Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller
In this week’s parsha, we read about Bilaam’s attempt to destroy the Jewish nation by cursing them. If we step back and take in the panoramic view of this story, it is mind boggling. On one side, there is an aggressive upstart nation leaving Egypt with a very openly stated goal of conquering Canaan. On the opposing side there are neighboring nations who engage a sorcerer to curse and destroy this threat. If we consider this in modern terms, the neighboring nations’ actions seem childish and naive. Yet, the Torah gives us a full account of the incident and of Hashem’s involvement with Bilaam, eventually bequeathing us with ספר בלעם – The Book of Bilaam, which the Gemara considers a distinct section of the Torah.
There is a very important message in the way this story develops. The Torah is demonstrating to us that there are many levels of reality and that there are spiritual dimensions of existence that are as real and even more real than the physical world that we engage with our senses. Even the non-Jews of the time understood this world and engaged it. The modern world has relegated “all of that stuff” to backwardness and superstition, yet the Torah validates it and deals with it. This is not to suggest that we try to engage with the occult. The Torah forbids it and today’s practitioners are charlatans.
However, the Torah wants us to realize that there is much more to the world than meets the eye. As Torah Jews, we can and should engage the physical world with the mindset that our actions have major ramifications well beyond the physical confines of existence both in terms of time since our time frame is eternity and in terms of place since this world is merely a antechamber to a greater world.
In addition the Torah is teaching us the power of the spoken word. The Gemara (Shabbos 120b) equates speaking with action based on the fact that Hashem created his world by using speech, not actions. This immense power of speech is both positive and negative, and we need to recognize its potency and treat words with the respect it deserves.