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 context of this story, it is quite breathtaking. From the perspective of the inhabitants of Moav and Canaan, the Jews are an aggressive upstart nation leaving Egypt with the public goal of conquering Canaan and the neighboring nations. They are allied against this threat and instead of arming themselves and formalizing defense pacts, they choose to bring in a sorcerer to curse the Jews, and thereby, destroy them.
If we consider this in modern terms, it seems childish and naive. (Remember the media allegations that happened when Ronald Reagan consulted the astrologer Joan Quigley regularly during his presidency.) 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 actually forbids it, and today’s practitioners are all phonies. Instead, 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 an antechamber to a greater world.