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From Siach Shaul p. 425-6

A Prophet for the Nations

As far as spiritual power, Bilam was a giant. Chazal derive that in prophecy he was on par with Moshe. Yet, there was a huge chasm between them.


Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

Tamuz 7 5782
Throughout the chain of events described in the Torah, a spiritual image of Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest prophet of all time, shines through. In an apparently intentional contrast, we see in this week’s parasha the image of his bitter counterpart and enemy, the evil Bilam, the sorcerer from Aram.

As far as spiritual power, Bilam was a giant. Chazal derive that in prophecy he was on par with Moshe (Bamidbar Rabba 14:20). Yet, there was a huge chasm between them.

Moshe was pure, honest, and, most of all, humble. Bilam was corrupt and hungry for money and honor. His desires were unsatisfiable. These two opposites, filling parallel roles, met up in this parasha. Except that they did not literally meet. Moshe remained in the shadows and, we almost do not feel him in the parasha. Bilam did not enter a confrontation with Moshe but with the ideals for which Moshe stood in leading the Israelite nation.

From hilltop to hilltop, Bilam went to try see this strange nation, and he saw tent after tent arranged in a proper, orderly manner. He saw the Mishkan, "home" to the Divine Presence, in their midst. How beautiful was this encampment, how in synch with the desire of Hashem, and what healthy family lives existed within!

Finally, it was Bilam’s opportunity to curse, something for which he had waited for so long. It had been very painful for him to hear of the nation’s success in leaving Egypt and since then. How happy he was to receive the request from the Moavites, and he hoped that Hashem would enable him to go. It had been stupid to think that he could outsmart Hashem and spill out some of his venom against Bnei Yisrael.

And then, everything fell apart on Bilam, exposing him to his actual lack of power. He could do nothing in the face of the encampment of the nation of Hashem. For someone who was dedicated to aggrandizing himself and using his spiritual gifts to immorally increase his wealth and fame, he finally felt that his road got him nowhere. Alone and weak, he was forced to bless the nation he so looked forward to cursing.

In an act that hints at thoughts of repentance, Bilam declared: "May my spirit die the death of upright people, and may my end be like theirs" (Bamidbar 23:10). However, he did not get to die the proper death that he suddenly embraced. He was slain by Bnei Yisrael along with the princes of Midian (ibid. 31:8).

Distant worlds met in conflict, and the idolatrous elements of mankind were defeated. This was the end of prophecy for the nations of the world. In Israel, prophecy was just beginning, with the foundational principle being that which Micha said in this week’s haftara: "A man told you that which is good and that which Hashem demands of you, which is doing justice and loving kindness and walking modestly with Hashem" (Micha 6:8).
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