There is a commandment given to Israel that once every 7 years, during the Festival of Sukkot, they should assemble ALL the people to hear the Torah read to them. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12). Chazal (a Hebrew acronym that means, “our sages of blessed memory”) instituted a continuous cycle of reading the Torah. They defined weekly sections so that Jews would be reading and hearing Torah every single week and complete the 5 Books of Moses in a set time. The teachers I learned under taught me to follow the yearly Torah cycle and I discovered that Chabad divides their Torah study into daily aliyot. When the Torah portion is read in its entirety on Shabbat in the synagogue, there are seven sections, seven aliyot. The Chabad tradition is to study one aliyah each day, starting Sunday and going through to Shabbat. One who does this can get a double dose of the same Torah Portion each week.
It’s time to explore Torah Portion 40 Balak, aliyah by aliyah: Numbers 22:2-25:9
Aliyah 1: Numbers 22:2-12
Numbers 22:3 Mo’av was very afraid of the people, because there were so many of them; Mo’av was overcome with dread because of the people of Isra’el.
I thought Israel is chosen in part because they are not a large, mighty nation. Does this contradict that idea? Was Balak afraid of Israel because HaShem willed it?
Numbers 22:4 So Mo’av said to the leaders of Midyan, “This horde will lick up everything around us, the way an ox licks up grass in the field.
Balak the son of Tzippor was king of Mo’av at that time.
I wonder if Balak fears Israel using up resources or if this is poetic language meaning they will destroy the nations around them as they head towards the Promised Land?
Also is Balak being called Mo’av here as if he is the nation and the nation is him? Seems that way to me.
Numbers 22:5 He sent messengers to Bil‘am the son of B‘or, at P’tor by the [Euphrates] River in his native land, to tell him, “Listen, a people has come out of Egypt, spread over all the land and settled down next to me.
Do you find it odd that we don’t know who Pharaoh’s father is, but we know Bil’am? Why is it important that we know who Bil’am is?
Numbers 22:6 Therefore, please come, and curse this people for me, because they are stronger than I am. Maybe I will be able to strike them down and drive them out of the land, for I know that whomever you bless is in fact blessed, and whomever you curse is in fact cursed.
I find it shocking that people say whoever Bil’am curses or blesses will be blessed of cursed because that is what HaShem does in regard to Abraham’s descendants/Israel. How can that language be used in both instances.
Numbers 22:8 He said to them, “Stay here tonight, and I will bring you back whatever answer HaShem tells me.” So the princes of Mo’av stayed with Bil‘am.
Plot twist! This blesser and curser is in contact with HaShem. I would wager that is why his blessings and cursings stick, because he hears from HaShem!
Numbers 22:9 G-d came to Bil‘am and said, “Who are these men with you?”
Is this an “Adam, where are you” situation and HaShem is testing Bil’am to see if he is open and honest with Him?
Numbers 22:10 Bil‘am said to G-d, “Balak the son of Tzippor, king of Mo’av, has sent me this message:
Oh. So, he is going to tell the truth. interesting. I assume he has maintained this connection to HaShem in merit of his honesty?
Numbers 22:11 ‘The people who came out of Egypt have spread over the land; now, come and curse them for me; maybe I will be able to fight against them and drive them out.’”
He tells the whole truth. Maybe he is a good guy.
Numbers 22:12 G-d answered Bil‘am, “You are not to go with them; you are not to curse the people, because they are blessed.”
Clearly HaShem is not going to contradict Himself. He has some relationship with Bil’am, but that has no negative effect on Israel.
Aliyah 2: Numbers 22:13-20
Numbers 22:20 G-d came to Bil‘am during the night and said to him, “If the men have come to summon you, get up and go with them; but do only what I tell you.”
Instances like this where HaShem appears to be moved or swayed fascinate me. Is He truly being swayed? Why is HaShem seemingly changing His mind here?
Aliyah 3: Numbers 22:21-38
Numbers 22:32 The angel of HaShem said to him, “Why did you hit your donkey three times like that? I have come out here to bar your way, because you are rushing to oppose me.
Back in NUM 22:22, I thought it was odd that HaShem was angry, but this verse seems to indicate that Bil’am had already committed to curse Israel and HaShem knew that.
Aliyah 4: Numbers 22:39-23:12
Numbers 23:4 G-d met Bil‘am, who said to him, “I prepared the seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.”
Does Bil’am make offerings to HaShem the same way Israel does?
Aliyah 5: Numbers 23:13-26
No one has seen guilt in Ya‘akov,
or perceived perversity in Isra’el;
HaShem their G-d is with them
and acclaimed as king among them.
What does it mean that HaShem has Bil’am declare these words after the Golden Calf, the 10 Spies, Korach’s rebellion and other instances of stumbling? How can both be true, they have had all these issues and they are guiltlesss in His eyes?
Aliyah 6: Numbers 23:27-24:13
Numbers 24:10 Balak blazed with fury against Bil‘am. He struck his hands together and said to Bil‘am, “I summoned you to curse my enemies. But here, you have done nothing but bless them — three times already!
Why does Balak think he can trick or go against HaShem himself? That is some chutzpah!
Aliyah 7: Numbers 23:14-25:9
Numbers 25:9 nevertheless, 24,000 died in the plague.
An outsider’s attempted curses failed utterly, but Israel’s disobedience and their willingness to commit idolatry made them ripe for HaShem’s wrath and punishment. How often do we set ourselves up for failure by straying from the WORD.
Before I go, I want to answer questions raised at the beginning of this session. These are my opinions, based on my time studying under various teachers and while I try to set aside any commentaries while examining each aliyah, I will allow myself to bring some back in for this section. I will disclose where I am getting these ideas where relevant.
- Why Did Balak Fear Israel?
- Why is Bil’am So Important?
- Why Did Balak Persist?
That concludes my journey through Balak for the year 5782.
I hope these words have been a blessing to you.
May our Heavenly Father give you peace and joy.
This is Matthew and I am Walking In Liberty.