Parshas Balak; Subjective Deciphering : Once upon a time there was a nation called the Bnei Yisrael (‘BY’). They were taken out of slavery in Egypt and were on the verge of entering Eretz Yisrael. A king called Balak hires a prophet called Bilaam to curse the BY so they will be destroyed. When Balak’s messengers relay this to Bilaam, Bilaam asks permission from HaShem to be able to curse His nation, who refuses (surprise). Messengers come once again, this time more prestigious ones, and Bilam asks HaShem once more - and this time HaShem gives permission for Bilam to go, but He reminds Bilam that it would be He who will put the words into Bilam’s mouth. Bilam then sets out on his journey to curse the BY and HaShem gets angry with him. An angel is sent to stop Bilam, and (after hitting his talking donkey three times), the angel repeats HaShem’s permission to Bilam, along with the reminder that only HaShem’s words will be uttered. Bilam famously blesses the BY three times; the last one being the ‘ma tovu ohalecha yaakov…’ blessing which we say upon entering Shul each morning.
There are several questions to be asked here. [First and foremost is what exactly can a curse do if HaShem does not want its effects to occur - let Bilam curse us; who cares? I am not going to answer this because I do not know the answer. There is a deep gemarra brachos to do with this (see start of Artscroll Stone chumash this week) but I do not know its depth. Answers will be appreciated.] Other questions we can deal with, so here they are…
Why did HaShem change His mind (so to speak) in first refusing Bilam permission (pasuk 12) and then granting it (20)? Why did HaShem get angry at Bilam for going (21-22) if He had just given Bilam permission to go? Why, if HaShem had given permission to Bilam to go and told him that the words you say will be selected by Me, did HaShem then send an angel to initially prevent Bilam from going? And why does the angel need to repeat HaShem’s permission and warning to Bilam (35)? And lastly, the reason for HaShem giving prophecy to Bilam was so the other nations could not complain ‘if only we would have had prophets we would not have been so bad ’ (Rashi 22;5) [the depth seems to be that a part in us meriting the Land of Israel was because the nations were so morally terrible there; not just our merits; Devarim 9;5-6.] But surely the nations could still claim that ‘if we had a prophet of Moshe’s calibre we would not have been so bad?’
Let’s pG deal with the first questions first, and later move on to the last question.
These questions can be answered in one swoop via something the Vilna Gaon points out and consequently a careful examination of the psukim. The Vilna Gaon (and it is hinted at in Rashi 22;21 ‘im’) points out that there are two ways in Hebrew of saying ‘with someone’ - either ‘itto’ or ‘imo,’ from the roots ‘im‘ and ‘itt‘.’ If there are two different words, each must mean something else (or just have one word) so what is the difference between them? The Gaon reveals that the ‘itto’ root means to go with someone but not necessarily with the same motive or fervour, whilst the ‘imo’ root means to go completely in sync with the other party - to share their motives, goals, and passion for the mission. When HaShem first told Bilam not to journey to curse the BY, (12) he tells Bilam not to go ‘imahem’ - using the ‘im’ form. This means He was not telling Bilam categorically not to go - He was just saying ‘make sure you do not go with their attitude and excitement to curse the BY’ - but to go without this attitude by implication is ok. Bilam misunderstood HaShem’s reply (we will deal with why he misunderstood it later) and thought it was an outright refusal of permission to go. When HaShem does give Bilam permission openly to got the second time (20), He says ‘go with them,’ using the ‘ittam’ form. Given what we said above, we can now state that this is not HaShem’s ‘change in policy’ but this is what He told Bilam all along - to go ‘ittam’ was fine, it was going ‘immam’ that was the problem. But why did HaShem get angry when Bilam did go? Because the very next pasuk (21) says that Bilam went ‘with them’ using the word ‘im’ ie Bilam did go against HaShem’s command, because he went with Balak’s officers with the same fervour and excitement to curse the Jews as they had, whilst HaShem had only allowed going ‘ittam’ ie to go with them but not with the same motives, etc. Thus, HaShem send an angel to stop Bilam from going ‘immam,’ and the angel does not merely repeat HaShem’s permission, for the angel is told to allow Bilam to now go ‘with the officers’ in the ‘im’ form (35), but the words used will be those of HaShem.
This difference of ‘im’ and ’itt’ is also present in two of the sheva brachos which we say at weddings; one ends ‘mesameach chassan im hakallah’ whilst the other concludes ‘mesameach chassan ve’challah.’ Why the different endings? Since ‘im’ refers to simchah and growth together as we explained above, whilst the ‘ve’ bracha concerns the individual simcha and growth of the bride and groom. And the ‘ve’ bracha is put first, since this is the base - first there is individual growth motivated individually, and then comes the ability to grow and be sameach as a unit.
The last question remains, however - why could the nations not still claim ‘had we only had a prophet like Moshe we would have been good?’ As does the question ‘why did Bilam misinterpret HaShem’s responses, according to what we said above, in thinking that He had been fully refused and then fully given permission to go and curse the BY?’
An answer given is that Bilam did indeed have the potential prophetic level of Moshe Rabeinu. But there is one thing however that set aside Moshe from the other prophets. Chazal (yevamos 49b) say that Moshe’s prophecy is compared to seeing through a clear lens, whilst other Jewish prophets only had a cloudy lens. Rav Dessler explains that the difference is qualitative in that when one sees through a cloudy lens part of what they see is a reflection of themselves, whilst Moshe could see none of his own reflection in his prophecies. The point is that Moshe was empty of any pride (ego) whatsoever (Bamidbar 12;3), and thus he could receive a completely objective prophecy without inserting any of his own notions into HaShem’s message. The other prophets had a bit less anavah and thus had a tiny vestige of their own notions in their prophecies and they were thus less objective than that of Moshe. Thus, the other prophets had a harder job of interpreting their prophecies and finding out what HaShem really wanted. Bilam, with his great haughtiness (see Avos 5;22), could not receive his prophecies objectively and saw a strong reflection of his preconceived notions - he had the ability to have a level of prophecy of Moshe, but could not utilise it due to his haughtiness - as reflective of the nations in general. Thus, he misunderstood HaShem’s Commands, because he could not hear them objectively, and instead inserted parts of his own understanding of what was said.
Please G-D should we have the prayer ‘vetaher libeinu le’avdecha b’emes’ fulfilled to objectively correctly carry out HaShem’s Will,
Have a great Shabbes

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