CURSE BECOMING A BLESSING
This Shabbat we will read from the Torah portion ‘Balak’.
This portion tells us about Balak, the king of Moab, who invites Balaam the prophet to curse the people of Israel. Balaam asks G-d whether he should go.
Initially G-d prohibits Balaam from going to Balak, but when Balaam asks for the second time, G-d does tell him to go.
From this incident our sages learn a very important lesson:
A person is led (by heaven) in the way
he himself wants to take
בדרך שאדם רוצה לילך מוליכים אותו
On the way, Balaam is berated by his talking female donkey, who sees, before Balaam does, the angel that G‑d sends to block their way.
Balaam then goes on and attempts to pronounce his curses three times, from three different vantage points; each time, blessings issue forth instead.
One of his blessings is also one of the most famous passages in the Torah:
“How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!
Balaam also prophesies on the end of the days and the coming of Mashiach – Messiah.
At the end of this portion we learn that people of Israel fall prey to the charms of the daughters of Moab, and are enticed to worship the idol Peor. When a leading Israelite official publicly takes a Midianite princess into a tent a plague started spreading killing many.
Aaron’s grandson Pinchas kills both – the Israelite leader and the princess, stopping the plague raging among the people.
A story is told about one of the students of R’ Yonatan Eybeshutz who decided to continue his studies in the great yeshiva in Vilna.
He asked R’ Yonatan for a letter of recommendation.
R’ Yonatan took a blank sheet of paper and wrote on one side the word מי “who” (mi) and then wrote the word מי “who” (mi) on the other side of the sheet as well.
The young man looked at the sheet and did not understand what the rabbi meant.
When he arrived in the city of Vilna, he showed the sheet to the Vilna Gaon.
The Gaon looked at the sheet, smiled and said:
R’ Yonatan meant מי as an acronym “M.I.”
It appears in the will of R’ Akavia ben Mehal’el for his son.
“Your deeds will bring you close” – (Ma’asecha Ikarvukha)”
“Your deeds will distance you – (Ma’asecha Irachakukha).”
This will is fitting everybody because we all pave our path in life with our deeds, and the heavens lead us in the way that we chose for ourselves.
Thus we find that at the end of the matter, Balaam was allowed to take the path that he himself chose – to curse the nation of Israel despite the fact that he knew that it was not the will of God.
Balaam indeed went on his way to curse, but his curses were turned into blessings as is said in the verse:
מַה-טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל
“How good are your tents, O Yaakov, your dwelling places, O Israel.” (Numbers 24:5)
Interestingly enough, this verse became a central one in the Jewish morning prayer שחרית – ‘Shaharit‘.