Balak and Balaam: As Others See Us
O would some Power the gift to give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us…
Robert Burns: “To a Louse”
Balak and Balaam offer us a wonderful opportunity: Balak hired Balaam to curse the Children of Israel. The king of Moab was terrified that Moses would lead his nation in battle against Moab and capture her cities and decimate her armies as Israel had done to Sihon the king of the Amorites.
Just a few portions earlier, the spies complained, “we were grasshoppers in the yes of the Canaanites.” Now we read of a king who saw us as giants and felt as vulnerable as a grasshopper. Did the Children of Israel understand how others perceived them?
Balak hired Balaam, the great prophet, because the Midianites had advised him that Moses’ power was in his mouth – his ability to communicate directly with God. Did the Children of Israel appreciate how others perceived them and their leader?
Balaam’s curses/blessings afford us ample insight into how an outsider, an enemy, perceived the greatness of Israel: Balaam celebrated their sense of community and modesty: “How goodly are your tents Jacob!” Did the Children of Israel know how even their enemies acknowledged their strengths?
The gentile prophet honored the role that Israel would play in history. He understood how they would survive as “A nation that would dwell on its own,” separate, but strong in their nationhood. Did the nation camped around the Mishkan – Tabernacle – unaware that Balaam was standing on a mountain observing them and honoring the great role they were to play in history?
The Children of Israel did not know that Balaam was there. They were unaware of the great respect and awe in which Balak and Balaam held them. Balaam knew this as well, and was able to suggest to Balak a devastating strategy to corrupt a nation unaware of its own greatness.
Would the Children of Israel have sinned with the daughters of Moab if they were aware of their greatness, or if they had an inkling of how others perceived them? I think not.
Perhaps this portion can serve as a reminder to stop and consider how others perceive us.
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