Bilaam the Psychic Fool
Part of the importance of giving of the Torah to the Jews was to prove that the gentiles of the time were mistaken in everything they believed in. They believed that with the correct nonsensical incantation you can change G-d’s will. The fact is that no incantations or sacrifices can affect a change in G-d’s will. That is what we learn from our Perasha.
The Perasha in short is that Balak tried to pay the famous psychic Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. Bilaam tells Balak’s magical emissaries that he can only do as G-d permits. Clearly G-d does not want any one to curse the Jewish people. After being told no by G-d Bilaam asks again. This time he is permitted to go with Balak’s emissaries but can not curse.
On the way to the place from which he wanted to curse the Jews the Torah tells us a very entertaining story. A huge angel holding a sword exposed himself to Bilaam’s donkey. Bilaam could not see the angel and got angry at the donkey for stopping. Bilaam beat the donkey with his stick. The angel then tried to pass the donkey in a narrow area. The frightened creature who did not realize that it was really an angel pressed up against the wall. After Bilaam beat the donkey within an inch of its life G-d opened the donkey’s mouth and it began to speak. As if everything was normal Bilaam had a dialogue with his donkey. The donkey said that it is not proper that he should get such terrible treatment because he has been good. At this point the angel appears to Bilaam.
When he finally got around to trying to curse the Jews. He went to a special location which had magical powers at a special time and gave a tremendous amount of oxen as sacrifices. G-d made him bless the Jews instead. This story repeated itself at different places with better blessing for the Jews each time.
This is the only Perasha which has just one story from beginning to end. I only told you a small amount of it.
There is no doubt that Bilaam had supernatural powers. His predictions were accurate and his blessings or curses would always come true. The gentiles relied on him just like today’s gentiles rely on Jean Dixon or Jimmy Swagart.
Dir Alah is in the Jordan valley, which is now part of the Jericho Autonomy region. There Archeologists have uncovered a plaster with a prophecy of Bilaam. This prophecy is not in the Torah. In this plaster we see the very same Bilaam prophesying in service of certain gentiles in the name of some Strange god. There should be no doubt that the gentile prophet is the same person as in the Torah.
In our Perasha we see that the all powerful Bilaam is made a total fool of by G-d, especially in the story with the donkey. His all powerful blessing that the gentiles felt was so godlike do not even reach expression. Instead, he uttered the nicest blessing. The Ashkenazim start every Morning Prayer with his blessing How beautiful are your tents Jacob.
This story should affirm in our minds the concept that G-d is all powerful. Meir Wies, a professor at Hebrew University, says that the whole purpose of any book in the Bilaam is to strengthen the concept of monotheism. This story about Bilaam demonstrate that very concept to all Jews and Gentiles alike. This is because it demonstrates that G-d controls the world no matter what incantation or sacrifice you give.