Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bilaam - blessing and curse

The passuk says in the week’s sedrah;
וְעַתָּה לְכָה נָּא אָרָה לִּי אֶת הָעָם הַזֶּה כִּי עָצוּם הוּא מִמֶּנִּי אוּלַי אוּכַל נַכֶּה בּוֹ וַאֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ מִן הָאָרֶץ כִּי יָדַעְתִּי אֵת אֲשֶׁר תְּבָרֵךְ מְבֹרָךְ וַאֲשֶׁר תָּאֹר יוּאָר
“[Balak sent to Bilaam,] and now come please and curse for me this people because it is mightier than I, perhaps I will be able to smite it and divorce it from the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed and whoever you curse is cursed.”

  • The Medrash Tanchuma says at the beginning of Lech Lechah;
ד"א והיה ברכה א"ל הקב"ה משעה שבראתי עולמי הייתי זקוק לברך בריותי ... מכאן ואילך אתה היה עשוי על הברכות...
“You will be a berachah – Hashem said to Avrohom, from the time I created My world I had to give berachos to my creations, from now on you will be appointed on the berachos…”

If Hashem handed the berachos over to Avrohom and to his descendants, how did Bilaam have the ability to give effective berachos?

  • Rashi says (23:8);
"לא זעם ה'" - (ברכות ו) אני אין כחי אלא שאני יודע לכוון השעה שהקב"ה כועס בה והוא לא כעס כל הימים הללו שבאתי אליך
“[How can I be angry with those whom Hashem was not angry; My only ability is that I know to accurately identify the time when Hashem is angry and He did not get angry all these days that I came…”

If Bilaam’s only ability was to identify the time that Hashem is angry, then he should only have been able to give kellalos and not berachos? Even if Bilaam meant that his ability to give kellalos depended on his knowing when Hashem was angry, how do we account for his ability to give berachos if he did not even have an independent ability to give kellalos?

  • The third time that Bilaam gave a berachah to klal yisroel, the passuk says:
וַיַּרְא בִּלְעָם כִּי טוֹב בְּעֵינֵי ה' לְבָרֵךְ אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא הָלַךְ כְּפַעַם בְּפַעַם לִקְרַאת נְחָשִׁים וַיָּשֶׁת אֶל הַמִּדְבָּר פָּנָיו
“And Bilaam saw that it was good in the eyes of Hashem to bless the benei yisroel, he did not go like the previous times to seek sorcery and he turned his face to the desert..”

Why does the passuk say that the previous times he went to seek sorcery? Bilaam had only ever previously sought the presence of Hashem? As the passuk says;

וַיֹּאמֶר בִּלְעָם לְבָלָק הִתְיַצֵּב עַל עֹלָתֶךָ וְאֵלְכָה אוּלַי יִקָּרֵה ה' לִקְרָאתִי וּדְבַר מַה יַּרְאֵנִי וְהִגַּדְתִּי לָךְ וַיֵּלֶךְ שֶׁפִי
“And Bilaam said to Balak, stand by your olah and I will go, maybe Hashem will meet me and he will show me something and I will tell you, and he went silently.”


Rb Dessler z”l explains that Bilaam never really gave berachos. When the passuk says; כִּי יָדַעְתִּי אֵת אֲשֶׁר תְּבָרֵךְ מְבֹרָךְ וַאֲשֶׁר תָּאֹר יוּאָר, “For I know that whoever you bless is blessed and whoever you curse is cursed”, it means that Bilaam could only give berachos and also kellalos, he could not only give berachos. Why is this?

The gemara says (Berachos 17b);
...דאמר רב יהודה אמר רב בכל יום ויום בת קול יוצאת מהר חורב ואומרת כל העולם כולו נזונין בשביל חנינא בני וחנינא בני די לו בקב חרובין מערב שבת לערב שבת
“Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav, every day a heavenly echo comes out of Har Sinai and says, ‘The whole world is fed because of my son Chanina, and Chanina my son suffices with a kav of carobs from erev Shabbos to erev Shabbos.’”

The word שביל (בשביל חנינא בני) can be transalated as “a path”, so that we can read the gemara;
“The whole world is fed through the path of my son Chanina.” This is because the tzaddik forms the connection to the higher worlds through which the beracha can come down to this world. If the path is blocked by the tzaddik taking for himself, then he cannot act as a conduit for the beracha to spread to the rest of the world. That is why “וחנינא בני די לו בקב חרובין מערב שבת לערב שבת” – “For Chanina my son, a kav of carobs is enough…”. Because he did not take for himself, Rebbi Chanina was able to act as a source of blessing.

The mishna says in Avos (5:19);
כָּל מִי שֶׁיֵּשׁ בְּיָדוֹ שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הַלָּלוּ, מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ. וּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים אֲחֵרִים, מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל בִּלְעָם הָרָשָׁע. עַיִן טוֹבָה, וְרוּחַ נְמוּכָה, וְנֶפֶשׁ שְׁפָלָה, מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ. עַיִן רָעָה, וְרוּחַ גְּבוֹהָה, וְנֶפֶשׁ רְחָבָה, מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל בִּלְעָם הָרָשָׁע
“Anyone who has these three traits is from the talmidim of Avraham Avinu, and three other traits is from the talmidim of Bilam ha’Rasha. A generous eye and a humble spirit and a lowly heart is from the talmidim of Avraham Avinu. An evil eye and a haughty spirit and a greedy heart is from the talmidim of Bilaam ha’Rasha.”

If so, how could Bilaam give berachos at all?

Rb Dessler explains that even although Bilaam was a navi, this was only an intellectual perception. Personally, he was on a very low level and did not have any connection to the higher worlds to be able to act as a source of berachah. However Bilaam did possess the ability to take away the berachah from people by giving them a kellalah at the time of Hashem’s anger. The beracha that this person had before he received a kellalah from Bilaam did not disappear but rather became available to Bilaam to give to someone else. Therefore it appeared as though Bilaam gave berachos, although this was not really true. The berachas that he gave were stolen from the person whom he had given a kellalah to previously.

Even although Balak only wanted Bilaam to give the benei yisrael a kellalah, he still mentioned his ability to give berachos in his invitation, because both berachah and kellalah were part and parcel of the same thing. The sorcery of Bilaam was his ability to take away the beracha from someone, through giving them a kellalah after he had identified the time when Hashem was angry, which he was then able to bestow on someone else.

Becuase of Hashem's love for the benei yisrael, He never became angry in the days that Bilaam tried to give them a kellalah and Bilaam was forced to give them the beracha that Hashem made him say. The medrash explains that in the end, Pinchas's soldier killed Bilaam with his own sword that had the word "nachash" written on both sides of it. Becuase Bilaam was unable to do what he wanted to the benei yisrael, his evil intentions bounced back on to him, and he was killed with the sword that represented the two sided trick of the tongue (of the nachash) that he had wanted to use against the benei yisrael.

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