“How glorious are your tents, Jacob, your dwellings, Israel. As valleys stretched out, as gardens by the river-side; as aloes planted by God, as cedars beside the waters” (Numbers 24:5-6).

These words of praise came from one of history’s most notorious enemies of the Jewish people: Balaam son of Beor.

Balaam was known throughout the ancient world for his great spiritual powers. Able to “tap into” the supernatural forces of the world, he knew the most auspicious times to make Divine requests. Anyone cursed by Balaam was firmly cursed.

Balaam was approached by Balak, King of Moab, to curse the Israelites who were camped at his border. Balaam hesitated, knowing that God favored the Israelites. But when asked a third time, he agreed.

On his way to Balak’s palace, an angel of God tried to block Balaam and dissuade him from his task, but Balaam’s mind was set. On a cliff overlooking the camp of Israel, Balaam warned Balak that, try as he might, he could speak only the words that God put in his mouth.

Balaam tried three times to curse the Jews, moving from one place to another and failing each time. Each curse that he tried to utter turned into a blessing.

One might think that Balaam’s failure to curse the Jews indicates that he was not so wicked. However, after failing in his attempted curses, Balaam (according to the tradition recorded in Talmud Sanhedrin 106a) recommended to Balak that he send out beautiful Moabite women to seduce the Jewish men, for only when the Jews degraded themselves morally could they be defeated on the battlefield. This time, Balaam’s wicked strategy resulted in many Jewish casualties.

This Treat was last posted on July 2, 2009.

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