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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Skorka

Balak- The misuse of power

Balak, king of Moab, upon learning of the military victories of the children of Israel over the Amorites, decided to hire Balaam to curse them since he could not achieve their destruction militarily. Balaam possessed the ability to dialogue with God as no other person, as he himself affirmed (Numbers 24:15-16). The sages of the Midrash (Sifrei, end of Devarim, Bava Batra 15, b; Berachot 7, a), as well as those in the Zohar, describe Balaam as a being with superlative qualities. In Joshua 13:22 he is defined as a sorcerer, however Rabbi David Kimhi explains ad locum that on this occasion he spoke with an angel of God and his words were really prophetic. According to Rabbi Yochanan he was initially a prophet, but ended up being a sorcerer (Sanhedrin 106, a).

The story has multiple ironies that describe the blind greed of Balaam for fortune and fame. His donkey sees the presence of an angel that he, the man with visionary capabilities, cannot see. Everything turns out to be a great mockery of those who claim superlative mental powers and who, having them or pretending to them, enchant people to satisfy the sick desires of their distorted egos.

Balaam was hired to curse Israel, but God puts blessings into his mouth. Failing in the mission for which he was hired, he later advised Balak to destroy Israel by sending priestesses to pervert the people through a pagan cult that was practiced through obscenities (Numbers 31:16, Sanhedrin 106, a). This time his destructive advice was successful and many members of the village prostituted themselves and were punished. His intelligence, put into the service of evil, eventually had its own reward (Numbers 31:8).

Frequently it is given to us to witness the sad and tragic spectacle of people with special talents, extraordinary abilities, or outstanding capacities who vilely misuse them for their own benefit. Regrettably, they do not recognize that all the work of life must be dedicated to going beyond ephemeral existence and to improving the lives of those who will follow after us.

Shabbat shalom!


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