Wicked Wizard or Prophet?
Who (or what) was Bilam really? The commentaries have always dealt with this thorny issue. On the pasuk, “Another prophet like Moshe never arose in Israel, whom Hashem knew face to face” (Devarim 34:10), Chazal (Sifrei , V’zot Haberacha 357:10) derived an extremely positive appraisal: “While in Israel there was not as great as Moshe, among the nations there was Bilam.” The difference is that Moshe did not know Who was speaking to him, and Bilam did know; Moshe did not know when Hashem would speak to him and Bilam did know. To put things in perspective, they explained that Bilam knew so much, just like a royal chef knows about the ins and outs of the goings on of the king’s kitchen – without being an important officer. In this vein, Moshe is uniquely described as, “in My house, he is trusted” (Bamidbar 12:7).