Sunday, June 24, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Balak

“go and curse for me this people” (23; 6)

We must ask the question, why was Balak so anxious to bring Bilaam to him to curse the Israelites? He send messengers two or three times, and offered money and got angry. Why didn’t Balak simply ask Bilaam to curse the Israelites from where he was? We find many curses and cursers who were able to do damage without seeing the object of the curse. For example, when the Israelites came into Israel they gave the curses and blessings on the two mountains of Bracha and Eival [despite the fact that the people they were cursing – those who don’t keep the mitzvot – were not present]. Similarly, in Kohelet it states “even in your tears don’t curse a king and even in your private room don’t curse a rich person” (10; 2). This clearly refers to a curse not in the presence of the object of the curse.

Perhaps we can answer based on the Talmud (Brachot 7a) which explains the verse in Tehillim (7; 12) “G-d is angry every day”. How long is His anger? A ‘moment’. And a ‘moment’ lasts for 1/8888th of an hour. Bilaam was the only person who knew when this time was.

Tosefot asks, what could Bilaam have said in that fraction of a second that would have any effect? They answer that he would have enough time to say the word(s) ‘destroy them’ (‘kalem’). More than this and he would have run out of time.

Therefore we can understand why Balak had to bring Bilaam to the place where the Israelites were encamped, so that he could point to them and say ‘destroy them’. This could only be said when he could see them because otherwise there would be no ‘them’ for the curse to fall on.

We find a similar concept when praying for a sick person. The Halacha is that if one is praying in the presence of the patient there is no need to mention his or her name, only the request. We find the source for this with Moshe’s prayer for Miriam (which was in her presence) when he only said “G-d, please heal her”, without saying her name. In contrast, when Ya’akov prayed that G-d should save him from his brother (and was not yet in his presence) he said “save me please, from my brother, from Esav”.

However Tosefot also gives another answer to his question in Brachot. He says that if Bilaam could begin the curse in that moment, it would remain effective even while he finished saying the words of his curse. According to this answer we are back to our original question of why Balak was so desperate to bring Bilaam to him.

Perhaps we can answer based on the Mishna in Pirkei Avot (5; 19) that Bilaam was known for his evil eye (and as explained in more detail in the Zohar)s. His power was in his eye, and anywhere that he ‘put his eye’ was damaged. Therefore he had to come to a place where he could see the camp of the Israelites in order to put his evil eye on them.

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