The Midrash states: “What is the difference between the prophets of the Jewish people and the prophets of the nations of the world? The prophets of Israel forewarned the nations not to transgress. However the prophets of the nations created breaches to destroy mankind so that it should have no connection with the world to come. The prophets of the Jewish people expressed the Attribute of Mercy, while their prophets expressed cruelty. Bilaam, the prophet of the nations, wanted to uproot and destroy an entire nation. This is the reason the Torah tells us the story of Bilaam. It is so that one should understand why there is no longer Divinely inspired people (prophets) among the nations of the world. If the power of prophecy would be given to an individual from the nations, it would be used for destruction, as Bilaam had done. Bilaam, being given prophecy, is the reason the nations of the world cannot claim at the end of time that G’d did not grant them the same opportunity as He had the Jewish people.”
The Torah states when Bilaam was on the way to curse the Jewish people, “G’d’s wrath flared because he was going, and an angel of Hashem stood on the road to impede him. Bilaam was riding on his donkey…The donkey saw the angel of Hashem standing on the road with his sword drawn in his hand….” The Midrash asks, “Why did the angel have a drawn sword in his hand? The angel could have blown upon Bilaam and caused him to die. As we see regarding the destruction of the army of Sancherev. When Sancherev had come upon the Jewish people with millions of troops to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple, the verse states, ‘The angel of Hashem went forth and had smitten the camp of Ashure. He had blown upon them and they dried-up.’ Why did the angel come upon Bilaam with a drawn sword, when he could have simply blown upon him? The angel said to Bilaam, ‘The power of the mouth was given to Yaakov. As the verse states, ‘The voice is the voice of Yaakov and the hands are the hands of Esav.’ It also states regarding the nations of the world, ‘By the sword you shall live…’ But you, Bilaam, took hold of the craft of the Jewish people and came upon them with your mouth (to curse them). Therefore, when I come upon you I shall do so with your craft (the sword).’ This is the reason the angel came upon Bilaam with a drawn sword.”
Rashi cites Chazal who explain that before Balak commissioned Bilaam to curse the Jewish people he had consulted with the Midianites in order to ascertain the secret power of the leader of the Jewish people. They had told him that the power of their leader lies in his mouth, his verbal expression. They therefore summoned Bilaam to counter Moshe, with his power of expression to curse the Jewish people. However, Balak and the Midianites had no understanding of the essence of Moshe’s power. The effectiveness of Moshe’s ability emanated from his unique dimension of spirituality. Moshe had no relevance to evil, as Bilaam had. He was imbued with holiness only to carry out the Will of G’d. The only commonality between Moshe and Bilaam was that both of their expressions emanated from their mouth. Although Bilaam’s curse was lethal, as it had proven to be, it had no relevance to his spirituality; but rather, it was rooted in his evilness/physicality. Chazal tell us that when Moshe had killed the Egyptian in Egypt when he was beating a Jew, he had done so through the enunciation of one of the Names of G’d. His killing of the Egyptian, through verbal expression rather than a physical act, was an indication of the spirituality of Moshe. Bilaam was known for his “evil eye.” Chazal tell us that when Bilaam initially wanted to bless the Jewish people, G’d had said to him, “Do not bless them. They do not need your blessing.” It is as one says to a bee, “We do not need your honey and we do not need your sting.” This is because a blessing that emanates from an evil source is the equivalent of a curse.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim