This week’s Sedra recounts the fascinating episode of Balak’s hiring of Bilam for the purpose of cursing Klal-Yisroel. Balak sends emissaries to Bilam asking him to curse Klal-Yisroel. Bilam replies that he must ask Hashem. Hashem responds to Bilam by telling him that he cannot curse Klal-Yisroel because we are blessed. The Torah uses the words לא תאר את העם כי ברוך הוא. Translated literally, this says ‘you shall not curse the People for it is blessed,’ the Medrash (Medrash Rabba) explains it in greater detail. The Medrash explains that this statement must be viewed as really two statements. 1) That Bilam cannot curse us and that 2) that he need not bless us because we are blessed. The question is why does Hashem tell him not to bless us because we are blessed? Don’t we bless Hashem numerous times daily even though Hashem is the Epitome of Blessedness?
Later on in the Sedra when Bilam departed towards Klal-Yisroel’s encampment in his attempt to curse the People, the Torah tells us about Bilam’s legendary donkey. While Bilam was on his way Hashem sent a Malach to kill him. The donkey, seeing this Angel, avoided him by veering to the far side of the path, thereby causing injury to Bilam by pressing him against the wall that was there. Bilam, not having noticed the Malach himself began beating the donkey. At this point Hashem opened the mouth of the donkey. The donkey told Bilam why it acted as it did. The Medrash then tells us that after the donkey spoke Hashem killed it. The Medrash offers different explanations as to why Hashem killed the donkey. One of the Midrash’s explanations is that Hashem killed it because Hashem didn’t want the donkey to turn into an Avoda Zara. People who witnessed the awesome act of this donkey talking might not ascribe this spectacular act to Hashem’s Decree, but rather to the donkey itself.
Similarly we find that Avrohom Avinu (in Parshas Lech-Lecha) didn’t want to take anything from Melech Sedom because he didn’t want the King of Sodom to be able to say that he had made Avrohom Avinu a rich man.
We see how far Hashem went so as to make sure that people wouldn’t attribute His handiwork erroneously. We see as well that this is something that Avrohom Avinu understood very well – to the extent that he wasn’t going to allow Retzon Hashem to be fulfilled (it was Retzon Hashem for Avrohom to be rich as is evident in many Pesukim) through a means that would be perhaps viewed as the cause itself.
Hashem didn’t want Bilam to bless us because he didn’t want it to be perceived that Bilam’s Brachos were what caused good to be bestowed upon us. Eventually Hashem allowed Bilam to bless us, but Hashem only did so after Bilam had made abundantly clear that he was blessing us against his own will.
In our day and age we don’t really understand the workings of the world. Often people are tempted to attribute various good and bad occurrences to various things that we do with a level of certainty that these things are the causes for either good or bad. We must realize that ultimately all
good and bad come from Hashem, and that we often do not even know what is truly good or bad. The only controlling factors Hashem gave us are the Torah and its Mitzvos. We must realize that only Torah and Mitzvos are the causes of good, and Chalila our not learning Torah and not keeping Mitzvos are the only cause Chas VeShalom for bad.
Bilam himself ultimately realized this and therefore advised Balak to lure us into the trap of sin. Pinchas too realized this and saved us with his heroic act of zealousness.
May we follow in the ways of the Torah, and may we merit seeing only good. May we merit seeing the true and whole good soon in our days.
A very warm Good Shabbos, Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski