Balak -Rav Daniel Glanz- 5766

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This parsha centers around the famous story of Balak, King of Moav, requesting Bilam’s help to win at war by cursing the Jews. Though Bilam was not Jewish, his prophesy was said to be equal to that of Moshe Rabbeinu and therefore Balak knew that his words held weight.

Bilam knows his curse is meaningless without Hashem’s approval and therefore the first thing that Bilam does is to request Hashem’s permission.  Interestingly enough, once Hashem then rejects that request, Bilam at first obliges, rejecting Balak’s messengers and telling them that he can not fulfill Balak’s request.

What happens next though, raises the most intriguing questions.  Balak’s messengers return to Bilam again, this time promising him wealth and honor in return for his help.  And once again, Bilam responds by seeking Hashem’s approval.  Only now, perplexingly, Hashem actually says yes to Bilam and permits his plan to go.  This obviously brings us to our initial questions.  First of all, if Hashem had already said no to Bilam, what made Bilam decide to ask again?  And even more incomprehensible is why this time Hashem decides to change his mind?

After this the story gets even more bizarre.  Bilam sets out on his mission, but is quickly stopped when his donkey inexplicably veers off the road.  Frustrated and insistent, Bilam tries to force the donkey back on the path but the donkey just refuses and instead asks Bilam: Have I ever let you down in the past?  Before Bilam even has time to comprehend, an angel suddenly appears before him, sword drawn.  Bilam sees the angel in his path and realizes that this is what the donkey had seen that made him so fearful.

And yet, it is still what happens next that is truly unbelievable.  Faced with an angel there ready to kill him, Bilam understandably backs down and explains to the angel that, Had I known you were there, I surely would have turned around and gone home.  This much we can understand.  It’s the angels reaction that seems most bizarre: after having gone through all the trouble to be there, the angel tells Bilam that he may continue on.
Which, of course, leads us to our final questions.  One: Why did the angel initially only appear to the donkey and not to Bilam?  Two: What was the purpose of the conversation that Bilam had with the donkey?  And finally three: Once the angel does appear to Bilam, why does he then let him go?
I believe the answer lies in a basic concept taught to us by our sages.  “Kederech SheOdom Rotzeh Laylaych Hashem Molichin Osoh”  This means that whatever path (or choice) man chooses to take, Hashem then leads him on that path, even if that path is an evil one.

With this idea in mind, we can then begin to explain the story of Bilam.  When Hashem first said no to Bilam, He was telling Bilam that the heavenly decree was that Bilam should not go.  When Bilam insisted on asking again, he effectively revealed to Hashem his true will- which explains why Hashem then accordingly adjusted His answer.  Despite this, Bilam should have realized his misjudgment on his own and independently decided to repent and adhere to Hashem’s will.  Instead, Bilam starts on his way where his donkey soon sees the angel.  Our question there was: Why didn’t the angel just appear to Bilam?  The answer is because then Bilam would have returned home only out of fear of the angel (and his sword) and not in true Teshuva and deference to the will of Hashem.  In the same vain, when the donkey asks Bilam: Have I ever let you down in the past?  The donkey is telling Bilam that perhaps the donkey sees something that Bilam does not see; perhaps he is looking out for Bilam’s best interest.  Bilam should have then realized the Kal Vachomer– if a donkey can clearly see the dangers of my chosen path, then certainly Hashem can.

If Bilam had allowed himself this revelation, he would have excused himself to the angel by admitting his err in judgment and vowing to adhere to Hashem’s way.  Instead, Bilam simply tells the angel that if he had seen him there, he would have gone back home.  This shows that Bilam still wants to continue, but he just doesn’t want the angel to kill him.  Bilam misses the point again, which is exactly why the angel then ends by telling him to go on.

I believe this story imparts to us an invaluable lesson.  Is what Bilam did really so far from our own actions?  How many times do we also struggle between Hashem’s path and what we see as our own visions of our agenda?  May the message of this week’s parsha serve as the beginning of our own journey to realizing that, in truth, there really is no other path than that of Hashem.