d decides on a course of action, He will not change His mind, even if such a change of mind does not involve a third party” (sefaria.org). And, “when man deceives or reneges, this is considered a serious flaw in his character” (sefaria.org).

Therefore, it may be important to keep in mind, based upon this commentary the benefits, of focusing upon character development, integrity, and keeping one’s word. These are all positive qualities to work on obtaining in life. Moreover, that our own words, should not contradict each other, as if we had two selves, in conflict with each other. Rather, it is important to aspire towards being yashar (upright) in all of our ways. Shavua tov (Have a good week).

Curses into Blessings

parashas Balak 5781

“How shall I curse, whom G-d hath not cursed?” 

– Numbers 23:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

Before entering the Promised Land, B’nei Yisrael defeated the famous kings, Og and Sichog. Psalms attributes the victory to H’Shem, “to him that smote great kings; for His mercy endureth forever” (Psalm 136:17). The news of their defeat was heard by Balak, King of Moab, who grew disconcerted. “Moab was overcome with dread because of the children of Israel” (Numbers 22:3).

So, Balak sent for Balaam, who was the prophet of the nations; he sent for Balaam to curse the nation of Israel, knowing they were too strong for him to go against in battle. Yet, truth be told, B’nei Yisrael was not a threat to them, since H’Shem had told them not to against Moab. It was only the fear that spread among Moab that lead them to think a preemptive attack was possible.

Balaam saddled his donkey, and on the way to Moab, G-d sent an angel to impede his path. Three times, Balaam’s donkey stopped at the sight of the angel. Each time, Balaam, who could not see the angel, struck the donkey. The third time, the donkey verbally rebuked Balaam; and, G-d opened the eyes of Balaam, so that he could see the angel with a sword, standing in the middle of the road. 

Yet, G-d let Balaam continue on his way, strongly warning him to only speak the words that G-d would put in his mouth. Three times, Balak took Balaam to a mountain top to curse Israel; yet, each time he was compelled to bless Israel instead. So, every time Balaam attempted to point his finger, figuratively speaking, towards Israel, as if there was some immoral conduct or character trait amongst them, H’Shem compelled Balaam to say the opposite, in all truth, because Balaam’s initial critiques did not measure up to the truth of the moral integrity and character of Israel.

This is evidenced by the blessings themselves. “None hath beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath one seen perverseness in Israel; H’Shem his G-d is with him” (Numbers 23:21, JPS 1917 Tanach). “There is no enchantment with Jacob, neither is there any divination with Israel” (Numbers 23:23, JPS). “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwellings, O Israel” (Numbers 24:5, JPS). “Blessed be every one that blesseth thee, and cursed be every one that curseth thee” (Numbers 24:9, JPS).

The Persistence of Balaam

In parashas Balak, the “prophet of the nations,” Balaam is hired by Balaak, King of Moab to curse B’nei Yisrael. The Moabites had heard of how B’nei Yisrael defeated Sichon and Og, two Ammonite kings, and they feared for themselves. Specifically, Torah records that when they saw the multitude of B’nei Yisrael, they were overwhelmed with dread. The Hebrew word translated in this pasuk (verse) is koots. This is the same word used to describe how the Egyptians felt about the Children of Israel, generations ago, when they saw that “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad” (Exodus 1:12, JPS).

The three attempts of the prophet, Balaam to curse Israel are thwarted by H’Shem. Each time, Balaam and Balaak bring seven offerings to H’Shem, hoping to appease Him; yet, H’Shem is adamantly opposed to Balaam’s intent to curse Israel. Balaam was told by G-d, even before he set out on his journey to Moab, with the princes sent by Balak, “‘Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people; for they are blessed’” (Numbers 22:12, JPS).

Yet, eventually, in response to the persistence of Balak’s emmisaries, G-d said to Balaam, “‘rise up, go with them; but only the word which I speak unto thee, that shalt thou do’” (Numbers 22:20, JPS). Later, on the journey to Moab, Balaam was reminded by the angel of H’Shem, “only speak the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak” (Numbers 22:35, JPS). Not only did H’Shem prevent Balaam from cursing Israel, He also caused Balaam to bless Israel instead. An example to be remembered, of how a blessing may be transformed into a curse through H’Shem’s Providence.

The Malevolence of Balaam

Within the overall narrative of the parashas, Balaam’s attempt to curse Israel in which he failed, is followed by an alternative plan to cause malevolence amongst the fledging nation of Israel. A curse would typically bring upon a people some sort of malaise, at the behest of spiritual powers having the ability to wreak havoc. Yet, being compelled by H’Shem to bless Israel, instead of cursing the Children Israel, Balaam was thwarted. Out of his frustration, he encouraged Balaak to send Midianite women to entice the Jewish men into idolatry and licentious behavior (Numbers 25:1-3).

