This week’s portion is one of the most fascinating psychologically-revealing portions in the whole Torah! Bilaam, a non-Jewish prophet, was granted a level of prophecy close to Moshe’s level of prophecy. The Almighty gave Bilaam these powers so that the nations of the world could not say at some point in the future, “If we had a prophet like Moshe, we too would have accepted the Torah and would have lived according to it.” Bilaam is an intriguing character — honor-driven, arrogant and self-serving. Unfortunately, not too unique amongst mankind.
-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Balak
Interesting commentary, but don’t the Gentiles also have a prophet in Jesus Christ? Well, not exactly. Not as a “stand-alone” Gentile prophet. However the Jews have a greater prophet than Moses, and therein lies a tale:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.
–Deuteronomy 18:15 (NRSV)
Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you.’
Moses announced that a prophet like him would arise in later days and Peter announced that Yeshua (Jesus) was that prophet. That is good news, very good news for the Jewish people, but what about the Gentiles? Don’t we still have the right to say that if we had a prophet like Moses, we too would have repented? How can you compare Bilaam to Moses? Rabbi Packouz characterizes Bilaam as “arrogant and self-serving” while we know that Moses was the most humble of all men (Numbers 12:3).
The Talmud gives the characteristics of the disciples of Abraham: a benevolent eye, a humble spirit and a meek soul. The traits of the disciples of Bilaam are: an evil eye, an arrogant spirit and a greedy soul.
–Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 5:2
from Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski’s Dvar Torah on Balak
If Jesus was the prophet and Messiah for the Jewish people only, then we Gentiles have no hope. The best we can aspire to is being God-fearing Gentiles or Noahides, non-Jewish people who adhere to the seven laws of Noah as codified by Orthodox Judaism.
But what more can we say for ourselves?
Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
So Abraham was the father of the circumcised and the uncircumcised, the Jews and the Gentiles, and all through faith, not works. Does this not make us sons of Abraham even as the Jews are his sons? Do we also not have faith, though we are not Jewish?
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
It seems fairly straightforward then, that the “prophet greater than Moses,” the Jewish Messiah King is also the prophet to the Gentiles, specifically assigning Saul (Paul) to take the good news which is good news to the Jews, and declare it also good news to the Gentiles.
Yes, there were prophets among the Gentiles, and depending on how you view Abraham pre-circumcision, you may think of him as a Gentile, but we are sons of Abraham by adoption and disciples of Messiah, the great Jewish tzaddik and prophet and Moshiach, not of such men like Bilaam…that is unless we choose such a path, Heaven forbid.
Even Bilaam could not disobey the word of God by speaking ill of Israel, but his heart was not pure and where is “magic” failed, his evil schemes succeeded. But he spoke with God. Balak talked and God answered him. How can such a thing be?
“Bilaam spoke up and said, ‘Whatever God puts in my mouth, that I must take heed to speak” (Numbers 23:12). Are these not the words of a tzaddik (a righteous person)? Anyone hearing Bilaam might conclude that he is a very God-fearing person.
The Almighty allowed Bilaam to go to Balak (cautioning him to only say what God told him). The Almighty gives every person free-will and allows us to go in the direction that we choose. Three times Bilaam tried to curse us and three times the Almighty placed blessings in his mouth. Balak was furious! So, Bilaam gave him advice with hopes of collecting his fee — “If you want to destroy the Jewish people, entice the men with Moabite women and tell the women not to submit until the men bow down to an idol.” Balak followed the advice and consequently the Almighty brought a plague against the Jewish people because the men fell for Bilaam’s plot.
Though a prophet, Bilaam was wholly evil and disobeyed God whenever the Almighty would permit such a thing. Although Moses was not a perfect man, he was dedicated to preserving the Children of Israel and obeying God in guiding them through the wilderness for forty years and making sure they arrived at the Jordan and the threshold of the promise.
What can we learn from all this? The important lesson is that we Gentiles, those of the nations who are called by His Name, have no entry into the Kingdom of Heaven or relationship with the God of Israel without Israel, her promises and her prophets and especially the prophet, the Holy One, the Tzaddik, Yeshua (Jesus), the Messiah. There is no “Gentilized” allegory or process that paints us into God’s picture. We enter the Kingdom through Israel or we enter it not at all.
To say that we accept Jesus while disdaining Israel makes us disciples of Bilaam and not Moshiach.
And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.
If we curse Israel, even as we bless Jesus, we are also cursed. Maybe those Christians who curse Israel are among the following:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”
2 thoughts on “Balak: Disciples of Abraham and Bilaam”
I note that twice you referred to Rav Yeshua as a “prophet greater than Moses”. I’m curious about the basis of that phrase. I cannot find it in the scriptures; I can find only “like Moses”. A number of “greater than” comparisons do appear, but this is not one of them. It would be stretching a point to use Rav Yeshua’s Matt.11:11 accolade about Yohanan as greatest of those born of women, but less than the least in the kingdom of heaven, along with Yohanan’s recognition of Rav Yeshua’s greater position, as applicable mathematically to a comparison between Moshe (or anyone else) and Rav Yeshua.
Just offering something to ponder … Shabbat Shalom.
Sorry, PL. I should have been more clear that I was borrowing imagery from Hebrews 3:1-6 (NRSV). The verses don’t literally say “Yeshua is greater than Moses,” but they do say that Messiah is worthy of more honor than Moses:
I apologize if I over-extended this passage in my narrative above.