Bil’am HaRasha vs. Avraham Avinu by Yonatan Sturm


In Parashat Balak, Bil’am teams up with Balak, the king of Mo’av, in order to oppose Bnei Yisrael and curse them. Bnei Yisrael became a threat in Balak’s eyes after they utterly demolished the Emori peopl at the end of last week’s Torah reading, Parashat Chukat. Balak’s fear intensifies, so he sends messengers to Bil’am, a well-known prophet and sorcerer, asking him to come to Mo’av and use his powers to curse Bnei Yisrael. Although Hashem commands Bil’am to not go and curse Bnei Yisrael, Bil’am is lured to Balak’s side by his offer of gold and silver. After receiving an obscure message from Hashem, Bil’am decides to join Balak and curse Bnei Yisrael.

The Pasuk (BeMidbar 22:21) describes Bil’am rising early in the morning to saddle his donkey in order to meet Balak. We see a similar story in Parashat VaYeira at the beginning of Akeidat Yitzchak, when Avraham rises early in the morning and saddles his donkey (BeReishit 22:3). Rashi (ad loc. s.v. VaYashkeim) cites the Gemara (Pesachim 4a) which states that Avraham rose early in the morning because he wanted to hasten to perform the Mitzvah. Avraham acted with such haste to perform the Mitzvah, even though the Mitzvah was to sacrifice his own son Yitzchak!

The Pasuk by the Akeidah states, “VaYachavosh Et Chamoro,” “And he (Avraham) saddled his donkey” (BeReishit 22:3). The fact that the Pasuk says “he saddled his donkey” and not “his donkey was saddled” teaches us that Avraham saddled it himself without any help (Rashi ad loc. s.v. VaYachavosh). The Gemara (Sanhedrin 105b) wonders why Avraham saddled the donkey by himself, even though he could have asked one of his servants to do it for him. The Gemara answers that “Ahavah Mekalkelet Et HaShurah,” strong love for something, which in this case was fulfilling Hashem’s Mitzvot, changes how one normally acts. The Gemara contrasts Bil’am’s eagerness to get up in the morning to Avraham’s eagerness. The Gemara writes that Bil’am saddled his own donkey because “Sin’ah Mekalkelet Et HaShurah,” strong hatred for something, which in this case was Bil’am’s hatred of Bnei Yisrael, changes how one normally acts. While Avraham rose early to fulfill Hashem’s commandments, Bil’am jumped out of bed to curse the Jewish nation. This shows us that in this regard, Bil’am and Avraham were polar opposites of each other.

It is evident that Bil’am at least respected Hashem, as he initially rejected Balak’s offer as per Hashem’s command (BeMidbar 22:12-13). Despite this, we see Bil’am’s intense hatred toward Bnei Yisrael when he sides with Balak. However, he proceeds to bless Bnei Yisrael three times! Why did he suddenly turn somewhat rational and perform a good deed? What caused him to bless Bnei Yisrael if he hated them so much? Furthermore, what can we learn from Avraham’s commitment to serving Hashem, which was so different from Bil’am’s commitment to Hashem?

This Gemara, which contrasts the strong love of Avraham and strong hatred of Bil’am, explains Bil’am’s actions. Bil’am was bribed by Balak and his messengers to disregard Hashem’s command and let his hatred for Bnei Yisrael disrupt his normal way of acting. We see from this Gemara that Bil’am did not like Bnei Yisrael and joined Balak for material gain, but ended up doing the right thing by not cursing Bnei Yisrael out of fear of Hashem.

After discussing the distinction between Avraham and Bil’am, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 105b) presents the following: “A person should always engage in the study of Torah and the performance of Mitzvot even if it is not LiShmah, because it will lead to studying Torah and doing Mitzvot LiShmah.”

From this idea, we see that Avraham always had the right intentions. He was even willing to sacrifice his own son, solely because Hashem commanded him to do so. Avraham was so eager to perform the Mitzvah that he got up early, saddled his donkey, and went to serve Hashem, despite the difficult circumstances.

This Gemara, which compares Avraham and Bil’am, teaches us that we must fulfill Mitzvot no matter what situation we are in, even if we do not initially want to. This will eventually lead us to do Mitzvot for the right reasons and with positive intentions. Bil’am did a questionable good deed by blessing Bnei Yisrael, but only after a change in heart. However, Avraham clearly exhibited his constant willingness to fulfill Hashem’s commandments. We can learn from here the importance of hesitating before doing bad deeds and realizing what situation lies ahead of us. We must learn from these instances in the Torah to always maintain a connection with Hashem and constantly stay in touch with our Emunah by performing Mitzvot.

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