Balak: World Outlook
By Rabbi Yonah Burr
After witnessing the Jewish Nation defeating the mighty Kings Sichon and Og, King Balak becomes frightened and hires Balaam the Sorcerer. Hopefully, with his metaphysical powers, he can curse the Jewish people and keep them at bay. At the last minute, G-d steps in and transforms all of Balaam’s curses into beautiful blessings and the Jewish people are spared. The story seems simple enough.
Upon further contemplation, however, we must ask ourselves, what is the meaning of this story and what is the Torah trying to teach us?
In a novel exposition, the Ramban asserts that the Divine plan all along was that the Jewish people should be blessed through a Gentile prophet. The prophetic blessings progressed in their intensity and scope, covering the entire destiny of the Jewish Nation; they are G-d’s special treasure, they will inherit the land of Israel, they will prosper and multiply in the land, have a powerful king, and eventually usher in the end of days with the coming of the Moshiach. Balaam, of course, was evil, but he was chosen to be this prophet. As the Ramban summarizes: G-d wanted to preclude the nations from being able to say, “If we would have had a prophet like Moshe, we also would have served G-d.”
The Talmud in tractate Avodah Zara (2b) relates; in the end of days all the nations of the world will be brought before the Heavenly Tribunal and asked: “What have you occupied yourselves with during your stay on earth?” and the nations will respond: “We have built marketplaces, we have constructed bathhouses, and amassed great wealth; we have built bridges, we have conquered cities and waged wars; and all of this we have done for the sake of the Jewish people to enable them to study Torah”. And G-d responds, “Fools, all that you have done is for yourselves; to amass your own wealth, and to indulge your own lusts; you are not deserving of any reward”.
How is it possible that in the ‘World of Truth’ the nations of the world will be so brazen to lie that
everything that they did was for the sake of Torah study? The Brisker Rav explains that indeed, in the World of Truth, when all personal agendas and biases are stripped away, it will be clear to everyone that in fact everything that occurred and was accomplished in this world was to promote Torah study and the Honor of G-d; for this is the entire purpose of this world. However, since this was not the intent of the nations at the time, they are not deserving of any reward.
Perhaps, this was the purpose of sending Balaam. G-d was sending a message to teach the nations that, indeed, the purpose of this world is to promote Torah study and spirituality. This is your chance to be a part of it, or else it will happen in spite of you, rather than because of you.
This is a lesson for all of us. Eventually, G-d’s Honor will be proclaimed by all and the world will reach its perfection. Let it be because of us, and not in spite of us!
Have a wonderful Shabbos!