Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Balak
To dedicate this lesson
Hirsch At Your Table

Bilam and Balak

A brief Dvar Torah on the Parsha, based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary


Rabbi Matityahu Clark

וישלח מלאכים אל בלעם בן בעור פתורה אשר על הנהר ארץ בני עמו לקרוא לו לאמר הנה עם יצא ממצרים הנה כסה את עיו הארץ והוא יושב ממולי. (Nm: 22:5)
Balak sends messengers to the city of P'tor, where Bilam lived, with the following message: A nation has come out of Egypt and now is camped at the borders of Moav. This nation is numerically so large that they seem to cover the entire landscape.

Balak was not the innocent king trying to protect his peaceful nation against a potential aggressor. We learn this from Balak's statement via the messengers to Bilam: והוא יושב ממולי/the nation is settled opposite me. The use of the word יושב indicates a peaceful camp outside Moav's border without any type of aggressive intent.

The word יושב is from the root י-ש-ב meaning "to settle down". The word ממולי is from the root מ-ו-ל which means "to move in opposition."

Because the Jews’ seem to him resting in a non-aggressive camp, Balak sees here an opportunity to assert himself and show his subjects that he is an effective king. Balak decides to summon/לקרוא, Bilam, because he feels that with Bilam's help, he, Balak, could weaken Israel and drive them from the land. Balak is cleverly playing with the fears of his people and his sense that the peaceful Israelites could be defeated in order to strengthen his own position as king.

Having decided to try and defeat the Israelites, Balak sends emissaries specifically to this area and particularly to Bilam for good and valid reasons. The phrase ארץ בני עמו indicates that Balak himself was from this area and that he knew the history and character of the region. The area included Aram, the birthplace of Avraham, the forefather of the Jewish people who now were poised to conquer Moav.

The word לקרוא is from the root ק-ר-א "to summon." The word בני is from the root ב-נ-ה "to build." Children are the building blocks of a family or a nation. The word עמו is from the root ע-מ-ם "to develop" as an independent entity without outside interference.

The Aram region was known as one that contained people subscribing to monotheistic beliefs. It also included many who followed idolatrous beliefs, as well as magic makers and soothsayers. It was also the home to Avraham's descendents through Ketura, to Job/איוב and his associates, and of course to Bilam, the recognized prophet of the gentiles.

Balak is sending yet another message to Bilam, one that suggests the uniqueness of this enemy that has now appeared in the region. Hirsch sees this in the repetition of the word הנה/behold, which brackets the phrase עם יצא ממצרים, a nation that left Egypt. Balak was reminding Bilam that it was virtually impossible for anyone to escape from Egypt. The total control that the Egyptians exercised over its people precluded any type of independent thought or action, much less the ability of slaves successfully to leave the country. Not only had the Jews miraculously left Egypt, they had been able to develop a socially cohesive nation that exhibited tremendous power against major armies.

The word הנה is from the root ה-נ-ה which means "to present a new idea." The word יצא is from the root י-צ-א which means "to exit."

The phrase כיסה את עין הארץ/covered the landscape, does not necessarily refer to numbers of people, but to the power and control that the Jews now exercised over all the lands, as far as one could see.

The word כיסה is from the root כ-ס-ה which means "to cover or withdraw from sight." The word עין is from the root ע-י-ן which means "to appear."

Balak fully recognizes the challenge that would face Bilam were he to accept this mission. By the same token, it is the uniqueness of the situation that prompted Balak to invite Bilam to help him defeat the Israel nation camped peacefully on his door step.

Copyright © 2014, Matityahu Clark. All Rights Reserved. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming Hirsch At Your Table, a collection of brief divrei torah based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary.
את המידע הדפסתי באמצעות אתר