The Parsha this week is Parshas Balak. In Parshas Balak the Torah tells us the story of Bilaam, the infamous Gentile prophet who tried many times to destroy the Jewish people by cursing them. Bilaam was invited to curse he Jewish people by Balaak, the king of Moav. The Torah tells us that Balaak invited Bilaam because the Moabites were ‘very scared of the (Jewish) nation ki rav hu – for he was many” (Numbers 22:3). At first glance, the wording here is a bit strange: Would it not have been more correct to say ki rav hem – for they were many? Why does it say hu – ‘he was many’ - which is in the singular? Wouldn’t it be more correct to be hem - they - which is in the plural?
We find throughout the Torah that whenever we as Jews stand together we are able to withstand any challenge. Only when there is disunity among us, when we have internal strife and dissention, do we have to contend with problems and challenges presented to us. Our Sages compare the Jewish people to a bundle of reeds. When they are packed together, they can’t be broken. When each one stands alone, it can easily be snapped into pieces.
When Balak saw that the Jews were together in a united way, ki rav hu that we were united as one, he realized that they could not be defeated under normal circumstances and panicked. He called for help from Bilaam.
Today, as Jews, we stand under threats that are ominous and overwhelming. Whether it is Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, A Gaza Flotilla from Turkey, an uncertain response from Washington, we are under siege. We must look for ways to find merit for ourselves as a people. If we can find ways to bring more unity, to promote harmony and peace amongst ourselves, to focus on the common ground that binds us, we will have a great merit that can protect and help us as a people.
Our Sages explain that in his level of prophecy, Bilaam attained very great heights. One of the thirteen principles of Judaism is that there never was another prophet amongst the Jews like Moses. This is explicit in the Torah as it says, “And there never arose among the Jews another prophet like Moses, who Hashem spoke to directly” (Deuteronomy 34:10). Our Sages infer that there never was another prophet like Moses among the Jews – but among the nations of the world there was, and that person was Bilaam. How is it that if Bilaam was on such an amazing level of prophecy and communication to Hashem, that he fell to a level of being despised by Hashem, introducing the lowest standards of immorality that had not existed before him?
The Sages in Ethics of our Fathers (Chapter 5:19) tell us that Bilaam taught others to lead a life that was full of selfish and self-centered thoughts and goals. His downfall was all based on deficiencies in character – high ego, unlimited desire for money, and an evil eye. The obvious lesson is that intellectual knowledge is not enough. To really serve Hashem we have to perfect our character and try to improve our behavior. Humility. Being satisfied with what we have, and looking at others in a positive way are very basic requirements to be able to live as a Jew.