Balak

“Balak … sent messengers to Balaam son of Beor” Numbers 22:4


By Rina Wolfson, July 5, 2012
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There are some curious similarities between Balaam and Abraham. Both are natives of Aram Naharaim and both embark on infamous missions which conclude in a surprising manner. Abraham expects to sacrifice his son but is blessed with numerous descendants. Balaam intends to curse the Israelites into oblivion, but issues a blessing that lasts for centuries.

In both accounts, the central character is accompanied by two attendants. In both, he rises early in the morning and saddles his donkey, the only two instances in the entire Torah where these two actions coincide.
Both men travel for a few days; both encounter an angel, brandishing a knife. Both stories culminate on mountain tops, where similar blessings are uttered.

When Abraham descends from Mount Moriah, the text states that he “returned to his servants, they rose and departed together”. The same three verbs occur at the end of the Balaam story: “Balaam rose, departed and returned to his place”. Again, these are the only two verses in the Torah that contain these three verbs together.

Perhaps the most compelling connection between the stories is the playful use of the verb ra’ah, variously meaning “see”, “appear” and “reveal”. Abraham, who sees his destination from afar and assures Isaac that he too will be shown God’s intended plan, is, ironically, the paradigm of blind faith. In contrast, Balaam “the seer” is oblivious to the angel standing in front of him, visible even to a donkey.

Perhaps this is why Pirkei Avot (5:22) specifically contrasts the two men, teaching that those who have “a good eye” are among the disciples of Abraham, while those with “an evil eye” are among the students of Balaam.

    Last updated: 2:08pm, July 5 2012