Shema Yisrael Home

              Fish&Soup.jpg - 12464 Bytes Subscribe

   by Jacob Solomon

This Week's Parsha | Previous issues | Welcome - Please Read!


The Parasha recounts Balaam's failed mission of arousing G-d's displeasure towards Israel. In reply to his sponsor, Balak's wrath at him for not cursing the Israelites, he retorts:

'Were Balak to give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to transgress the Will of G-d, whether for good, or for bad…' (24:13)

But he continues with:

'Come. I will advise you over what (the Israelites)… will do to your people in the latter days' (24:14).

The text does state what Balaam's advice was. But Rashi quotes the tradition written in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a), which was that Balaam could get the Israelites into G-d's disfavor by tempting them into the sin He hates most - adultery. Indeed, the text elsewhere shows that Balaam was behind the scene in the next passage's story of the idolatry and adultery with the daughters of Moab: 'they caused the Israelites by the word Balaam to commit betrayal in the episode of Peor. The plague (killing 24,000) occurred in the assembly of G-d' (31:16).

So, though Balaam failed to curse the Israelites directly, he managed to curse them indirectly by making them bring punishment on themselves. Balaam incited the daughters of Moab to tempt the Israelites into physical and spiritual relationships forbidden by the Torah (c.f. 25:1-3, and Rashi ad loc).

This aberration was different from all the previous ones, as explained below.

The Israelites started out well. They distinguished themselves as being G-d's people by accepting the Torah unconditionally: 'we will do and we will obey' (Ex. 24:7). They never denied the essence of their spiritual identity, even though, being human, they did not always get it quite right. They had their slip-ups here and there - most notably with the golden calf, which many commentators (headed by the Ramban and Ibn Ezra) see as the Israelites' questing a substitute for the absent Moses, rather than denying G-d. They also did their fair share of grumbling, but the Torah does not forbid people to complain, within acceptable limits, which were breached on too many occasion. Accepting the Torah is not an act that denies the reality of human nature. However, human nature has to be controlled: the Israelites learnt that with the 40 year decree of wandering in the wilderness, and Moses himself after he struck the rock.

So spiritually, compared with the all the nations that did not receive G-d's Word, they were multi-millionaires. They were beyond the reach of Balaam's curse: 'How can I curse, where G-d has not cursed…' (23:8) 'How good are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel' (24:5) Even though, compared to what they could have been, they may have been spiritual paupers.

That was the nature of Balaam's plan. To arouse G-d's displeasure against the Israelites by turning them into spiritual paupers relative to other nations as well - who were all bounded against adultery under the Seven Noachite Laws…

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


Shema Yisrael Home

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to

Jerusalem, Israel