Prof. G. Aranoff
Prof. G. AranoffCourtesy

Balak and Bilaam were models for Jew haters

The story of Balak starts with the king of Moab expressing alarm and dread of the Israelites. He uses language similar to Pharaoh's words to the Egyptians expressing dread of the Israelites. Compare:

“Moab was alarmed ויגר because that people was so numerous. Moab dreaded ויקץ the Israelites,” (Numbers 22:3).

“But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out, so that the [Egyptians] came to dread ויקצו the Israelites.” (Exodus 1:12).

When did Bilaam live?

“R. Hiyya b. Abba said in the name of R. Simai: There were three in that plan [to destroy Israel through [Pharaoh's] decree: Every son that is born ye shall cast in the river, [Ex. I, 22], They were Bilaam, Job and Jethro.

"Bilaam who devised it was slain; Job who silently acquiesced was afflicted with sufferings; Jethro, who fled, merited that his descendants should sit in the Chamber of Hewn Stone [in the Temple where the Sanhedrin met], as it is said: And the families of scribes which dwelt at Jabez; the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, the Sucathites. These are the Kenites that came of Hammath, the father of the house of Rechab [I Chron. II, 55]. The various names are understood in the sense that they were eminent scholars]; and it is written: And the children of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law etc [Judg. I, 16].” (Tractate Sotah 11a:)

How to explain Bilaam’s enraptured poetry in this week’s parsha?

“How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel! Like palm-groves that stretch out, Like gardens beside a river, Like aloes planted by the Lord, Like cedars beside the water; Their boughs drip with moisture, Their roots have abundant water.

Their king shall rise above Agag, Their kingdom shall be exalted. God who freed them from Egypt Is for them like the horns of the wild ox. They shall devour enemy nations, Crush their bones, And smash their arrows. They crouch, they lie down like a lion, Like the king of beasts; who dare rouse them? Blessed are they who bless you,

Accursed they who curse you!” (Numbers 24:5-9)

The Hertz Chumash explains (p. 678): “'How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob.' He is swept away in rapt admiration of the Israelite encampments and homes arrayed harmoniously and peacefully, a picture of idyllic happiness and prosperity. According to Rabbinic interpretation, the ‘tents’ are the ‘tents of Torah’, and the ‘tabernacles’ (lit. ‘homes’) are the Synagogues. There loomed up before Bilaam’s mental vision the school-houses and synagogues which have ever been the source and secret of Israel’s spiritual strength.”

Who wrote the Scriptures?

The Talmud asks: “Who wrote the Scriptures? Moses wrote his own book and the portion of Bilaam and Job. Joshua wrote the book which bears his name and [the last] eight verses of the Pentateuch. Samuel wrote the book which bears his name and the Book of Judges and Ruth. David wrote the Book of Psalms, including in it the work of the elders, namely, Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, Heman, Yeduthun, Asaph.”

When did Job live?

Various opinions are expressed in the Talmud regarding the age in which he lived. According to one view he was born in the year that Jacob settled in Egypt and died at the time of the Exodus, [Tractate Baba Bathra 15a-b]

Raba said that Job was in the time of the spies. [The proof is that] it is written here [in connection with Job], “There was a man in the land of Uz named Job. That man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” (Job 1:1). And it is written elsewhere [in connection with the spies], “Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not היש בה עץ? And take pains to bring back some of the fruit of the land.”—Now it happened to be the season of the first ripe grapes.” (Numbers 13:20). Whether there be wood [ez] therein. Where is the parallel? In one place it is Uz, in the other EZ? What Moses said to Israel was this: [See] if that man is there whose years are as the years of a tree and who shelters his generation like a tree.” [Tractate Baba Bathra 15a]

Moses is a strict teacher threatening severe punishments

G-d, through Moses, threatens severe punishments for failing to follow Torah law: “You must have completely honest weights and completely honest measures, if you are to endure long on the soil that the Lord your God is giving you. For everyone who does those things, everyone who deals dishonestly, is abhorrent to the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 25:15-16). Many examples in the Torah: “But if you do not obey the Lord your God to observe faithfully all His commandments and laws which I enjoin upon you this day, all these curses shall come upon you and take effect:” (Deuteronomy 28:15).

God loves us and all will be well in the end

Bilaam’s visions of Israel idyllic happiness and prosperity and Israel victory over enemies could make some Jews think they don’t have to follow the Torah despite those admonitions, because God loves us and all will be well in the end. Moses (God) purposely put these stirring words of prophecy in the mouth of Bilaam, a Jew hater. They are the case only when we keep His commandments.

Netanyahu thanks Trump and thanks American supporters of Israel.

“I want to thank President Trump for all he has done for Israel. Israel has never had a better friend in the White House,” said Netanyahu, adding, “Israel’s security has been strengthened immeasurably by President Trump’s bold decision to withdraw from the dangerous nuclear deal with Iran.”

It is beautiful to read the rapt admiration from a gentile prophet of God, Bilaam, and in the same vein, we thank Trump and American supporters of Israel for their positivie view of our country.

Professor Gerald Aranoff is Professor of Accounting Ariel University. Born in Shenandoah, PA, USA, he moved to Israel in 1991 and lives in Bnei Brak He has a BA in physics and Judaic studies from Yeshiva U, MBA in accounting and finance from Columbia U, and PhD in economics from CUNY. His USA faculty positions include: Fordham U, Queens College, St. John’s U, and Lehman College. His Israel faculty positions include: Jerusalem College of Technology, College of Management, Bar-Ilan University, Tel Aviv University, and Ariel University. He has published 110 scholarly articles in economics, management accounting, financial accounting, finance, health, and Judaism, including a textbook chapter and is the economics editor of the South Asia Journal of Social Studies and Economics.