Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah # 40 Balak B’midbar (Numbers) 22:2-25:9
Haftarah: Mikkah (Micah) 5:6-6:8
B’rit Chadashah: Y’hudah (Jude) 11
At the beginning of this parashah, we are reminded of the severity of adding to or subtracting from G-d’s Torah. Recall in Genesis 3: 3 that Chava (Eve) told the serpent “We may eat from the fruit of the tress in the garden, but about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden G-d said, ‘You are neither to eat from it nor touch it, or you will die.’” In reality G-d had told Adam “You may freely eat from every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You are not to eat from it, because on the day that you eat from it, it will become certain that you will die.”(Gen. 2:16). From the difference in these sentences, it is clear that Adam subtracted from what G-d actually said, unless Eve paraphrased that she was told. Regardless, the sin was accounted to Adam and it resulted in the fall of all mankind.
Similarly, Bil’am, the son of B’or was summoned by Balak who was the king of Mo’av to do some dirty work for him. Balak realizes that attacking the Jews physically would not work because Jewish survival was proven through spiritual laws and Adonai’s protection. Balak figured that by attacking them with curses he will be victorious. Let’s first examine how Bil’am committed the same sin of adding to G-d’s Torah and then we will examine Bil’am’s character and the lessons for us. Bil’am is a name with an uncertain etymology. However it has been translated in Jewish and Christian literature as meaning glutton or foreigner. He was a Gentile diviner, magician, and prophet. His name is also spelled as Baalam as he is referred by in the Old and New Testaments.
Bil’am initially acted correctly when asked by Balak to curse the Jewish people. He asks G-d if he could go although it is not difficult to anticipate G-d’s reply. G-d immediately told him “You are not to go with them; you are not to curse the people, because they are blessed.” (Num. 22:12) However, Bil’am tells the officers who come for his answer “…G-d refuses to let me go with you.” (Num.22:13). Balak does not give up and this is an excellent example of the insidious nature of evil and at least one of haSatan’s methods to seduce us to commit evil. When we are confronted by temptation we are tested in progressively attractive ways that attack our weakest points. Temptation becomes more attractive and/or perhaps more lucrative to the point where we feel we can justify giving in and rationalize that surely G-d will forgive us just this once. After all, we are only human and we are still growing, right? Let’s move on for the answer.
Bil’am is persistent. It is interesting to note that when he asks G-d a second time about going with the men. G-d in his unmerited kindness and patients allows Bil’am to go, but to do only what G-d tells him (Num. 22:20). Sometimes when a door opens that we know or suspect is contrary to G-d’s Torah, we are tempted to believe that G-d has changed his mind. However, in such cases He is giving us just enough rope to hang ourselves. If we follow G-d’s Torah, the Ruach will guide us but not force us. There comes a time when the Ruach will simply allow us to turn our own way toward complete ruin. Bil’am’s story illustrates a dilemma we are all faced with throughout our lives. If G-d does not want Bil’am to go, why doesn’t He tell him to turn around and go home? If, on the other hand G-d doesn’t care if Bil’am goes, why does the angel block his path? How are we to react to conflicting messages? It is clear G-d does not want Bil’am to curse Israel. Yet, , just as Balak persisted in sending messages, so Bil’am persists in asking G-d to give in to his selfish desires. The answer to our dilemma is that we pay attention the first time. Had Bil’am obeyed G-d, it would have been a done deal. The reality is that a person will be lead on the path they wish to follow. G-d knew that just as Balak would not take “no” for an answer, Bil’am would not take “no” from G-d. So G-d allowed him to go with a warning. This is a similar situation as that when Israel asked G-d for a human king. G-d knew it would cause nothing but heartache for the Israelites, but He allowed it with conditions. He knew the people would not take “no” for an answer. There is never any good that can come of settling for less than G-d’s perfect will for us. This is a lesson that most people will never learn. Bil’am wanted material wealth more than he wanted G-d’s blessings. Too often we too, are much too eager to settle for less, perceiving whatever we get as “more.”
Next the angel comes as a warning to Bil’am that G-d knows the thoughts of man and nothing is hid from Him. Afterwards, Bil’am being duly warned is allowed to continue his journey. Yet, he continues to go with Balak from place to place trying to find an angle from which to curse Israel. Finally, he realizes there is no tricking YHVH Elohim. It would have been so much easier for him and us if we recognized early on that G-d’s will will be accomplished with or without us.
