A Shot In The Dark

June 25, 2021
Tamuz 15, 5781
Candlelighting Time 8:14 PM

Balak, the king of Moav, was terrified. The Jewish nation was confronting him and based upon their record of defeating Sichon and Og, the two most powerful kings in the area, nothing will stop them. Therefore, Balak pleaded with Bilaam, the noted sorcerer, to assist him defeat them with his well-known battery of curses. Bilaam consulted with Hashem and permission was denied. Not only was he not allowed to curse the nation, but even to bless them was prohibited. Rashi quotes an adage, we say to the bee, not from your honey and not from your bite. Why was Hashem so adamant that even the blessings of Bilaam were refused. After all, isn’t a blessing rooted in good?

The Midrash states that the blessings that Bilaam gave our nation far surpassed the blessings of Yaakov and Moshe. When they blessed the people, their blessings included censure as well for misconduct that had taken place. Whereas Bilaam, his blessings were total and unconditional. This seems to validate what Bilaam did as being superb and praiseworthy. However, another Midrash comments, upon a deeper understanding of Bilaam’s blessings, we can ascertain what his true intent was. The Sages analogize Bilaam’s blessing to one who comes to chop down a tree. Instead of dismembering the tree branch by branch, he exposes the roots and severs them. So too, Bilaam mentioned our origins, the Patariarchs, as a means to destroy our nation!

The Midrash at the end of the parsha serves to navigate us between the two above-stated Midrashim. Although it would appear that to endorse the first Midrash where Bilaam is lauding our nation is appropriate, we will see that actually it was a tactic he used to bring the downfall of our people. Although Bilaam wasn’t able to curse the nation, he did cause a tremendous loss in our nation. He caused that our people developed a certain haughtiness and self-pride which gave them the impetus to be too self-assertive and complacent. Therefore, the caution that we must always exercise to maintain our guard against the evil inclination or other external influences which attempt to obstruct us from serving Hashem was inadequate. Not only was Bilaam not praising us, rather he was trying to instigate our downfall. And this was borne out very dramatically with his final advice to Balak that led to thousands of deaths because we became intimately involved with the Midianite and Moabite women and subsequently, we began to serve their idols!

 Moshe and Yaakov did bless the people but with the backdrop of criticism which actually strengthened them despite the notion that pointing out their shortcomings would create a negativity amongst the nation. Constructive advice will always benefit the recipient even though it may be critical of the individual, whereas concealing inadequacies will ultimately lead to a detrimental future. Therefore, even though the bees’ honey is sweet and delicious, the sting that follows is painful and disastrous.


When a Jew is in need, he approaches the Rebbe and requests a blessing. When a non-Jew is in distress, he curses his fellow man. When Balak was concerned about the nation that they were going to attack him, instead of receiving a blessing to bolster his situation, he rather pursued a path of destruction, to curse his enemy.                                                                                  CHOFETZ CHAIM