From angels and talking donkeys to God manipulating the words that emerge from Balaam’s mouth, Parshat Balak is full of some of the most bizarre episodes in the whole Torah. More subtly strange, however, is the fact that Bnei Yisrael are completely absent from the story. There is no mention of Moshe Rabbeinu and no hint to what the people themselves may think about this entire sage. In fact, there is no reason to assume that Am Yisrael even knows what is going on at all.
If this is indeed the case, when did Am Yisrael hear this story? It could be that only once they received the entire Torah and began learning through its wisdom, they came across this episode for the first time. When they first read through Parshat Balak, it must have blown their minds.
“וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל-בִּלְעָם, לֹא תֵלֵךְ עִמָּהֶם; לֹא תָאֹר אֶת-הָעָם, כִּי בָרוּךְ הוּא.”
“And God said unto Balaam: ‘You shall not go with them; you shalt not curse the people; for they are blessed.’” (Bamidbar 22:12)
Imagine how it must have felt to suddenly hear what God said about them when they weren’t around. When someone compliments you directly, it feels nice, but you can also become suspicious. What if he’s really just trying to butter me up? What does she really want from me? When Am Yisrael discovered that God was saying such beautiful things about them behind their backs, the words touched even deeper than they would have had they been said straight to their faces.
Again and again, Balak brings Balaam from one place to another in search of an inauspicious location where God will not be able to influence Balam’s words. Yet, time after time, Balaam opens his mouth to curse Am Yisrael and instead words of blessings and prophecies of a messianic future flow forth.
“לֹא-הִבִּיט אָוֶן בְּיַעֲקֹב, וְלֹא-רָאָה עָמָל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל; יְהוָה אֱלֹהָיו עִמּוֹ, וּתְרוּעַת מֶלֶךְ בּוֹ.”
“He has not beheld iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen perverseness in Israel; the LORD his God is with him, and the shouting for the King is among them.” (23:21)
“מַה-טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל”
“How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel!” (24:5)
May Parshat Balak remind us that God’s love and protection for His people is eternal, unconditional, and knows no bounds. Even in the darkest moments, God sees who we truly are. When we ourselves cannot see our innate holiness, our merciful Father in Heaven can. When we have strayed the furthest, when we feel the most alone, when our enemies are plotting to bring us down, God is working hard behind the scenes to raise us up. When our future looks bleak, we must remember that even our enemies know that a bright future awaits us.