Another of Bil’am’s comments in Numbers 23:21 reads “No one has seen guilt in Jacob, or perceived perversity in Israel; Adonai their G-d is with them and acclaimed as king among them.” In case you have not yet figured it out, Bil’am was one of the greatest anti-Semites in history. You see, anti-Semitism is not like any other type of hatred. It is not a hatred of perceived faults. It is a hatred of virtue. Bil’am hated the Israelites’ lifestyle and their relationship with G-d. Bil’am could have chosen to join the Israelites, just as people have the choice today. But a blessed status with G-d requires obedience and love for G-d. This necessarily mandates following G-d’s Torah. Bil’am chose to hate the Israelites rather than become part of a people he knew were blessed by G-d. Rabbi S. Baars wrote an excellent article on this subject in which he relates a theory held by Mark Twain on anti-Semitism. He said that people create immense hatred when they see others behaving better than themselves. He noted that half the Jewish community of London were refugees from pogroms in Europe, and were being supported by the other half- a feat he pointed out would be hard to match amongst his Christian brethren. Just look around us today. We have a president who actually believes it is better to get people on the government roles all sustenance, rather than promoting self-sufficiency. What does G-d say? 2 Thess. 3:6-14 reads: “Now, in the Name of the L-rd Yahshua the Messiah we command you, brothers, to stay away from any brother who is leading a life of idleness, a life not in keeping with the traditions you received from us. For you yourselves know you must imitate us, that we were not idle when we were among you. We did not accept anyone’s food without paying; on the contrary, we labored and toiled, day and night, working so as not to be a burden to any of you. It was not that we hadn’t the right to be supported, but so that we could make ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: if someone won’t work, he shouldn’t eat! We hear that some of you are leading a life of idleness-not busy working-just busybodies! We command such people-ad in union with the L-rd Yahshua the Messiah we urge them-to settle down, get to work, and earn their own living. And you brothers who are doing what is good, don’t slack off! Furthermore, if anyone does not obey what we are saying in this letter, take note of him and have nothing to do with him, so that he will be ashamed.” Our government encourages just the opposite, which in direct conflict with G-d’s Torah. It is futile to attempt to convince any anti-Semite that the reason behind Torah observance is a love and fear of G-d and the Ruach who strengthens us to become and remain set-apart from mainstream humanity. Our best witness to this truth is a consistent lifestyle in thought and behavior. The greatest mitzvah from one believer for another is to promote independence for that person in such a way as not to embarrass them; to assist and guide that individual to appoint where they can take care of themselves. This process can occur in many areas and does not necessitate the person doing the mitzvah be materially wealthy.
Nevertheless, we read the account of Bil’am after a long run of extremely serious and disappointing sins of the Israelites. It is no mistake that the Torah places Bil’am’s words after so many spiritual failures, including but not limited to Korach’s rebellion and subsequent complaints in the aftermath of Korach’s destruction against Moshe. With this ammunition, how can Bil’am proclaim that no one has seen iniquity in Jacob? The answer is that Bil’am himself knows, therefore he hates that G-d still holds Israelites as a treasure unto Himself. However, we must make a choice to serve G-d by annihilating our egos and submit ourselves to the shaping and refining power of YHVH/Yahshua and no other.
It is encouraging to note that in the final analysis, the events involving Balak and Bil’am work toward the good for the Israelites. In Num. 24:5, as Bil’am attempts to curse the Israelites, what emerges is a beautiful blessing instead: “How lovely are your tents, Ya’akov, your encampments, Israel…” The remainder of the prayer guided by the Ruach tells the past, present and future of Israel in six short verses. The culmination of this pronouncement will be the fulfillment of G-d’s unconditional promise to Avraham. May it be soon and in our lifetime!
Haftarah: Michah 5:6-6:8
In this haftarah, Micah reprimands Israel for conveniently forgetting the incident of Balak and Bil’am. The Children of Israel must remember that Bil’am was sending a message to all generations as we discussed in his final pronouncement. This is a warning that although we are far removed from that time, we see prophecy fulfilled every day. Micah reminds the Israelites that as long as they are faithful to do the mitzvoth, dwell together in peace, and pay their allegiance only to YHVH Elohim, they will be unconquerable. G-d does not want repetitious, heartless sacrifices. Rather, He wants them to “do justice, love kindness, and walk modestly with YHVH Elohim” (Mica 6:8). Note that “walking” is more than simple verbal profession.
B’rit Chadashah: Jude 11
Jude addresses problems with false prophets or teachers. He has already spoken on how some teachers turn liberty into license to practice immorality and disobey YHVH’s Torah, and he warms that YHVH who once delivered Israel from Egypt, destroyed them when they rebelled against Him. Verse 11 speaks specifically of Cain (Gen.4:1-16) who would not accede to YHVH’s instructions, and who had been afforded five or six opportunities to repent but chose not. Cain was shut out of YHVH’s presence, as all who rebel against Him shall be. Cain’s road lead to him murdering his brother Abel, but it was not the primary road to his demise; for Jude said Cain, like Korach had given themselves over to the error of Bil’am (greed, arrogance, and stinginess). Could it be that Cain knew he should have offered a blood sacrifice but rather than parting with a valuable animal, chose cheaper produce instead? Do we follow this example? How will a little pleasure now substitute for an eternity of being out of YHVH/Yahshua’s presence? Let us examine our fear, awe, and love factor of YHVH/Yahshua. YHVH promises that someday we will all recognize His Glory and majesty; but for some it will be only a chance to see what could have been before being sent to Hell. Revelation 2:14-15 reminds us that there are those who will be found to be following the teaching of Bil’am “who taught Balak to set a trap for the people of Israel, so that they would eat food that had been sacrificed to idols and commit sexual sin. … therefore turn from these sins. Otherwise, I will come to you very soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.” I pray that we will not be among these; rather we will hear Yahshua say as we stand before him one day, “Excellent! You are a good and trustworthy servant… Come and join in your master’s happiness.” (Matt.25:21). May it be so!
Rabbi Tamah Davis
Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue