Parashah of this week


Parashat Balak

Torah: (Bamidbar) Numbers 22:2 — 25:9
Haftarah: Micah 5:6 — 6:8

The Teaching of Balaam

This week's Parashah is an example of how God sees the Israelis in spite of their shortcomings - without iniquity and blameless - not because of what they are doing, but because of the promise He has made to the forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov, that the nation of Israel will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation; a light to the Gentiles. This parallels the view that God has of us, the believers - without iniquity and blameless – sanctified, not because of anything that we are doing, but because of the work of the one who has covered our sins, Yeshua the Messiah.

The previous Parashah ends with the Israelis beginning their wandering in the wilderness and their arrival at the plains of Moab. Balak, the king of Moab, was not very pleased with this situation and hires Balaam to come and curse the Israelis so that they will be weakened in battle. Balaam was the son of Beor, an Edomite, and, according to Joshua 13:22 which records Balaam's death, a sorcerer: The sons of Israel also killed Balaam the son of Beor, the diviner. Balak, a heathen himself, believing that the sorcery of Balaam will work to force the hand of God, takes Balaam three times, each time into a different place, to curse Israel. But, instead of cursing, God turns Balaam's words into blessings, as we read:

And he (Balaam) took up his discourse, and said, "Rise up, Balak, and hear; listen to me, you son of Zippor. God is not a man, that He should lie; nor the son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and shall He not do it? or has He spoken, and shall He not make it good? Behold, I have received a command to bless; and He has blessed; and I cannot reverse it. He has not seen iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen perverseness in Israel; the Lord his God is with him, and the trumpet blast of a king is among them." And Balak said to Balaam, “Come, I beg you, I will bring you to another place; perhaps it will please God that you may curse them for me from there.” And Balak brought Balaam to the top of Peor that looks toward Jeshimon. And Balaam said to Balak, “Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven bulls and seven rams.” And Balak did as Balaam had said and offered a bull and a ram on every altar. And when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go, as at other times, to seek for enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes; and the spirit of God came upon him. And he took up his discourse, and said, “The speech of Balaam, the son of Beor; the speech of a man whose eyes are open; "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, and your tabernacles, O Israel! Like winding brooks, like gardens by the river’s side, as aloes which the Lord has planted, and like cedar trees beside the waters... Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you.” Bamidbar (Numbers) 23:18—24:9

Was Israel perfect? Certainly not! We have read in the previous Parashiot how many died in the rebellion of Korach together with leaders of Israel; we have read about the 14,700 who died by the plague in the rebellion against Aharon, and we have read in last week’s Parashah that people were again rebelling against Moshe and God, and, because of it, many died bitten by the fiery serpents. And even after this beautiful blessing, uttered by Balaam, we see that people sinned again and 24,000 perished by another plague, and yet, God perceived no iniquity in Ya’akov and saw no perversity in Yisrael. So, is there a contradiction between the words of the blessings and the actual behavior of the Israelis? Not from God’s perspective.

Surely the people of Israel were not perfect and without sin, but instead of cursing them God placed words of blessing in Balaam's mouth. God is outside of our time constraints and instead of seeing the temporary kvetching, He sees the potential good things that the Israelis - as a nation - will bring to the world culminating with the coming of Moshiach. Just as in our time, God does not look at the nation of Israel as it is today where a great number of them are far removed from the teachings of God and follow the teachings of men, but at a time when every Jew will have the Torah inscribed on his or her heart and the King Messiah Yeshua will reign from Jerusalem.

Taking this godly example, our sages have always tried to find the good that exists in another person - even to the worst sinner, because there is good in each and every one of us. The sages were able to look beyond the person's external acts and see into the essence of the soul. As a result, rather than judging their brethren for their shortcomings, they were able to find the good and the positive hidden within that act, a challenge for us all, for we serve a God that requires of us to do good, to do justice and to love kindness. We certainly need to confront sin, but the judgment and the punishment are God's.

Yeshua taught us this by example. He was God in human flesh and yet He did not judge anyone but had compassion for our human condition. One of Matthew’s characterizations of Yeshua is compassion; he uses this word more than any other Brit Chadashah writer. In chapter 12 verse 7 he records the words of Yeshua: "But if you had known what this means, 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,' you would not have condemned the innocent.” Who were the innocent? The poor and the hungry who in order to feed themselves were not complying with the man made religious practices imposed by the rabbis of that time.

Yeshua told His disciples, He who has seen Me has seen the Father. (John 14:9) By making Himself equal to the Father, Yeshua reveals what was, and is, in God’s heart: compassion, for He said through the prophet Micah: O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab planned, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim to Gilgal; that you may know the righteousness of Yehovah. With what shall I come before Yehovah, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with one year old calves? Will Yehovah be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does Yehovah require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:5-8)

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Positional, we are without sin in Messiah and this is how God sees us. But we live in this world in the flesh that is pulling us towards sin, and we have to fight this flesh in order to be Messiah-like and please our heavenly Father with our behavior, for He will reward us or take away the rewards according to our deeds. For we are fellow workers of Yehovah, you are Yehovah’s field; you are Yehovah's building… Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, the work of each man will become evident, for the day will make it evident, because by fire it is revealed; and the fire itself will test the quality of each one's work. If anyone's work he built on the foundation will remain, he will receive a reward; if anyone's work will be consumed, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.(1 Corinthians 3:9-15) Yes, we are saved not by our works, but by believing in the sacrificial work of Yeshua - the foundation, which can never be destroyed - but what we are bringing by our actions on top of that foundation it will be judged by our heavenly Father.

May we all learn to have compassion for each other’s shortcomings and build each other up so we will not suffer a loss of rewards when we will come into His Divine Presence. May we resolve to see the good in each other instead of looking at what divides us, for none of us is perfect. Yet sin has to be recognized and confronted, but how we go about doing it, is what makes our work worthy of reward, and we learn how to have mercy and compassion by reading over and over God's love letter to us, the Bible.

So, what was the sin of Balaam? Reading only the Tanakh we get the feeling that it was more to the conversation between Balak and Balaam, and indeed, we read in the Brit Chadashah in the book of Revelation the Words of Yeshua: But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit {acts of} immorality forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the {son} of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness (Revelation 2:14).

Balaam’s sin was teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before Israel, to forsake God’s commandments, by enticing the flesh with the age old words of Satan, “Indeed, has God really said this?” With these words Satan planted the seed of doubt about God’s authority, His sovereignty and His power. Did God really say not to eat unclean foods? Did God really say not to covet, or not to steal, or not to lie – even a little white lie, or to live a moral life, after all we live in an immoral world? But, why is it so difficult for us to just obey God’s commandments? As believers we know that there are no such things as idols, but we find excuses for our actions because of our desires, our lust which we do not want to keep under control. When we become believers, we should not see God's teaching as a burden but as a delight. We want to obey, we want to follow His ethics and become more Messiah-like. Yes, we live in a sinful world and it is hard to keep our actions and our thoughts pure, but we have to work at it because our faith is demonstrated by our actions (James 2:18).

The teaching of Balaam was intended to destroy Israel and because of that Yeshua has strong words for it. He is against any believer who, by this teaching, becomes a prototype of the assembly of Pergamum. Thus, Yeshua tells us that this teaching can also destroy the fellowship of the believers. We are also warned by the apostle Shaul of the consequences of following the teachings of Balaam: But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Moshiach died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Moshiach” (1 Corinthians 8:9-12).

I pray that none of us will be found sinning against Moshiach therefore let us not judge one another, but rather determine this — not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way(Romans 14:13).

The Rabbinic tradition states that we have lost the knowledge of pronouncing the tetragrammaton name of God, YHVH, and that when Moshiah will come He will tell us how to pronounce it. In the meantime, most of the time, it is read as HaShem, the Name. Well, in my commentaries I want to stress the fact that the Moshiah already came, therefore, based on the opinion of some Hebrew scholars, I am transliterating YHVH as Yehovah.


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