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G-d came to Balaam at night and said to him: "If the men have come 'likro lecha' - to summon you, get up and go with them. But you must do whatever I tell you" (22:20)
is followed by:
G-d was furious that he (Balaam) went (22:22).
The apparent contradiction of G-d giving Balaam permission to go with Balak's messengers, and His anger at his having done so is explained in different ways by the commentators.
Rashi interprets it as a concession to Balaam's greed, at the prospect of being richly rewarded for his services out of the royal coffers of Moab.
The Ramban argues that the issue was Balaam's dishonesty. For the message that G-d communicated to Balaam at night was different to the message that Balaam passed on to Balak's messengers the next morning. Balaam told the messengers that G-d gave him permission to go which was true, but he omitted that it was to be on His terms, not theirs. G-d terms were to follow His instructions, word by word. Balaam's leaving that detail out cunningly and falsely implied G-d's being successfully persuaded to change His mind by letting him go and curse Israel.
The Sforno's explanation also connects with Balaam's dishonesty, though differently to the Ramban. He bases his explanation on the meaning of the word 'likro' as it is used here. He does not translate 'likro' as 'to summon' which is the translation given above, but quoting similar uses elsewhere (e.g. Samuel I 28:15) as 'to ask for advice'. Thus G-d's communication to Balaam at night was on the lines of: "If the men have come for your advice, go with them". Balaam's task would be to persuade them to drop their plans, as G-d had added "But you must do whatever I tell you".
But Balaam had no intention of persuading the messengers to drop their plans knowing that G-d would be on his side. On the contrary. Balaam "went with the officers of Moab" (22:21). He knew quite well that they had not come to consult him on whether or not to curse Israel. And he made no attempt to change their minds, to bring that question to the table. He defied G-d by joining the messengers as an interested party. He went to curse Israel because he wanted to curse Israel. Thus G-d's anger was that Balaam went in that capacity, against His wishes, with the intent of arousing G-d's displeasure against the Israelites.
More generally, this explanation points at a weakness common in human nature. There are individuals who have plans of their own, and want to receive the approval and blessings of the wise, the great, and the reknown. From a gadol ba-Torah, a premier Torah sage. They turn to such learned authorities for advice. But they then just pay attention to the bits they want to hear, and conveniently let the rest go over the tops of their heads. What they claimed the gadol said is very different to what the gadol actually meant and also the nuances he wished to communicate. It can effectively mean that the person used the gadol to further his own less-than-fully-worthy agenda.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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