Is Bigger Better?

by Rabbi Nussbaum

July 3, 2020
Tamuz 11, 5780
Candlelighting Time 8:13 PM

The dialogue between Bilaam and Hashem is somewhat puzzling. Initially when Balak sent messengers to Bilaam, Hashem told him that he shouldn’t go and curse the nation and that there was no need to bless them either. Therefore, Bilaam declined to accompany the entourage to Moav. Balak misunderstood and thought that Bilaam just wanted more prominent officers to request that he come, therefore, he sent another group that indeed was more impressive to coax him to come. When Bilaam informed them that that he needs to consult with Hashem, the answer he received was that he may actually go with them. Seemingly, the original reasons for not going were still applicable, so why did Hashem ‘change’ his mind and allow him to now go?

Ibn Ezra poses this question and answers in the name of Rav Hai Gaon, a legendary Talmudic scholar who lived approximately a thousand years ago. He posits that Hashem ‘preferred’ that Bilaam should only go with more prominent men representing Balak. Nachmonides argues that the principal reason that Bilaam was not allowed to go was that he should not curse or even bless the nation. That contention has nothing to do with the preeminence of the entourage sent to Bilaam. Therefore, we remain with the question of Nachmonides and truly, this answer requires further clarification.  

Rashi also alludes to such an explanation because when the officers of Moav originally invited Bilaam he answered, according to Rashi, that Hashem does not want me to go with such unimportant dignitaries, rather my prestige demands that I should only go if more important dignitaries invite me to come. He omitted that Hashem wouldn’t allow him to concede to Balak’s request that he should curse the nation. Nachmonides differs with Rashi questioning why wouldn’t Bilaam have admitted that Hashem is barring him from cursing the nation. After all, Bilaam took great pride that he received his orders straight from Hashem.

The underlying theme in Rashi’s explanation is that Bilaam was intimating that for such an important event such as placing a curse upon the Jewish nation, the assemblage needed to be of higher quality in order for the curse to be effective. This request of Bilaam denoted his conceited nature which our Sages point out was one of Bilaam’s striking inadequacies!

Perhaps we can understand this to be the meaning of the explanation of Rav Hai Gaon. Hashem wanted that Balak should send very important dignitaries before Bilaam would accept to come. The reason being that the more pompous the occasion would be, the greater the downfall of  Balak and Bilaam would be as well.

Similarly, when the nation was escaping Egyptian bondage, the Egyptian army was in hot pursuit and witnessed as we crossed the Red Sea calmly without drowning. Hashem gave them the impetus to chase us assuming that they too would have the same opportunity to cross and therefore apprehend their runaway slaves. As they entered the sea, the waves crashed upon them eliminating their futile plans to battle against Hashem. Again, Hashem raised up the enemy, giving them encouragement to pursue their mission only to have their attempts dashed to pieces.

We must always realize that Hashem is orchestrating the events that we are sometimes viewing with extreme trepidation. Actually, we are being tested to see if we have the appropriate trust in Hashem that He will protect us from harm’s way. As we recite in Tehillim, chapter 92, that Hashem only empowers our enemies in order to eventually decimate them, and then Hashem will reign supreme and His kingdom will be recognized by all.


Bilaam blessed the nation that Hashem does not ‘see’ our sins because they do not represent the true nature of the people. Rather, they are aberrations and do not deserve to be noticed.           S’FAS EMES