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Why did G-d choose Balaam to bless the Jews?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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You are absolutely right! Some of the most beautiful blessings and praises ever showered upon the Jews were uttered by Balaam, the malicious anti-Semite who eagerly accepted Balak’s invitation to curse the Jews: “G-d perceives no iniquity in Jacob, and sees no perversity in Israel; the Lord, his God, is with him, and the friendship of the King is with him.” “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!” The highlight of these blessings is the only clear prophecy written in the Torah concerning the coming of Moshiach: “I see it, but not now, I look at him, but it isn’t near.* A star has issued from Jacob and a staff will come forth from Israel…”

Why couldn’t these prophecies have been transmitted through Moses, the champion of the Jews? Instead we find that many of Moses’ prophecies are replete with rebukes and admonitions. It would seem that Moses and Balaam switched roles; Moses should have showered us with blessings and honor, and Balaam should have been the mouthpiece for G-d’s reprimands!

The Midrash says, “It would have been proper for the rebukes to emanate from the mouth of Balaam, and the blessings from the mouth of Moses. However, if Balaam would have rebuked, the Jews would have [disregarded the rebukes,] saying, ‘our foe is rebuking us.’ And if Moses would have blessed, the nations of the world would [disregard the blessings,] saying, ‘the one who loves them has blessed them.’ Therefore, G-d said, ‘Let Moses who loves them rebuke them, and let Balaam who detests them bless them.’”

There is a compelling lesson to be taken from this. Often, we are inclined to chide another – a family member, acquaintance, etc. – who has erred in his or her ways. We must always remember that the only legitimate admonition is one which derives from love and care. For if the person accepting the reproach feels that the reproacher is speaking out of anger or self-righteousness, the rebuke is futile and will accomplish no good. The verse says (Leviticus 19:17), “You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reprove your fellow.” First be certain that you harbor no animosity in your heart, and then you may chastise.

*Despite Balaam’s remarkable blessings, the Midrash points out the stark difference between the words of Balaam the Jew-hater and the prophecies of Isaiah, the Prophet of Redemption. While Balaam said, “not now, isn’t near,” Isaiah says (56:1), “Thus says the Lord: Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my deliverance will come and My righteousness will be revealed.”


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Mitzvot » Love thy Neighbor
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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Moshiach
The Messiah. Moshiach is the person who will usher in an era of peace and tranquility for all of humanity when there will be no jealousy or hate, wars or famine. This is a fundamental Jewish belief.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Balak
King of Moab when the Israelites were heading towards Canaan. He employed Balaam, an immoral prophet and sorcerer, to curse the Israelites so they could be destroyed.
Balaam
An evil sorcerer employed by the king of Moab to curse the Israelites as they were on the verge of entering Canaan. Although he desired to curse, G-d ensured that only blessings came from his mouth. He was eventually killed by the Israelites in the course of their battle against Midian.
Isaiah
1. One of the greatest prophets, lived in the 7th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies of Isaiah. The book is filled with prophecies concerning the Messianic redemption.
Leviticus
The third of the Five Books of Moses. This book deals with the service (of the Levite Tribe) in the Tabernacle, and contains many of the 613 commandments.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.