Having undermined the kedushah (holiness) of Israel, through his devious advice to Balak, Balaam caused Israel to sin, therefore leaving them open to judgment from H’Shem (Nesivos Shalom). A “shield of protection” is guaranteed to the nation, when a strong connection to H’Shem is maintained through emunah (faith) and moral integrity. Both of these essentials were diminished when the people bowed down to the gods of the Moabites, and the men fell prey to licentiousness with “the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1-2, JPS). As a result, H’Shem, who is both just and merciful, acted upon His Attribute of Justice, by causing a plague, when “the anger of the L-RD was kindled against Israel” ((Numbers 25:3, JPS).

Blessings and Curses

B”H

“And the soul of the people became impatient because of the way.”

– Numbers 21:4, JPS, 1917 Tanach

B’nei Yisrael, as a result of circumstances that seemed beyond their control, grew impatient along the journey. By taking a roundabout way around the country of Edom, they felt they were moving further away from their destination . Their frustration manifested in the form of complaining; yet, the question may be asked, did they really have anything to complain about? What was the nature of their complaint. The Torah records that “the people spoke against G-d, and against Moses: ‘Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, and there is no water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.'” (Numbers 21:5, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Commentary explains that they were dissatisfied with the the mode of their existence. In other words, they were discontent not only with the bread and water that H’Shem provided for them, rather, also with the means that they received this provision. In particular, R. Bachya explains, that their complaint disparaged the manna, and the water from the “well of Miriam” that H’Shem had provided for them on their travels, because they were dependent each and every day on H’Shem to give what was necessary for their daily existence. This is in comparison to other nations, who were able to store up a supply of bread and water that was always available.

It was as if they were really saying that the bread and water they received was not in the manner that they would have preferred. Moreover, the manna did not seem substantial enough for the rigours of the wilderness that they had to endure. Yet, H’Shem provided for them on a daily basis, in order to test their faith in him; for they would have to trust that on the morrow, they would be able to collect the manna in the morning, during the weekdays. Of course, on the sixth day, they received a double portion for that day and Shabbat. They were tired of this type of day to day existence, and seemingly yearned for more security in their material needs.

Because of their complaints against Him, and the heavenly provision of manna, G-d sent fiery serpents that bit the people. When they acknowledged their wrong perspective, H’Shem told Moshe to make a copper serpent, and place it on a pole. “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8). Thus, as Rashi comments, when they looked up towards the serpent, they turned their hearts to their Father in Shomayim (Heaven).

In parashas Balak, the “prophet of the nations,” Balaam is hired by Balaak, King of Moab to curse B’nei Yisrael. The concern of the Moabites was that they could potentially be attacked by the Children of Israel. They had heard of how B’nei Yisrael defeated Sichon and Og, two Ammonite kings, and they feared for themselves. Specifically, Torah records that when they saw the multitude of B’nei Yisrael, they were overwhelmed with dread. The Hebrew word translated in this pasuk (verse) is koots. This is the same word used to describe how the Egyptians felt about the Children of Israel, generations ago, when they saw that “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad” (Exodus 1:12, JPS).

Balaam’s three attempts to curse Israel are thwarted by H’Shem. Each time, he and Balaak bring seven offerings to H’Shem, hoping to appease Him; yet, H’Shem is adamantly opposed to Balaam’s intent to curse Israel. Balaam was told by G-d even before he set out on his journey to Moab, with the princes sent by Balak, “‘Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people; for they are blessed'” (Numbers 22:12, JPS).

Yet, eventually, in response to the persistence of Balak’s emmisaries, G-d said to Balaam, “‘rise up, go with them; but only the word which I speak unto thee, that shalt thou do’” (Numbers 22:20, JPS). Later, on the journey to Moab, Balaam was reminded by the angel of H’Shem, “only speak the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak” (Numbers 22:35, JPS). So, not only did H’Shem prevent Balaam from cursing Israel, He also caused Balaam to bless Israel instead.

Reflecting on the complaints of the Children of Israel, concerning the provision of manna and water that H’Shem provided for them, it is interesting to note that they were not somehow prevented from complaining; rather, they were rebuked after the fact. If there was some way that H’Shem could prevent us from complaining in life, then, perhaps, instead of words of negativity, we would speak positive words each and every time. Our intended curses would be transformed into blessings. “Set a guard, O L-RD, to my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3, JPS).