The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life. — Albert Einstein
Balak, King of Moab, fearful of the Israeli nation’s proximity to his border, hires the famed sorcerer Bilaam to curse the people of Israel. Bilaam had a reputation for successfully cursing whomever he wished to curse. However, in what turns out to be a highly comic series of events, every time Bilaam opens his mouth to try to curse, and contrary to his own will, God has some of the most beautiful blessings in the entire Torah come forth from his lips.
Balak takes Bilaam to three different locations, with the hope that perhaps the differing vantage points will provide Bilaam a better chance of overcoming the divine insistence on blessing Israel as opposed to letting Bilaam curse them.
Rabbi Hirsch in Numbers Chapters 23 and 24 explains the deeper significance of each of the locations from the point of view of Balak and the three characteristics he sought to attack within Israel:
The first location, the high places of Baal represents the supreme “force of nature” and material prosperity.
The second place, the Field of Seers represents insight, prudence and foresight; intellectual and spiritual powers.
However, after neither of those attacks succeeded, after Balak and Bilaam understood that there was no chink in the armor of Israel in those attributes, they sought one last angle. In Rabbi Hirsch’s words:
A nation may be blessed with every conceivable material and spiritual gift and still hasten headlong into ruin. Providence may shower upon it all the treasures, all the physical and spiritual wealth that heaven affords, and yet that nation may bear within itself a worm devouring it from within so that all its prosperity will be turned into adversity, and it will ultimately become not only unworthy but also incapable of receiving and retaining God’s blessings. This worm is called immorality; it is the shameless surrender to dissolute sensualism.”
That is what is represented by the third and final location, the Peak of Peor. At that point in time, Bilaam was not able to find anything amiss in the morality of Israel and hence the source of one of the most beautiful phrases that he utters, referring to Israel’s moral purity, and which have been made a part of our daily liturgy: “How good are your tents, Jacob; your dwelling places, Israel.”
Rabbi Hirsch adds that those people and nations that respect and promote the principles for which Israel stands, will themselves reap all the blessings of material abundance and a rich intellectual and spiritual life, based on a clear moral existence.
May we strive for and achieve those goals.
To Budapest, a beautiful city, gifted with many blessings.