Ben-Tzion Spitz
Former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay

Balak: The destiny of nations

 A country grows in history not only because of the heroism of its troops on the field of battle, it grows also when it turns to justice and to right for the conservation of its interests. -Aristide Briand

The Torah reading of Balak contains an almost comical story about the sorcerer Bilaam, attributed as possessing the power to curse people and nations, who is hired by King Balak of Moab to curse the nation of Israel. God warns Bilaam that he won’t succeed in cursing Israel. Bilaam nonetheless proceeds. To his great chagrin and embarrassment, Bilaam tries three different times, from three different places to curse Israel, but instead, some of the most beautiful and poetic blessings that have ever been declared about Israel come out of his mouth.

What is perhaps less noticed is that after the three different blessings that Bilaam pronounces, after his embarrassing failure to perform the job he was hired to do, he does continue to tap into that divine power clearly operating through him and utters prophecies about some of the other nations in the ancient Near East.

Two of the nations which he discusses in quick succession are Amalek and the Kenites. He sees that Amalek “the leading nation” will eventually face complete oblivion, but about the Kenites, he proclaims “your abode will be secure and your nest set among the cliffs.”

The Bechor Shor on Numbers 24:20-21 explains that the contrast of the two nations is purposeful and ironic. Amalek and the Kenites lived together, but beyond their physical proximity, they were on opposite poles in their relationship with Israel. Amalek was the first to confront, ambush and attack the nation of Israel, shortly after Israel’s miraculous exodus from Egypt. In response to their savage and cowardly attack, we are commanded to obliterate them, to which God also promises that “I will wipe the memory of Amalek from under the heavens.”

However, the Kenites, under the leadership of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, reached out to Israel in peace, friendship and love, and were even the conceivers of the justice system which Moses and the nation of Israel would adopt and implement. They merited a secure and prosperous existence, eventually joining the Jewish nation. Where Amalek was the first nation to fight us, the Kenites were the first nation to reach out to us in friendship.

May our friends and allies always be blessed.

Shabbat Shalom,



To Yehoshua and Yehuda Spitz on graduating high school and to all graduates this year. Congratulations!

About the Author
Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay. He is the author of six books of Biblical Fiction and hundreds of articles and stories dealing with biblical themes. He is the publisher of Torah.Works, a website dedicated to the exploration of classic Jewish texts, as well as TweetYomi, which publishes daily Torah tweets on Parsha, Mishna, Daf, Rambam, Halacha, Tanya and Emuna. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.
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