Balak: Bringing Our Nation Together
Seth Berkley says, “Leadership is about vision and responsibility, not power.” Many nations have leaders. Judaism is no different, except that our leaders help us to move closer to G-d. In Judaism religion and nationhood coincide. Judaism is what connects Jews from across the world. Without the Jewish nation Judaism would cease to be faith of a people bound by a bond of collective responsibility to one another and G-d.
In Parashat Balak, we are introduced to Balak, King of Moab. He heard about the victory of B’nai Yisrael against the Amorites. He was not happy, and he sent for Bilaam to curse them.
וַיִּשְׁלַ֨ח מַלְאָכִ֜ים אֶל־בִּלְעָ֣ם פְּ֠ת֠וֹרָה אֲשֶׁ֧ר עַל־הַנָּהָ֛ר אֶ֥רֶץ בְּנֵי־עַמּ֖וֹ לִקְרֹא־ל֑וֹ לֵאמֹ֗ר הִ֠נֵּ֠ה עַ֣ם יָצָ֤א מִמִּצְרַ֙יִם֙ הִנֵּ֤ה כִסָּה֙ אֶת־עֵ֣ין הָאָ֔רֶץ וְה֥וּא יֹשֵׁ֖ב מִמֻּלִֽי
וְעַתָּה֩ לְכָה־נָּ֨א אָֽרָה־לִּ֜י אֶת־הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֗ה כִּֽי־עָצ֥וּם הוּא֙ מִמֶּ֔נִּי אוּלַ֤י אוּכַל֙ נַכֶּה־בּ֔וֹ וַאֲגָרְשֶׁ֖נּוּ מִן־הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּ֣י יָדַ֗עְתִּי אֵ֤ת (Bamidbar 22:5-6) אֲשֶׁר־תְּבָרֵךְ֙ מְבֹרָ֔ךְ וַאֲשֶׁ֥ר תָּאֹ֖ר יוּאָֽר
Balak wants Bilaam to go to B’nai Yisrael and curse them. G-d says to Bilaam not to curse them. The Moabite dignitaries go to Bilaam a few times to get him to go. He finally goes on his way to curse B’nai Yisrael and is blocked by the angel of G-d, though, he cannot see it. When his donkey saw the angel, he swerved from the road. Bilaam struck his donkey three times. Then, Hashem opens the mouth of the donkey, and she asks, “what have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times” (Bamidbar 22:28). Finally, his eyes were uncovered, and he saw the angel of G-d there. Hashem said Balak could only say what G-d told him to say. Balak wanted Bilaam to curse B’nai Yisrael and instead he said:
מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל
“How fair are your tents, O’ Jacob, your dwellings, O’ Yisrael” (Bamidbar 24:5).
According to the Talmud Bilaam means (belo am) “a man without a people” (Sanhedrin 105a). Bilaam was hired to curse B’nai Yisrael. He had supernatural powers and could bless someone, and they would succeed. He could curse someone, and that person would experience misfortune. He was able to be bought. He had no loyalties. Rabbi Sacks writes “there are people with great gifts, intellectual and sometimes even spiritual, who nonetheless fail to achieve what they might have done. They lack the basic moral qualities of integrity, honesty, humility and above all loyalty. What they do, they do brilliantly. But often they do the wrong things. Conscious of their unusual endowments, they tend to look down on others. They give way to pride, arrogance, and a belief that they can somehow get away with great crimes.”
Skills are not enough to substitute for the moral qualities and integrity that makes a leader. One of the biggest challenges today is that many people who are in positions of leadership are missing the moral qualities and integrity. It is vital that we learn to distinguish between the people who are in power and true leaders who have a vision, integrity, and responsibility and help empower others. There is a push towards more tyranny throughout the world and it will take a group of leaders who are strong, steadfast, and bravery to push the tide the other way and pull our nation together.