“They are too numerous for me. Perhaps I can defeat them and drive them off the land.” (Num 22:6)
This comes from the mouth of Balak, King of Moab, in this week’s parasha named for him. The two main characters in this story are Balak the King, and Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet whom Balak hires to come and curse the Israelites for him. Why? Read the first sentence.
This is almost word-for-word the same complaint Pharaoh had about the Israelites in Egypt, “And he said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so they may not increase, otherwise in the event of a war, they may join our enemies against us and rise from the ground.’” (Ex 6:9-10)
When Balaam was hired by the King to curse the Israelites, Balaam told him that he could only say what God told him to say, no guarantees. Three times Balaam tried to curse the Israelites, and three times it came out as a blessing. But Balaam had his blind spot, too…literally. Sitting on his donkey, Balaam tried to get the animal to move. It wouldn’t. Balaam beat the donkey three times, and still the donkey wouldn’t move. Instead, the donkey turned to Balaam and spoke, basically saying, “What have I ever done to you that you beat me? Have I ever failed you before?” What the donkey saw, and finally Balaam saw, was that an angel of God was blocking the road. The angel reiterated that Balaam can only say what God tells him to say. Ultimately, Balaam could only bless the people, which annoyed Balak greatly, but the King could do nothing about it.
These are not new concepts. Being afraid of newcomers, people who threaten the majority, people who are different, people who need to be driven off the land…..gee, where have we heard that lately? People who think they know best, who fear outsiders, harm them, put stumbling blocks in their way, intending to drive them away, are like Balaam; refusing to see what’s right in front of them, if only they open their eyes. It was arrogance that blinded Balaam into thinking only he knew what God wanted, and the truth came from an unexpected source. Balak may have operated from fear and bigotry, but Balaam too operated from a place where he couldn’t see what was right in front of his eyes.
Finally, Balaam’s eyes were clear and he could stand up to Balak. Would that those around the bigoted, paranoid leader trying to get others to curse the outsiders, would also gain clarity. We must be like Balaam, and refuse to curse those who are different, who are outsiders, and instead, answer to the inner angel that speaks the truth.